Please note this site has financial relationships with American Express and this post may contain affiliate links. Read my Advertiser Disclosure policy here to learn more about my partners.
I totally understand that until you or someone you are very close with has breastfed children that you just have no idea what all goes into it. I certainly didn’t. I mean, some of it is a pretty obvious process, but as time goes on and you have to contend with the schedules and realities of nursing a baby (and then potentially toddler) beyond the confines and comfort of your home, it can get a bit tricky in today’s world.
Throw in needing to pump milk either while you are away from your child, or because your child will only drink from a bottle, or whatever reason, and things get even trickier. You keep the fantastic nutrients that come along with nursing, but you lose the conveniences of just attaching the baby to mama and moving on with life. Now, add travel through airports and airplanes into the mix and you have a potentially challenging situation.
Still, most moms can figure out a way to navigate that process well enough by pumping in-between flights in the airport, flying with a cooler of frozen milk, using a pump in-flight, or some combo of all of the above…until someone disrupts the delicate balance of making it all work and decides to make life harder than it needs to be. This happens either because the person in charge doesn’t understand the needs of nursing/pumping moms, they are confused about the airport or airlines rules and procedures, or they simply don’t care to be bothered with any of it.
Again, I totally understand that the Average Joe or Josephine doesn’t totally understand the needs and realities of nursing/pumping moms, but if you are going to work in the airline industry where there are policies for these sort of things, then you need to know them. Then, like with anything else, you need to err on the side of meeting the customer’s needs until policy and/or safety dictates otherwise. I cannot fathom why in 2016 after um-teen-million of these sort of stories of nursing moms having trouble on planes, that these sort of unnecessary problems can still happen.
This time around it was an actress who made headlines when an American Airlines flight attendant reportedly tried to (forcibly?) take her carry-on breast pump bag and check it. I’m going to ignore the forcibly part because that is a whole other problem, and one that none of us were probably there to see and evaluate. Instead, I’ll just offer a policy reminder so that other traveling moms can know that the airline rules are on their side.
American Airlines specifically allows “assistive devices”, such as breast pumps, to be carried on and they do not count towards your carry-on limit. For the record, a diaper bag, child safety seat, and stroller also don’t count against your baggage limits when traveling with a child or to go and adopt a child when flying American. American is by no means alone with having these rules, but obviously you should check with your airline specifically to see what is allowed – the info is usually found easily on their websites.
Here is a post on Tips for Traveling While Nursing or Pumping
American’s website also states that on-board power outlets may be used for breast pumps, though I would not solely rely on the outlets being available or working. TSA rules also permit breast pumps, pumped milk, and items to cool that milk whether you are traveling with a baby or not, though you may have to go through additional security in some cases.
I could come up with a number of guesses as to why a flight attendant would want to check this mom’s breast pump ranging from full bins to not knowing it didn’t count against the carry-on limits, but honestly if you understand the needs of a nursing mom and American’s own policies, none of those are valid reasons. Most breast pumps I have seen are no larger than the size of a diaper bag, so they should be able to squeeze in almost anywhere, even with full bins. Moms need to nurse on a schedule both to feed the baby and avoid potential engorgement problems which can range from discomfort to infection. This means that risking prolonged separation from a pump is not a viable solution.
I still write about these kinds of stories not because it was an actress or famous person who was impacted, but because for every one mom with hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers who has a problem related to traveling with a baby or nursing, there are probably lots of other moms who have these sort of issues but no voice or outlet to get help.
Traveling with a baby, or traveling with a young baby at home, is challenging enough, it doesn’t need to be made any harder by someone who is uninformed about the airline’s policies or is simply having a bad day.
Kudos to moms (and dads) everywhere who keep finding a way to make it all work! Equal kudos to those airline and airport employees who do get it and do everything in their power to make the lives of traveling families as easy as possible.
If you need to fly with your nursing baby or breast pump, know that the airline and airport rules are generally supportive of nursing moms. That said, know the policies of who you are flying, and don’t be afraid to ask for a supervisor and/or politely remind the airlines of those policies in the event you encounter someone who is unaware.