If you are able to breastfeed and are traveling internationally with a baby, breastfeed for as long as you can. There are lists upon lists why breast is best with a plethora of benefits for mother and baby, and here I’d like to highlight what I’ve found the top reasons are for choosing breastfeeding if you are a frequent traveler. The American Association of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding for at least one year, and the World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding for at least two years.
Reason #1: It reduces baby’s risks of disease and infection. Your breast milk will provide baby with your immunity, reducing his/ her risk to disease and infection. We have traveled with Veda to many places where vaccinations are recommended due to disease (such as Paraguay, India, and South Africa), but she was too tiny to have any vaccinations. I believe that the main reason Veda has only been sick for one day in her 11 month old life (including any flu, colds, sniffles, etc.), is because I breastfed her while traveling, and trust me, this girl must have ingested all sorts of the things by the amount of licking of disgusting things she does.
In addition to the nutrition and immunity-boost that breast milk provides to baby, you also reduce baby’s exposure to water-borne diseases by eliminating the use of water and bottles that need to be washed in local water, especially if you are in a location with poor water and sanitation infrastructure. See the CDC website for more information on the traveling health benefits of breastfeeding
Reason #2: It’s the best source of hydration for baby. If you’re exclusively breastfeeding, you don’t need to supplement with water, even if you are in an extremely hot environment- breast milk takes care of that. If a baby or small child does happen to get traveler’s diarrhea (even though exclusive breastfeeding protects against this), breastfeeding more frequently can help baby recover and stay hydrated.
Reason #3: It’s convenient. You don’t have to worry about finding potable water, sterilizing bottles (unless you have to work and are pumping), or trying to make a formula bottle at 3am on an airplane. When you’re standing in line at security and baby is hungry and cranky, it’s so much easier just to help her/him find mom’s nipple, and same goes when everyone’s sleepy on the airplane. It’s the easiest food on the go.
Reason #4: It makes packing more efficient. You don’t have to worry about finding formula where you are going (and often things like dairy-free formula are not available in many places), making room for formula, bottles, and bottle stuff in your carry-on or checked bags, or deal with declaring liquids greater than 3.4 oz at security check points. Breastfeeding seriously lightens your load.
Reason #5: It’s cheaper. It doesn’t cost anything to breastfeed. You don’t have to worry about running out of it in another country, and formula can often be extremely costly depending on where you are traveling to. It reduces your travel budget.
Reason #6: It’s the easiest way to help baby with ear pressure on plane descents. I try to time it so that I start feeding Veda as the pilot or flight attendant announces the descent. The sucking relieves the ear pressure, which prevents pain and the screaming people hear from children on planes on the way down. Of course other things may work, too, such as a pacifier (our baby spits those out), or bottle, but we’ve found that the breast works best, and often puts her to sleep.
For more information on breastfeeding, benefits of breastfeeding, breastfeeding support, and breastfeeding while pregnant (tandem nursing), visit La Leche League. There are also many local chapters in numerous countries worldwide. I find Kelly Mom to be another useful resource on breastfeeding. Almost a year into successful breastfeeding, I still find myself consulting both websites with questions that I have. This is also a great book on breastfeeding: The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding.