By Ali Weatherford

If you’re considering some travel for the holidays and are breastfeeding, pumping, or both, and if it feels like the right time, go for it! Know that there are laws that protect you. Travel can be done safely and without too much hassle if you do a little preparation ahead of time.

Breastfeeding in the Airport

The Friendly Airports for Mothers Improvement Act was enacted on October 30, 2020, and expanded on previous regulations which required large and medium hub airports to certify that they have “Mothers’ Rooms” that meet certain conditions. Some more recent amendments expanded these requirements to applicable small hub airports.

A qualified “Mothers’ Room” must:

  • Provide a location for members of the public to express breast milk that is shielded from view and
    free from intrusion from the public;
  • Have a door that can be locked;
  • Include a place to sit, a table or other flat surface, a sink or sanitizing equipment, and an electrical
    outlet;
  • Be readily accessible to, and usable by individuals with disabilities, including individuals who
    use wheelchairs; and
  • Not be located in a restroom.

Getting Through Airport Security

Also, it’s important to know that breast milk, formula, and pureed foods for babies and toddlers are allowed in your carry-on luggage, even if it’s more than the usual liquid limit of 3.4 ounces. This also includes ice packs that you might need to keep the milk fresh.

To ensure the quickest and simplest passage through security checkpoints though, you might want to divide your baby’s milk or food into 3.4 oz containers. If you can’t do that, here’s what you can do:

  • Tell the TSA officer right away that you are carrying more than 3.4 oz containers of the milk or food. You’ll likely be asked to take them out of your bag to be screened separately. They might test the liquid.
  • If you can put the liquids into clear bottles, that can help. Plastic bags and pouches are harder to screen.
  • If you don’t want your containers to be opened or put through X-ray, you can ask the officer to find another way to complete the screening.
  • Give yourself a little extra time to get through the airport when you’re traveling with a baby! You may need extra time to get through checkpoints, but also they will usually create some bonus detours for you and it’s best to plan for that. It might be a diaper blowout, a broken stroller wheel, hungry screaming, etc., etc. etc…

All of the regulations and planning make airports a little bit less of a headache for families with babies. And luckily, there should be better places to breastfeed and/or pump milk for your baby.

Remember though, as long as you’re comfortable breastfeeding where you are, it is legal. There is no place in the United States where it is actually illegal to breastfeed. All 50 states have laws that protect your right to breastfeed in public. You can breastfeed in restaurants, stores, airports, and while you’re in the air or on the tracks.

Breastfeeding in Public

You might feel completely comfortable breastfeeding in public, but not everyone does….at least not at first. The thought of breastfeeding in public can be so intimidating that some people plan their lives around their baby’s need to breastfeed. You may choose to stay home a lot when you would normally be out more.

At this time of year, it might mean a lot of stress over going to holiday gatherings or doing holiday shopping and travel. It can either be very limiting, or very expensive. To avoid breastfeeding in public, you might hire babysitters and spend a lot of extra time and money coordinating that. For a lot of people, these extra factors might mean that breastfeeding ends before they planned. You probably haven’t thought about what it might mean to breastfeed full time if you are not comfortable feeding your baby away from your home or in public.

A lot of times, people breastfeed in public for the first time out of necessity. You might not have planned to do it, but circumstances or your baby get in the way of your plans. If this happens to you, you might find that it wasn’t as terrible as you imagined. Once you get the hang of breastfeeding, you can usually do it discreetly if you choose.

I remember feeding my baby in a restaurant for the first time. I hadn’t planned to do this, but an old friend was visiting from out of town and we had to go to our favorite old breakfast spot! At that time my baby was a newborn and usually pretty sleepy. I took her because I expected her to sleep through the whole thing. She surprised me and got hungry during our breakfast.

I got out my cute nursing cover and went for it. I was so nervous, because I wasn’t all that good at breastfeeding yet. We still had to struggle to get her latched on every time, and I needed both hands to make it work. It went much better than I expected.

