Breastmilk is instantly on hand and contains immune factors, so it is the safest food and drink for your baby while travelling. If your baby is exclusively breastfed, you won’t have to worry about unclean water supplies or sterilising bottles.
In developing countries, avoid travelling with a baby outside major centres. There is a higher risk of disease and it can be difficult to find good medical facilities.
Cultural sensitivity when breastfeeding
Most families with babies are travelling to visit and stay with family and friends. If this is the case, you will most likely know what is normal and polite in the country you are visiting. Babies are welcome in most places, and can be a great way of helping you interact with people you may meet on your travels.
Breastfeeding in public is generally accepted, but people in some countries may consider it offensive. Before travelling, check with the Australian embassy in the country you are visiting, or with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. A discreetly placed bunny rug or shawl is very useful when breastfeeding in a public place.
Immunisation and breastfeeding
See your doctor to discuss vaccinations before you travel. Your doctor may suggest giving your baby the routine vaccinations earlier. Research suggests that vaccinations are safe for mothers and babies. But it is not possible to vaccinate a newborn baby against some diseases, such as yellow fever, and breastmilk will only offer limited protection. Unless you really must travel, it may be wiser to delay your trip until your baby is older.
Malaria and breastfeeding
If you are travelling to a place where malaria is present, you will need to take anti-malarial medications. Small amounts of this medication will be passed to your baby through your breastmilk. Doctors do not think this is harmful. But the medication your baby receives in milk will not be enough to protect them against malaria. Before you travel, discuss with your doctor which medications and dosages will be suitable for your baby.
Malaria is spread by mosquitoes. While travelling, take extra care to avoid mosquito bites. Suggestions include:
- Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
- Make sure your baby’s skin is well covered with clothes.
- Wear insect repellent.
- Do not put insect repellent on your baby’s hands, as they may swallow the lotion if they suck their fingers.
- Use insect sprays or mosquito coils in your room.
- Sleep under mosquito nets (both you and your baby).
Other medications while breastfeeding
Both prescription and over-the-counter medications, including herbal medications, can be passed to your baby through your breastmilk. Generally the amounts are so small that taking the medications is usually okay when you are breastfeeding. Only take medications prescribed or recommended by your doctor who knows you are breastfeeding.
If possible, take with you all the (safe) over-the-counter medications you think you may need during your trip. Remember that other countries may not have familiar brands, and what you assume to be a suitable substitute may not be a good thing to take while breastfeeding.
Maintaining breastmilk supply when travelling
Some women find their milk supply temporarily decreases at times during their trip. This could be due to dehydration after flying or illness (such as travellers’ diarrhoea) or because there are fewer opportunities to breastfeed.
It may help if you:
- Continue to breastfeed as often as your baby wants
- Drink plenty of non-alcoholic fluids, especially on long-distance flights
- Avoid caffeinated drinks
- Don’t smoke
- Avoid smoky environments
- Get enough rest
- Plan plenty of rest breaks and feed breaks
- Drink more water if you get travellers’ diarrhoea.
Tips for breastfeeding when travelling
- Ask friends or your travel agent for advice on child-friendly airlines. Some airlines are more accommodating than others.
- Ask your travel agent for suggestions on airline travel with children.
- Speak directly with the airline if you have questions or concerns.
- Be aware that water does not come to a full boil on aeroplanes. Make sure you can breastfeed, or take sterile water with you if you need to make up infant formula.
- If you are unsure whether baby products will be available at your destination, take enough supplies to last you the whole trip. Take sachets of an oral rehydration product (to treat fluid and electrolyte loss) in case you or your baby gets diarrhoea.
- If your baby gets diarrhoea when travelling, keep breastfeeding. It is fine to go back to exclusive breastfeeding for a while until your baby is better.
- If you express milk, take your own equipment (such as breast pump) with you. Remember to take a power point adaptor if your breast pump is electric.
- If you are travelling alone, ask the airline if they can give you an ‘assistant’ to help you at each stop. For example, the staff member might collect your luggage and help you on and off the plane.
- While travelling by plane, try to time your baby’s feeds so they are drinking during take-off and landing. This will help avoid ear pain caused by changes in cabin pressure.
- Thieves tend to target women travelling with young children, because mothers are often distracted and not able to hold on to their handbags. Carry your valuables on your body, such as in a neck pouch or money-belt worn under your clothes.
- Carrying your baby in a sling or specially designed backpack baby carrier can make it easier to get around in places like airports, train stations and bus terminals. You will also know exactly where your baby or toddler is, and that they are safe and secure, where they can gain comfort from being close to you.
Where to get help
- Your doctor
- Australian Breastfeeding Association Breastfeeding Helpline Tel. 1800 686 268
- Travel agent
- Australian embassies
- Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Tel. (03) 9221 5555
- Travel guidebook with information on travelling with children
Things to remember
- Breastfeeding in public is considered offensive in a few countries, so check beforehand to avoid unpleasant attention.
- In developing countries, avoid travelling with a baby outside major centres – the risk of disease is higher and it can be difficult to find good medical facilities.
- Dehydration and illness (such as travellers’ diarrhoea) may temporarily reduce your milk supply.
This page has been produced in consultation with and approved by:
Department of Health and Human Services - CHI - HSR&I - Maternity & Newborn Clinical Network
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