Travel for a nursing mom – with or without her baby – has some extra challenges, but they are not insurmountable. In fact, I found that an exclusively nursed infant is one of the easiest travel companions.
When my first son was born, nursing covers had not yet gained popularity. In fact, I did not know one person who owned one and had never seen one in use. Whenever I needed to nurse him in public as an infant, I took him to the car or inquired about a private room. It was truly a struggle to discretely cover a fidgety baby with a blanket that I was really nervous about our trip to London when he was four months old and exclusively nursed. We got through the plane journey and our first few days traveling into Central London. Even without comments, glares or stares, I was on edge every time I needed to feed him in public.
Then, we traveled to Barcelona. Our hotel was just outside the main tourist area, so it was not possible to retreat to our room for feedings every few hours. During a short rain shower, we ducked into a restaurant for some food, and I began feeding my son at our table. An older gentleman leaving the restaurant stopped as he passed, picked up the blanket and gently gave my son a soft pat on his head. My husband and I were shocked at first and then we realized that Spaniards are less conservative than Americans, and he was just interested in seeing the baby and completely unaffected by the fact that I was nursing. That one incident made me more relaxed while traveling in Europe.
Thankfully, nursing covers made their debut before my second son was born. They were not widely available as they are now, so I ordered my Bebe Au Lait cover through the specialty online store and carried it with me just about every time I left the house with a nursing baby since it arrived in my mailbox. While nursing in public with or without a cover is legal in most places, nursing covers make discreet public nursing possible just about anywhere. And, the new nursing scarfs and nursing ponchos picked up right where covers left off and added important back coverage.
With my nursing cover, I never had an issue nursing my second two children in public. I would nurse anytime I was sitting – on a plane, train or bus or at a restaurant or stop and find a convenient seat or bench (preferably with back support) whenever my baby needed to eat. If we were out shopping, I would use a fitting room. At first, I used to carry in a few items to make it look like I was planning to try on, but in later years, I would simply ask if I could nurse in a fitting room and was never once denied.
While at a museum, I would find a spot where I could sit for about 15-20 minutes. Sometimes I had to get creative if no benches were available and perch myself on the floor up against a wall or even on the stairs. Although Pope Francis told mothers to nurse during Mass, I never felt comfortable nursing during a religious service, except during Evensong at the York Minster when our family was seated in a small box that no one else could see inside.
It really is possible to find a place to nurse wherever you are while traveling. I’ve nursed at all of these places:
- Liberty Bell
- Smithsonian Museum of Natural History
- Caribbean beach
- Chicago Art Institute
- Bellagio lobby
- Grand Canyon
- Sedona Box Canyon
- Niagara Falls
- Bank of the River Thames
- Tate Modern
- London Museum of Natural History
- Tower of London
- Buckingham Palace (before changing of the guard)
- York Minster
- National Gallery (London)
- Cedar Point
- Blossom Music Center
- Michigan Avenue
- Cleveland Natural History Museum
- Kerala backwaters boat cruise
- Kalaripayati martial arts performance
- Arabian Sea
- Cleveland Monster’s Game
I think nursing moms have the advantage when traveling by plane with their babies. Nursing is not only a great way to calm a baby, but swallowing is a also a cure-all for most ear pressure or pain. Anytime my baby became slightly cranky on a plane, I would nurse, and that almost always immediately pacified the baby. Before my first flight with an infant, someone recommended an inflatable travel nursing pillow. It was a total life-saver. The pillow fit easily in carry-on luggage and was easy to inflate after boarding. Our babies (and our arms) were so much more comfortable when we brought this with us.
If you are a pumping mom or traveling without your baby, there may be challenges finding an appropriate place to pump while traveling. I have sat in the back seat pumping while covered with my nursing cover many times. Although restrooms are generally not what I would consider an appropriate place to pump, I have pumped in a restroom during a wedding reception at least three times.
Also, cleaning pump parts and storing pumped milk are also considerations. It is helpful to carry dish washing liquid in travel containers and also to notify your hotel in advance that you are a nursing mom and need a refrigerator in your room. Many hotels have additional fees for refrigerators, but I have always received one without charge when requesting for the purpose of storing milk.
Nancy had more experience than me as a pumping mom and has this advice:
Luckily, nursing rooms (aka “mother’s rooms”) are becoming common in airports. My friend Kate shared an amazing US airport nursing room locator. The Louis Armstrong New Orleans Airport offers mother’s rooms on each concourse, including this one that features comfy chairs, a power strip and a diaper changing station. Traveling for a nursing mothers does require advance planning, but the challenges are not insurmountable, and availability of these types of facilities is making it easier.
Check out our other Travel Tips for advice about traveling with kids.