Return to Index
Breastfeeding While Traveling: What You Need to Know
The benefits of breastfeeding are well-known and often touted. Looking at these same advantages from a traveler’s perspective is revealing. For instance, nursing can often comfort a baby in unfamiliar surroundings. Even more importantly, breast milk contains antibodies that protect babies from bacteria and viruses.
This protective quality in breast milk was borne out in a study, where breastfed babies experienced significantly less gastrointestinal disease than bottle-fed babies. Still other clinical studies have shown that breastfed babies have a better response to immunizations, like polio and influenza, another key benefit when traveling.
Immunizations and Medications
When traveling out of the country, immunizations or medications may be necessary for both you and your baby. Where you travel will determine which types of immunizations are necessary. While diseases like diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis are rare in the United States, they may be common in other countries and require a vaccination or a booster. Certain developing countries may require immunizations against diseases like hepatitis A, hepatitis B, influenza, Japanese encephalitis, typhoid, and yellow fever.
If you are nursing, you can still be immunized safely and effectively. Vaccines won’t affect the safety of breastfeeding, nor will breastfeeding interfere with how the vaccine works. Keep in mind however, that some vaccines can’t be given to infants below certain ages, and not all vaccines offer the baby immunity through breast milk.
Antimalarials are another medication that must be given to both you and your baby. If traveling to an area where malaria is common, make sure you and your baby both receive anti-malaria drugs.
Carrying Your Baby
While traveling, carrying your child may prove to be a workout. Consider placing your baby in sling or other soft infant carrier. This may make it easier for you to:
- Carry your baby for a long period of time
- Allow for unrestricted nursing
- Maintain skin-to-skin contact with your baby
- Protect your baby
Milk Output: Stay Hydrated
Nursing moms who travel know that milk output may fluctuate because of a change of schedule, sleep disruptions, different eating patterns, and other stressors. Increasing your fluid intake and avoiding alcohol will help you maintain a good milk output.
Another potential dehydrator is traveler’s diarrhea. If you get sick, it is especially important that you increase your fluid intake or use oral rehydration solutions. Continue to breastfeeding your baby as you normally would.
If you are planning on pumping or bringing stored milk with you, it’s important to be familiar with storage guidelines. Breast milk can be stored at room temperature for up to 6-8 hours. Refrigerated milk is good for up to 5 days at a temperature of 39°F (4°C), and frozen milk stored in a freezer can last for up to 12 months if you use a deep freezer. Once frozen milk is thawed to room temperature, it should be used within 1 hour. You should not refreeze thawed milk. Choose a sterile container to store the milk and label it with a date. Your body produces milk according to what your baby needs developmentally, so try to use the freshest milk possible.
In the final analysis, traveling with your baby may not be as easy as traveling alone, but with adequate planning and preparation, you can safely show your baby the world. Here is a quick checklist of things to do before your trip:
- Talk to a travel doctor or a travel specialist about which immunizations you and your baby will need. They will take into account the baby’s age and the types of diseases you may be exposed to before deciding whether to give a travel-specific vaccine or to accelerate the administration of your baby's normal childhood vaccines.
- Be sure you know how to manage diarrhea—for both you and your baby. Breastfeeding reduces the risk of diarrhea for your baby, but it does not eliminate this disorder. You should know how to prepare and use rehydration solutions. Be sure to be especially careful about washing your own hands.
- Talk to your health insurance company about out-of-area coverage and purchase additional travel insurance if needed.
- If you are supplementing your baby’s feedings, bring powdered formula and mix it with boiled or bottled water, or use a premixed canned formula.
- When traveling by plane, breastfeeding during take off and landing will help equalize the pressure in the baby’s ears and reduce the risk of ear pain. Also, since breast pumps are considered personal items, you may pack a pump as part of your carry-on luggage and store it beneath your airplane seat.
- When traveling by car, take advantage of the car’s sleep inducing abilities and drive during the baby’s usual sleep times or at night. Make frequent stops along the road to breastfeed, stretch your legs, and get the baby out of their car seat.
Centers for Disease Control
Office on Women's Health
About Kids Health—The Hospital for Sick Children
Public Health Agency of Canada
Breastfeeding. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated October 9, 2014. Accessed July 11, 2016.
Pregnant travelers. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/yellowbook/2012/chapter-8-advising-travelers-with-specific-needs/pregnant-travelers.htm. Updated July 10, 2015. Accessed July 11, 2016.
Proper handling and storage of human milk. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. . Available at http://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/recommendations/handling%5Fbreastmilk.htm. Updated June 9, 2016. Accessed July 11, 2016.
Travel recommendations for the nursing mother. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/recommendations/travel%5Frecommendations.htm. Updated April 21, 2010. Accessed July 11, 2016.
Vaccine recommendations for infants and children. Traveler’s Health, Centers for Disease Control, National Center for Infectious Diseases. Available at: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/yellowbook/2012/chapter-7-international-travel-infants-children/vaccine-recommendations-for-infants-and-children.htm. Updated July 10, 2015. Accessed July 11, 2016.
What are the LLLI guidelines for storing my pumped milk? La Leche League website. Available at: http://www.llli.org/faq/milkstorage.html. Updated July 8, 2014. Accessed July 11, 2016.
Yates J. Traveler's diarrhea. Am Fam Physician. 2005;71(110:2095-2011.
- Reviewer: Michael Woods, MD
- Review Date: 07/2016
- Update Date: 07/11/2016