Traveling with a Breastfed Baby

shutterstock_292081409By Ashley Smith, Deatsville, Alabama

Around this time last year, my husband and I were packing innumerable bags and loading the car for our first trip away from home as a family of three. I toiled over the “to-pack” list and tried to supervise my husband as he stowed our luggage away, while our tiny baby nursed and slept at my breast.

Nursing pillow? Check. Nursing cover? Check. Breast pump? Check. Pump parts, bottles, and milk storage bags? Check, check, check. Our baggage grew exponentially.

We planned for the four-hour drive to take five hours. Naturally, it took six. Our baby was three months old, exclusively breastfed, and co-sleeping with us. As we drove, she became increasingly less tolerant of being anywhere other than at my breast and in my arms, so we stopped often.

Once we arrived at our destination and again throughout our stay, I found myself frequently locked away in a bedroom, pumping breast milk. At the time, it seemed like the least awkward of all of my baby’s feeding options. After all, my baby girl’s grandmother wanted desperately to feed the baby a bottle and her grandfather was supportive but still uncomfortable with breastfeeding. So, I hid and I pumped and I turned what should have been an enjoyable family visit into a week of sequestration and dirty dishes.

What I didn’t know back then was that traveling with your breastfed baby doesn’t have to be so hard. My breast pump is a fabulous tool that allowed me to work full-time while also providing breast milk for my daughter, but on the road it became yet another complicated baby accessory. If I really thought about my baby’s needs and my own needs, they were simple: feed the baby. That didn’t change just because we were away from home.

With hindsight being 20/20, here’s what I would change if I could take that first trip again.

I would leave the pump at home. Maybe I’d pack a manual pump and one bottle just in case, but bringing my entire arsenal of pumping supplies—and washing them on the road—was a lot of work. Nursing my baby is much, much simpler than pumping. There is no time spent pumping, no storage, no toting bottles around, and no dishes to wash. Nursing on the go is, dare I say, easy.

shutterstock_319467005I would plan for more nursing breaks on the road. It added undue stress to our trip when we had to stop unexpectedly because the baby was upset and needed to nurse. We may need to stop more often when traveling with a baby, but we also should have planned for more nursing stops. That would have helped relieve my anxiety that we were running behind and also would have given our baby the breaks she needed.

I would find other ways to let family share in caring for baby. I know my daughter’s grandmother really, really wanted to give her a bottle, but instead she might be happy burping the baby after nursing and giving her a bath that evening. There are so many ways family can bond with a new baby; it doesn’t have to be through a bottle. And if I leave my pump at home, there really is no choice but to nurse her anyway (wink, wink).

I would put my baby’s need to nurse ahead of others’ comfort levels. This is the hard one—for me—but I believe it’s also the most important. Doing this might mean I choose to nurse my baby in a private room, but at least I’m not alone and hooked to a pump at the same time. It might mean that I choose to nurse using a nursing cover, or it might mean that I choose not to be offended if someone leaves the room when I nurse uncovered. Ultimately, it means that I choose to put my baby’s needs first, even when we’re in someone else’s home.

Once we had that first trip under our belt, it became so much easier. My confidence level rose knowing I could manage it all away from home. I learned to lean on my nursing relationship with my baby instead of being inhibited by it, and suddenly things were so much simpler. I was much less afraid to travel because it became less of an ordeal and more of an experience again. And I am so happy I’ve been able to share those experiences with my nursing baby.