So, last but not least, here is my most important tip:
Tip 3: Enlist a pumping support team (and research accommodations in advance).
A number of airports have realized that many women travelers need a place to pump while traveling. Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, for example, had dedicated Lactation Centers and a Nursing Mothers Room even back in my traveling and pumping days in 2011-12. (Probably due to an employee who knew the struggle firsthand!) But on my first pumping travels, flying out of San Diego International Airport, I quickly realized (as the mom in the Dulles article did) that I could not expect decent accommodations. After having a terrible experience, I wrote an email to the airport’s Customer Relations Coordinator, which I found on the airport’s website.
The representative responded quickly. He was extremely apologetic for what had happened, and on my next trip through that airport, he met me and escorted me through security to a private office where I could sit comfortably and pump. He even gave me a bottle of water. When I was done, he escorted me to my gate. I was so impressed that I sent a message to the Director of Customer Service to tell them how helpful he had been. He was my pumping support person!
From then on, every time I pumped and traveled, I would find a point person to help me find a decent place to pump. Flying through Boston Logan Airport, it was a customer service rep for Jet Blue, the airline I was flying. She arranged with United to have someone escort me through security. Another person brought me to a spot in the United First Class Lounge where I could comfortably pump. I had a support team! The people who assisted me were so kind and happy to help. It was awesome.
As I explained in Part 1 of this series, education is the issue.
Airports and airlines are concerned with the safety and comfort of their passengers. Lactating moms don’t pump at the airport because they like it, or because it’s convenient. Nobody likes it, and it is *never* convenient to milk oneself. We do it because we have to. If we don’t pump at regular intervals, we face potentially serious consequences. And due to the nature of air travel, I personally could not make even a short trip without having to pump at least once — it just takes too long to get from point A to point B.
If we can’t pump, we risk the discomfort and pain of engorgement, plugged ducts, and even mastitis, which once sent me to the ER. If we are away from nursing babies for a long period, we risk losing our milk supply. Also, people don’t understand that breast feeding goes better physiologically if the mom is relaxed. You need to be relaxed to have a letdown, for the breasts to drain fully, and to be comfortable. We don’t want special treatment for its own sake. Privacy and a comfortable seat make pumping more effective.
These are medical issues. Like any other passenger with a medical issue, we should ask for extra assistance in traveling, and airline personnel should be willing to help. But a busy, distracted employee who may or may not understand about breast feeding, and has a million other things in his job description besides helping me find a place to do this thing he is unfamiliar with, is not the right person to ask. Once I realized this and began to reach out in advance to customer service representatives instead, I saw much better results.
If enough moms ask for the help we need, I believe they will hear us and be encouraged to provide proper accommodations. And actually, there are now lactation rooms in place in both of the airports I mentioned above where I asked for assistance when traveling back in 2011. The San Diego International Airport now has *three* Lactation Rooms, and Boston Logan has rooms for nursing mothers, too. I like to think that my request helped spur these airports to action — just as the Dulles mom speaking out about her experience hopefully will.
So, pumping mamas, my advice is to do your homework and research your airports in advance. (Moms Pump Here is a great resource to find lactation rooms. You can also search “lactation” or “nursing” on the airport website.) And if the airport you’re traveling through doesn’t have a lactation room, or the lactation room is too far from your gate to work for you, contact customer service through the airport’s customer relations (or through your airline) and ask for what you need. If you have a short window to pump and think an escort through security could help, ask for one! I speak from experience when I say it’s nicer for everyone (you, and probably the passengers squeezed into those too-close seats around you) if you can pump on the ground rather than in the air.
Let me know if you want to see the email I sent — I’d be happy to share it with you if you want an example of language to use. Be very specific about what you need and include details about the medical consequences of not pumping, to help educate the representative about the seriousness of your request and encourage them to help you out.
And by the way, this all applies to places beyond airports, too. Once I was empowered to make pumping arrangements for myself, I did the same for other places I was going to — like conference sites, and my law school reunion. Every request I made was met positively. People were kind and generous, even offering me their private offices!
Have you been to a great lactation room while traveling, or have you tried asking for help in advance as I suggest? Have you had good results, too? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
And until then…