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Before I had my first daughter almost six years ago I knew very little about breastfeeding, it simply wasn’t something on my radar. Then, I had my first daughter and nursed her for about five months, stopping around that time because of a combination of a return to work and an international trip without her. Now I am nursing my second daughter and I have no plans to stop this time just because of any trip, job, etc. I’ll stop when it is the right time for us, which hopefully won’t be until she reaches her first birthday. The American Association of Pediatrics recommends nursing for at least 12 months and the World Health Organization recommends two years. The research about the health benefits of nursing infants over using forumla makes it clear that it is the right choice for us (though I am certainly not judging any parent who decides formula is a better solution for their family for whatever reason – as long as you feed your baby you are doing great!).
Nursing Babies is a Huge Commitment
However, as you probably won’t know if you haven’t lived through it (just as I didn’t), nursing a baby is hard work and takes a tremendous amount of dedication, especially in today’s society where moms and babies often aren’t together 24/7. This is even more challenging if the mom travels without the baby. My daughter is closing in on 3 months old and has been 100% nursed by me with no supplemental formula given, and only a very occasional bottle of my pumped milk. This doesn’t make us special or unique, but it has taken work, dedication, lactation consultants, and some tears shed by both of us during some rough patches early on, so I’m proud of what we have done. This also means that I am never away from her for longer than about 90 minutes.
There is no question that formula would logistically be so much easier since I would be free to travel without her occasionally or even just work more than an hour or two during the day without having to take a break to feed her. It would enable someone other than me to get up at night with her, and essentially free my day-to-day life up dramatically. I could stop worrying about every single thing I eat or drink and get off this very restrictive diet I am on thanks to her sensitive tummy. I could diet and loose these last few pregnancy/nursing pounds and not worry about what that reduction in calories would do to my milk supply. I could take allergy meds instead of sneezing hundreds of times a day and living in a watery eyes fog. I could wear clothes without worrying about how easily they can be moved and removed in order for her to eat.
I could do all that, but I would be doing it because it was easiest for me, not because it was best for her, so I’m not going that route. This means that for now my baby goes pretty much everywhere I go. For example, I am going to the Chicago Seminars to present for one whole hour later this month and instead of just booking a flight for myself for the night as I usually do, I had to book flights for three. Myself, my baby, and my mom to watch her while I present my session.
Challenges of Pumping Milk While Flying
My other option in that scenario would have been to pump enough milk in advance to leave for her and then pump milk on the trip and bring it all back to replenish my supply I keep in case of emergency when I can’t get back to her in time. Since she is still so young, I didn’t go for that option this time, but I could see myself doing that for a one night trip down the road.
In order for that to work I would have to have access to places to pump milk every few hours for the entire time I am gone…not to mention a way to keep the pumped milk at least refrigerated until I could get it home and freeze it. This means I would need to pump not only in the hotel room, but also either in the airport or on the airplane.
If a nursing mom misses a time when she normally would either feed her baby or pump milk bad things start happening pretty quickly. First, it is very uncomfortable. Second, milk will start coming out on its own eventually whether you want it to or not…and boy is that cute. Finally, and most importantly, this can lead to problems like clogged ducts, infections, and decreased milk supply. Nursing doesn’t have an on and off switch, and you can’t just skip pumping or feeding your baby for a day or so without it having a major impact.
It is a major commitment and it is something you have to manage whether at home or on the road. We have probably all heard about the stories related to passengers being upset about a mom who is nursing a baby near them on a flight – usually when she isn’t using a cover because it is hot, the baby is bothered by it, or she simply doesn’t like it. However, this time it is actually moms flying without their babies that are hitting headlines as they try to pump milk in the airport and on the plane.
Travelers Told to Pump Milk Where Dogs Poop
There are stories of a traveler being directed by United to an indoor pet relief area to pump (complete with fake fire hydrant!) and a passenger on an American Airlines flight who was told she needed to get out of the lavatory after ten minutes or so because she was nursing in there and presumably other passengers needed to use the restroom.
Both of these incidents are both unfortunate and totally avoidable. I know this culture doesn’t always have much patience for the needs of infants and families, but this is nuts. With the statistics that breastfeeding is clearly best for babies, we have to make some accommodations to make it easier for moms to continue this commitment to doing what is best for their babies when they have to travel. There have been great strides with nursing accommodations in the workplace, but the next step is to make more accommodations for when moms need to do things other than just clock in at an office. More and more airports are starting to add nursing rooms, and I 100% agree that this should be the standard with at least one room per terminal available.
Solutions for Nursing Moms Who Travel
There are nursing pods that are currently used in some airports, stadiums, schools, etc. that can easily be added in situations where there isn’t an existing room available for conversion to this purpose.
Moms aren’t looking for special treatment, they are just looking for a way to feed their baby in the best way they know how. I don’t love nursing in public, much less pumping in public (which I haven’t yet had to do), but I would do whatever I had to do for my baby. Providing a place cleaner than a bathroom or pet relief area isn’t asking too much. Providing a few minutes for a mom to pump milk in private if she wishes isn’t asking too much. Some states, like Illinois, apparently agree and have enacted laws requiring large airports to offer nursing/pumping rooms.
There is even federal legislation proposed (Friendly Airports for Mothers) that would require “Mother’s Rooms” in every terminal of commercial airports across the United States. In a 2014 study only 8 or 100 airports studied had such private rooms available, which is obviously not acceptable.
On the plane there are few location options available, but if a mom needs 10-15 minutes to pump milk in private in the lav (which already isn’t ideal) then it really isn’t any different for other passengers than if someone is in the restroom for a little extra time with stomach difficulties. Yes, it is a bit of an inconvenience, but not one that will go on indefinitely or that is unique to just nursing moms.
If you are a nursing mom who travels, I’d love to hear your pumping tips and stories! If you are a fellow traveler who might eventually encounter a mom who is pumping, please be patient for the few minutes this pumping might impact you. I can promise you the mom is many times over more impacted by the act of pumping on the road for her baby than you are.