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For breastfeeding mothers, always having your baby’s milk along with you (and constantly warmed to the perfect temperature, to boot) sometimes simplifies one logistic of traveling with infants and young children. Other times, it can make things a little more complicated.
In the cramped space of an airplane, and the very public spaces of an airport, nursing can be a challenge for some moms and babies. The good news is air travel and airports in general are getting more and more accommodating for traveling mothers who also happen to be breastfeeding young children.
Signed by President Trump in October 2018 as part of a five-year reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration, a law called the Friendly Airports for Mothers Act will require all medium and large airports in the US to have dedicated airport lactation areas located beyond security screening areas and in each terminal of the airport. Among several other stipulations of the law are the requirements that those areas have locking doors and not be located inside a rest room (can we get a hallelujah!).
While grants will purportedly be available to airports to help with the cost of renovations related to lactation rooms, it will be a while before all applicable US airports are fully up to speed. In the meantime, follow our lead for the best airport and inflight advice on breastfeeding while traveling by air.
Best Airport Lactation Rooms for Breastfeeding
Many airports across the US have a lactation room, but not all lactation rooms are created equal.
The first thing to do when it’s time to breastfeed in an airport (if you aren’t comfortable just finding a quiet corner of the terminal) is to ask an airport worker, someone at the airport information desk or even an airline’s gate agent where you can find a nursing or lactation room. You can also check the airport’s website.
Mamava is a popular lactation pod maker with units popping up inside airports around the country, with 126 pods available in 45 airports across the US.
Most often, these nursing pods are in the form of freestanding suites that look a bit like windowless, modified camping trailers. They can be found inside terminals and pre-security areas from coast to coast. Inside the pod, there are benches for nursing (or pumping), a collapsible table, AC and USB power outlets and limited additional space for a stroller, partner and/or luggage.
The Mamava website has all of its current locations listed, and among the many airports across the US with pods are: Orlando International Airport, Philadelphia International Airport, Palm Beach International Airport, Miami International Airport, Charleston International Airport, Boise Airport and many, many more.
When you want a little more space to do your thing, many airports in the US offer dedicated nursing rooms that are surprisingly comfortable and nice.
Minneapolis–St. Paul International Airport has three lactation centers in Terminal 1 and an additional one in Terminal 2, all outfitted with deep sinks for cleaning bottles and pump parts, comfortable chairs, soft lighting and even artwork on the walls.
Washington, DC’s Dulles International has eight nursing rooms, in both pre- and post-security areas, which are exclusively reserved for nursing mothers.
Each terminal of Chicago O’Hare International Airport has ADA-compliant mother’s rooms with outlets, diaper changing areas, comfortable seating and a sink.
At San Francisco International Airport, mothers can enter private nursing rooms (labeled nurseries) located in pre- and post-security areas by using the airport courtesy phones to call and request access.
And Charlotte Douglas International Airport is another winner with Mother’s Rooms that even have private areas within the space so you can pull the privacy curtain and be all alone to feed your baby.
The list goes on across the country. Before your trip, you can always just Google the airport’s name and “nursing room” to see what’s available.
And in case the airport you’re traveling through doesn’t have dedicated nursing rooms, bring a scarf or nursing cover-up (Bebe au Lait makes a good one, as does Milkmaid Goods) and find a quiet corner of the terminal (as far away from blaring TVs and announcement speakers) to settle in and do your thing. Seats facing the windows at gates with no imminently boarding flights are usually a good option for some privacy.
As a last resort, of course, you could always go into a public airport restroom, but who wants to do that? If you insist on having a closed door to nurse behind, a private family restroom is always a better option than the general ladies room, but don’t expect to always find a place to sit down here other than the toilet seat itself (ack).
Best Airport Lounges When Breastfeeding
Airline and airport lounges are busier than ever these days, but many have darkened rooms for napping and — even if the space isn’t designated for breastfeeding mothers — quiet nooks can provide nursing mothers some privacy.
More and more airline lounges, however, are offering private spaces specifically designed for nursing moms or moms with young babies.
American Airlines caters to breastfeeding mothers with dedicated private spaces in its lounges in Miami, New York-JFK, LAX and Chicago. Renovations are currently underway to accommodate lactation areas at the lounges in Dallas and Boston, too.
And in Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport at the recently renovated 12,500-square-foot American Express Centurion Lounge, nursing mothers have a dedicated room just for them. Some Priority Pass lounges may also have dedicated spaces for nursing moms.
At its indulgent lounges in Abu Dhabi, Etihad Airlines has private baby changing rooms outfitted with comfortable armchairs where nursing mothers can breastfeed.
When in doubt, a simple call to your airline’s customer service number or check of the website before travel is a good way to find out if the lounge offers private space for nursing mothers.
Best Domestic Airline Seats for Breastfeeding
Mothers know that even on short flights, feeding your baby from the breast or the bottle can be super beneficial — the sucking motion can help equalize pressure in their little ears during takeoff and descent and keep them from crying.
Some unfortunate viral episodes to the contrary, US airlines are fully supportive of a woman’s right to breastfeed onboard. For example, here is Delta’s official online statement: “Delta fully supports a woman’s right to breastfeed on board Delta and Delta Connection aircraft and in Delta facilities. Breast pumps are allowed on board. At the airport and if you prefer, many airports do offer private lactation rooms or spaces.” You’ll find similar available from most airlines — that said, there are a few pro trips frequent flying mamas swear by.
