Hungry Baby on Board: Travel Advice from a Breastfeeding Mum

  • Jane Higgins
  • 3 March 2011

Travelling with a baby is not easy. It’s not as hard as people would have you think – certainly possible, and in more places than you would think – but not easy. The internet seems full of advice about pumping for breastfeeding moms who have to travel; most of this advice assumes that the baby is safely elsewhere. Just look at this blog post about a mum who left her baby at home when presented with a travel opportunity.

My experience is different. You see travel was and is my partner’s life. It quickly became very much part of my lifestyle and a rich foundation for our lives together. Having our first child slowed us, but did not bring us to a halt. Despite the risks, we chose to continue to travel with our children.

Mother and son, Roman ruins of Jerash, Jordan

The author and her older son enjoy the Roman ruins of Jerash, Jordan, each in a different way but very happily together. Photo courtesy of Jane Higgins

We embarked on our first trip with little experience, but with a secure belief that even a baby or toddler has the capacity to wonder at and learn from the diversity of our amazing planet and its people. This belief has only strengthened over time. My sons (now 10 months and four years) have collectively travelled widely in four of seven continents. Before turning two, my oldest son had explored 11 countries with me and his dad.

Adventures in Nursing

There is much I could share about the delights and dangers of travelling with a baby (or two). There are countless lists I could write about what to bring, what not to, where to go, when to travel etc. But easily the single most important thing for me when travelling with my babies was something I couldn’t even leave behind: breastfeeding.

I know it is not for everybody. Breastfeeding can be chosen or not, and sometimes the choice is taken away by physical realities. For me, it has been the only choice and I have been extremely fortunate not to have any complications or difficulties. When on the road, it was the ultimate easy and safe food and beverage source, the best way to provide comfort and encourage sleep in unfamiliar places. It was also an important way for me to bond and provide constancy and closeness to my boys in the midst of change.

Mother breastfeeding child, Botanic Garden Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

In the green tranquillity of the Botanic Garden Ubud of Bali, Indonesia, the author breastfeeds her younger son while the older one looks on. Photo courtesy of Jane Higgins

I have nursed my boys on planes (including the mind-numbing non-stop journey from Australia to the U.S.), in a variety of buses and trains (including a month-long train journey that began in Budapest and ended in Istanbul). I have fed my babes at many restaurant tables; sitting on a log in the Australian rainforest; overlooking ancient ruins in Jordan; in city parks across Europe and by the beach in Sri Lanka.

Breastfeeding Travel Tips

Embarrassment is not something I had much time for… but discretion is something I always consciously aimed for. It was not always clear what local attitudes would be to a woman breastfeeding in public. But I could often not chose when or where. While I knew well the rhythm of babies’ needs for feeds and often would return to our lodgings to coincide, that could not always be done. Babies can be unpredictable and changeable while traveling, especially with time changes and the risks of dehydration from plane travel or changes in climate.

I found that wearing a camisole/singlet designed for breastfeeding with a similar-coloured shirt over the top provided coverage for tummy and breast, while also allowing easy access. Pull shirt up, top of singlet down and there you go.

The best cover was sometimes movement. If you can master feeding on the move using a front carrier or sling you’ll find that many people just don’t notice what they don’t expect. It’s also useful when trying to make that five-minute connection to the next train.

Mother and sleeping son during a family trip in Jordan

The author holds her older son, the latter sleeping beatifically after breastfeeding outdoors in Jordan. Photo courtesy of Jane Higgins

A partner is a useful screening tool too, especially on crowded public transport. If you take the window seat with baby and your partner is in the aisle or beside the next passenger, you can feed quite comfortably. Hopefully the gleefully kicking feet won’t be resented too much.

A Shared Understanding

One of the most memorable and (strictly in retrospect) laughable times I remember breastfeeding my second son was in an airport in Indonesia just after learning that our midnight flight had been cancelled. I was wearing him in an infant carrier on the front of my body while carrying my almost four-year-old first son on my back and pulling a large wheeled suitcase in one hand and a small wheeled backpack in the other. This was not a time when I/we blended into the crowd very well!

In all the perhaps hundreds of times I breastfed my sons on the road, I never once heard a complaint. I don’t think I even noticed a disapproving look. Perhaps that was because I was so busy gazing at the blissfully peaceful sight of my baby falling asleep in my arms. I hope it was also because I was respectful and because common across all people is the care we must give to our children.

When I did catch the eye of someone who obviously had noticed what I was doing, my instinct was to give a small shy smile and look down again to my baby. It was other women who were most likely to continue watching, and then usually with their own shy smiles of recognition.

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One Response to “Hungry Baby on Board: Travel Advice from a Breastfeeding Mum”

  1. Leonie Higgins says:

    Lovely Jane! Great article, beautiful mother, beautiful boys. Just as my mother had breastfed her four babies, I also nursed my three girls. It became easier with each baby. My travel was mostly camping in Australia in conditions more suited to breastfeeding than sterilizing bottles and such. I’m looking forward to reading your future book on your family’s adventures.

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