Over the next few years of having babies, I breastfed everywhere. I breastfed in countless restaurants, hotels, stores, airports, friends’ homes, schools, churches, and airplanes. No one ever asked me to stop or leave. I actually felt very supported most of the time. It’s true that there are some people who are uncomfortable with the idea of seeing someone breastfeeding a baby in public, but that’s usually because it’s new to them.

As more of us breastfeed, and are willing to breastfeed whenever and wherever we need to, this will be more common and less shocking to those people. It’s so important to shed the stigma of breastfeeding in public. Your baby needs to eat, you need to live your life, and you should feel supported in feeding your baby in this very natural and normal way.

If you’re nervous about feeding your baby in public, Cassie (IBCLC) offers these tips to help:

  • Practice! Yes, really. Watch yourself breastfeed your baby in a mirror. It’s a very different angle, and you’ll probably realize that it’s not as obvious as you thought. You can work with your clothing, blankets, nursing covers, or baby carriers to figure out how it looks best to you. This might build the confidence you need to go for it.
  • Layer your clothing. There are a lot of tops designed for nursing out there. They have hidden flaps and zippers and clasps so you can easily access a breast without having to rearrange everything. They can also be pricey, so if you don’t want to buy a completely new wardrobe of tops for breastfeeding, Cassie recommends layering any pull over top over a tank top. You can pull the tank top down to reveal a breast under your shirt, and then lift up the top layer as much as you need to tuck your baby in.
  • Use a nursing cover. There are a lot of options out there. If these covers make you feel more comfortable, use one!
    DON’T use a nursing cover. If you think a nursing cover will draw too much attention, or if it makes things harder for you, or you just don’t like it, don’t use one! You should definitely not feel obligated to completely cover.
  • On the other hand, if you prefer to cover but feel like the nursing covers draw too much attention to what you’re doing, try using a blanket instead! No one will know if you’re breastfeeding, or if you just have a sleeping baby under there.
  • Nursing covers or blankets are also a good way to keep a distracted baby focused. Newborn babies might not be bothered, but when babies get a little older, they might start noticing all the distractions in public places. There are a lot of different sights and sounds which can keep your baby from focusing on their meal. A cover can block some of the distractions, and help you finish more quickly. Also, some babies get easily overwhelmed and overstimulated so it might help keep this baby calm and happy.

It can definitely be overwhelming to think about breastfeeding a new baby in public. You might feel very insecure about how you’re doing even in the privacy and comfort of your own home. It’s great to push outside your comfort zone a bit though.

Sometimes, people find that breastfeeding is even easier when they’re away from home. You might be able to relax a little more when you’re focused on other people or some great scenery. You could try easing into it. Maybe you just go to a friend’s house first and see how things go there. If all goes well, maybe you try it at a new parent support group or new parent class. In these settings, you’ll probably see other people breastfeeding and it might give you a little more confidence. After that, you might try going to a quiet park or cozy coffee shop. Every experience will give you a little more ease until you can’t remember why it was ever difficult!

Breastfeeding Success is here to help you with any breastfeeding questions or problems that might arise. Seeing a lactation consultant can do a lot to resolve any problems, and boost your self-confidence. Lactation consultants are also great cheerleaders and will offer you support as you decide you want to venture out. They are your advocate as well as breastfeeding advocates. So remember, they are on your side, and THE LAW is on your side.

All 50 states have laws protecting your right to feed your baby ANYWHERE you are allowed to be. If you ever experience discrimination for breastfeeding in public, please reach out to a breastfeeding advocate, including Breastfeeding Success. Texas WIC even recommends carrying this card in your wallet in case you need to defend your legal rights.

Fortunately, most people will either not notice, not care, or even be supportive of your breastfeeding. I’ve rarely heard firsthand stories of people who experienced discrimination for breastfeeding in public. We hear about those dramatic stories of people being asked to leave places for breastfeeding, but that is why they stand out. They are very rare, and they are becoming more and more rare. Right now, you have a great opportunity to breastfeed in public in peace, while also helping pave the way for more people to do the same in the future.

Resources

Breastmilk Counts (Texas Health and Human Services) breastfeeding laws

Breastmilk Counts – Breastfeeding in Public

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Regulations

Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Regulations for breast milk and baby/toddler food

Our articles are not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

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