Air travel can be a stressful enough experience, but for new moms, questions around how to feed your baby while traveling can add even more difficulty to the experience. While many airports still seem to expect moms to nurse in a restroom (not exactly our cup of tea), others have begun accommodating moms through lactation pods or dedicated nursing spaces.
As a new mom myself, this is an issue I just recently experienced flying with my infant son. When I tried to locate a clean, quiet space to feed my son, I was encouraged to head to the "breastfeeding" bench inside of a bathroom stall. Not cool.
The good news? With more awareness, some entrepreneurship ingenuity and overall new mama political action, breastfeeding in airports is slowly becoming easier.
Turbulance, well we still can't help you with that.
Here’s what you need to know about breastfeeding or pumping at the airport:
- You have a right to feed your baby. Legislation (and common sense—baby needs to eat!) protects you. You can read about state specific breastfeeding laws here.
- Too many airports still lack basic breastfeeding spaces: It turns out the airport we were at is far from alone. Although breastfeeding rates continue to rise and the number of moms who start out breastfeeding is up almost 5 percent from 2007 to 2011 (the most current data available), according to a 2014 study from Breastfeeding Medicine, only 8 percent of airports actually meet the minimum requirements for a qualified lactation room (which include an outlet for a pump and a private room not in a bathroom). Sixty-two percent, however, claim they’re breastfeeding friendly, and a striking quarter of airports, including the one my family was at this year, thought that a family bathroom satisfied the requirements for a space for nursing moms to pump or breastfeed. It doesn't.
- You might need to get super creative about where to feed your baby. Try an empty, quiet corner of a gate, or even (if you've got super breastfeeding skills) while wearing your child in a baby carrier. Some moms are totally cool with breastfeeding without a cover, (and we're totally supportive of that!) but other moms (and their babies) would ideally opt for a little more privacy. This is a time when you've got to get creative—and fearless.
- Airports are slowly starting to change, in part with the help from two Vermont moms. Sascha Mayer and Christine Dodson founded Mamava, a company that creates freestanding rooms that give traveling moms a place breastfeed or pump in private. The first Mamava suite popped up in 2013 at Burlington International Airport in Vermont, and others have been popping up across the country (including at sports stadiums).
"We were working moms who had to travel with our breast pumps and the only place to use them in airports and convention centers was the bathroom. Making food in a bathroom was not OK for obvious reasons, so we decided to use our design thinking background to solve the problem for ourselves and other moms," Mayer explained in an email to Motherly. We're with you Mamava!
- Legislators are also taking notice of the difficulties nursing moms have while traveling. United States Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth, a new mom herself, wrote in a Chicago Sun-Times Mothers’ Day op-ed, “I never imagined that airports would present one of my biggest obstacles as a new mother.”
As a result of her own struggles traveling while also being a breastfeeding mama, Rep. Duckworth introduced a bill this past spring that would require airports to “provide accessible, safe, clean and convenient lactation rooms for travelers.” The bipartisan Friendly Airports for Mothers (FAM) Act would require all medium and large airports to comply with the law within two years, and would enable them to use funds through the Airport Improvement Program to finance compliance.And, just last month, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner signed legislation requiring large airports in his state to provide space specifically for nursing and pumping. California has a similar law, which was signed by Governor Jerry Brown last year.
- There’s an app for that! Mamava has an iPhone app to help traveling moms find Mamava’s pods as well as other breastfeeding and pumping locations. And there’s Moms Pump Here, an app created by two moms to help other moms find places to nurse while they’re on the go.
There are plenty of online resources too. Momaboard, a travel site for families started by Kaamna Bhojwani-Dhawan, hosts a running list of airports with nursing areas as well as maps on where to find them. Another site with tips and resources for traveling families, TravelingMom.com, created a packing list for mamas who are breastfeeding and pumping on the go.
The Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity at the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention also has tips for nursing moms, and TSA does provide exceptions to some of the security regulations around traveling with liquids if you’ve got formula, breast milk and juice.
- Finally, there are ways to take action to help make traveling easier for yourself and your fellow moms. If you’re political, you can call your U.S. Representative and ask that he or she gets on board with Rep. Duckworth’s bill.
Mamava’s Mayer also suggests advocating for services directly from the airports or businesses: “Ask for lactation rooms at service desks, or email customer service at the airports you travel through. Most airports want happy customers and Mamava provides an easy fix, but moms must be assertive about their needs.”