For starters, if you’re flying in coach and plan to breastfeed, the window seat is where you want to be for several good reasons. First of all, it offers maximum privacy, with nobody next to you on one side (and hopefully the other, too, if you’re lucky and nobody is seated in the middle). You can throw a nursing cover or scarf over your baby whose head is on the window side and pretty much conjure an inflight world of your own. The window seat is also better than an aisle seat for breastfeeding because you don’t have to worry about your baby getting knocked by a passing passenger, flight attendant or service cart. The middle seat is the last place you want to be seated in coach; it has limited room for propping your baby to feed and almost no privacy (even with a breastfeeding cover) either.
While an exit row would be a good place to breastfeed, with all the extra room you have to stretch out, passengers traveling with lap babies aren’t allowed in the exit rows due to safety concerns.
As an alternative, consider if it’s worth using miles or cash to upgrade to a seat with more leg room in premium economy or even business class for a cross-country flight, in particular. TPG‘s Mommy Points loved flying with her nursing pillow as her baby could lay on it when feeding or sleeping, but the logistics of that are much easier in seats with extra legroom.
United’s Economy Plus seats, for example, have up to 6 inches more legroom than standard economy seats. And Jet Blue’s Even More Space Seats have that extra pitch to help you get more comfortable feeding your baby, too. Business class seats across all airlines will obviously offer even more space to feed your bundle of joy.
TPG’s best airlines for families are considered among the friendliest and most accommodating for traveling families across a range of criteria. And in the top five are Southwest Airlines, JetBlue, Delta, Hawaiian and Alaska Airlines.
You can always give your airline a quick ring to ask about its policies regarding breastfeeding or even pumping in flight. The latter gets trickier because of the privacy logistics and the fact that not all seats are equipped with power outlets. Once, on a flight between Auckland and Sydney on Air New Zealand, the flight attendants made a little curtained-off area for me in a bulkhead with an outlet, where I could sit on a jump seat to pump. When in doubt, just ask.
Best Long-Haul Seats for Breastfeeding
Those long-haul flights — think transatlantic and transpacific — are where breastfeeding mothers will really appreciate having extra legroom and pitch when it’s time to feed their babies.
When it comes to economy class, Singapore Airlines is widely regarded as making things as comfortable as possible for passengers riding in the most cost-effective seats. Other economy class options for long-haul flights that are considered among the most family-friendly are Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways.
If you’re flying on a US carrier, upgrading to an economy seat with premium space can be a real game changer for traveling moms. Beware of seats with armrests that can’t be raised. When you’re traveling with people you know, being able to lift up the armrest while you breastfeed allows you to stretch out more.
Opting for a bulkhead on a long-haul flight is a good idea, too — and not only because that’s where the bassinets are located for putting baby down for a proper lie-flat sleep. When you sit in the bulkhead row, there’s nobody in front of you to lean their seat back, further cramping your space.
Business class seats on long-haul flights are a serious luxury, and almost any in the bunch will afford you the luxury of being able to be very comfortable feeding your baby in flight. Large business class armrests between seats can also offer a natural privacy buffer if you’re flying next to a stranger.
United’s new Polaris business class seats are staggered, offering maximum privacy for breastfeeding mothers.
And people traveling together in business class will love the dividers between seats, which can be lowered, on Singapore Airlines’ new-in-2017 A380s — it’s almost like flying in a double bed and allows lots of room for a nursing mother to turn on her side to feed her baby in flight.
Best Suites for Breastfeeding
It’s a huge splurge (read: most often tens of thousands of dollars or thousands of points). But for the ultimate inflight privacy for breastfeeding mothers who can afford it, there’s nothing like encapsulating yourself with your nursing baby inside the private environment of a full-on inflight suite.
Among the most luxurious inflight suites where you have total privacy (read: a proper door that shuts you off from the rest of the traveling masses) on the plane are Singapore’s new A380 suites and Etihad’s first-class Apartment and Residence suites. At the top of the list for pods that are totally private is Qatar Airways’ QSuites, which have double beds and can be configured into four-person family or work areas. And when it comes to domestic airlines in the US, Delta One Suites, on select A350s and 777s, are the premium product for breastfeeding moms looking for the ultimate in inflight privacy.
JetBlue Mint, is also a phenomenal choice, especially if you can snag a private suite in rows 2 or 4.
Do factor in lap infant fees, which can be quite high with some carriers on international flights in a premium cabin.
Being forewarned is forearmed: It’s always good for breastfeeding mothers to know what their options for privacy are, both in airports and in flight. Also just knowing the airline rules for nursing and pumping in general can be powerful. For example, a pump is considered a medical device and should not count against your carry-on allowance.
For the most accurate and up-to-date information, check the airport or airlines’ websites. In general, there’s never been a better time than now when it comes to privacy and acceptance of breastfeeding your baby while traveling by air, thanks to constantly upgraded seating options in flight, the new Friendly Airports for Mothers Act in the US and increasing acceptance for breastfeeding in the US.
And, if all of this seems a bit overwhelming now as a new mom, don’t worry. Mommy Points says traveling with kids gets easier.
- How to Fly With Breastmilk
- Flying With a Baby Checklist
- Child’s First Flight: A Survival Guide
- Best Business Class Seats for Families
Are We There Yet? | The Ultimate Travel Stroller
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