"Her ears might hurt when you take off and land," my friend said. I actually hadn't thought of that. "You should have a bottle of water always ready, as it helps with the popping".
"But she’s 3 months and has never had water," I said. "I can just breastfeed her."
I said it as a sort of question. As a first time mom, who had zero experience with breastfeeding—neither first nor second-hand knowledge--I almost believed her. She gave me a good blank stare in return.
"But you can’t just pull out your breast on an airplane."
It turns out you can in fact just pull out your breast on an airplane--in the service of feeding your child. Unfortunately, attitudes like my friend's do exist. And as many airlines do not have a policy in place for breastfeeding, there are many reports of women being asked to cover, breastfeed in the bathroom (eek!), or being harassed by other passengers.
Most airlines have no expressed, official breastfeeding regulations beyond "it is allowed" in order to protect the...uh...sensibilities and prejudices of the staff and other passengers. For example, CN Traveler's breastfeeding guide ledes with the story of a woman asked to cover with a blanket by a flight attendant aboard a KLM flight. However on Jaco Aerospace and Industrial's extensive blogpost on the subject, there are links to moms on message boards extolling the virtues of KLM's breastfeeding-friendly atmosphere. It really does all depend on your luck that day.
Jaco's post includes a list of dozens of breastfeeding guidelines (or, often, lack therefof) across airlines, internationally. It's worth bookmarking that post, and referring to it if you're curious about whether or not you'll encounter breastfeeding-friendly skies. CN Travelers post has a healthy list of guidelines for US-based airlines.
And so I breastfed two children over the course of 6 years on dozens airplanes. With and without a cover. Here's what we've learned...
Up until weaning, we’ve had zero issues with ear popping on the airplane. Ear drama has been difficult to conquer since. Dried fruits and lollipops can work, but are not nearly as healthy or effective as breastmilk.
Second, breastfeeding while flying means you don't have to worry about getting baby-safe water past airport security, at least without them poking at it with litmus sticks.
Third, no feeding gear also means no extra luggage for bottles or cleaning apparatus. Always a plus.
And, finally, the best bit: if you combine it with babywearing, you can feed your child on the go. No need to even sit down when your sweet breastfeeding baby/toddler/preschooler’s hunger pangs ring through the airport. Feed ‘em and check in at the same time. Boob and run to your gate without pausing. I’ve put my luggage safely in the overhead compartment without unlatching the kid. Because parents aren’t multitasking nearly enough…
Yes, you can pull out your breast anywhere and feed your baby to your level of comfort. A couple of to-do's:
Download the Mamava breastfeeding app. This locator keeps a list of available lactation rooms and pods available for public use in airports, stadiums, and beyond, across the USA, right at your fingertips.
Invest in a couple of soft breastfeeding tops. They are pricey, but made from strong, sustainable materials and last for as long as you're breastfeeding.
Also invest in large, soft scarves, which can also double as a blanket. A 3-pack of Aden & Anais silky soft swaddles in colors you wear often are some of the most long-lasting baby items you can buy. Super soft and breathable, your baby will still be able to breathe when you use it as a breastfeeding cover. Alternatively, they can be used as blankets for baby, and a scarf for you (or an older child), in a pinch. To top it off, they fold up so small you'll barely feel it in a carry-on. They can travel with you, and your family, for years!