Flying with your new baby for the first time? Wondering how to pack and carry on breastmilk or formula for a flight? Here’s what you need to know!
Lap infant or buy baby a seat?
I’ve flown both ways with Nate and each had its pros and cons.
When baby flies as a lap infant they are essentially traveling for free since they are sitting on your lap and don’t require their own seat. Nate flew as a lap infant on his first flight at four months and it went really well. We had an early morning flight so I wore him in his carrier the entire time we were in the airport (he thankfully snoozed!), breastfed him during takeoff and then held him while he slept for the rest of the flight.
There were two major downsides: 1) Since I checked his stroller and car seat as baggage I did not have a place to put him down. This meant taking him into the restroom with me and having to carry our things while also holding him. Thankfully the woman I was seated next to was incredibly sweet and helpful. She offered to hold him when I had to pee and helped me with my things when we were de-boarding.
2) Not as much space to spread out and less privacy when breastfeeding. I was really worried about this so I decided to splurge on a first class ticket. The larger seat made breastfeeding much more comfortable and since I was in the first class cabin, I only was seated next to one other passenger as opposed to two in economy. I also was able to board and de-board the plane first.
A note on flying first with a baby!
After I shared on Instagram that I had flown with Nate in the first class cabin, I received a few messages from mamas asking me how other passengers reacted and if I experienced any side eye from a having a baby with me.
First off it’s important to remember that flying is a form of public transportation and babies have as much right to travel by air as adults. Also in these pandemic times, I think people are even more understanding of a parent wanting to fly first with a baby– not as much close contact with strangers, closer to front of plane, etc. I personally didn’t think twice about it. I was incredibly nervous since it was 1) his first flight and 2) I was traveling with him alone. My top priorities were his comfort and my own sanity– not the opinions of strangers.
All that said, our experience was very positive! The other passengers and flight attendants were very friendly and I think everyone appreciated seeing Nate’s cute smiling face. There was one point where he fussed for a few minutes and while I did feel bad about the noise, all I could do was try my best to calm him and apologize to the folks around me. Everyone was very kind and no one made me feel bad or uncomfortable. I would definitely fly first again if the circumstances warranted.
On Nate’s second flight at 5 months, I decided to buy him his own ticket and bring him on to the plane in his car seat. My first time flying with him I had been too nervous to fold up and gate check his UPPAbaby Vista stroller and car seat, but the second time around I had gained some confidence and felt like I could handle dealing with the stroller and car seat in the airport.
Similarly to my first time flying with him, everything went smoothly and better than I expected. I just tried to get to the gate as quickly as possible and not stress when it came time to pack up the stroller frame in its travel case and gate check it. Yes, I had more to deal with in the airport than I had on my first flight with Nate, but at least I had a place to put him down and could keep my purse and diaper bag in the bottom of the stroller. Getting on the plane was a slower process since I was lugging Nate in his car seat as opposed to his baby carrier, but once we got to our seats it was a comfortable experience.
At check in I had asked if there was availability to place us in our own row without a third passenger and thankfully there was! That meant I had the space of the entire row to breastfeed discreetly and was able to have him sit in his car seat for the majority of the flight. When I had to pee I just called a flight attendant and asked if she could stand with him.
Flying With a baby during covid
Did you feel safe flying during Covid? That was a common question I was asked following both of my flights with Nate.
My answer? Yes, I felt safe.
My experience in the airport and on both flights was honestly not that much different than what I had been used to in pre-Covid times. The biggest differences were actually very positive. Everyone wore a mask. All flights were boarding back to front to avoid unnecessary crowding and delays. Passengers could only approach the gate when their row was called. The airport and plane was incredibly clean.
I know for a while many airlines were blocking middle seats (Delta still is as of March 2021), however when I flew in January 2021 both United and Allegiant had returned to filling flights. I remember my United flight being nearly full and getting an alert from them saying I could switch to an emptier flight without any change fees. I opted to stay on the full flight and felt comfortable the entire time.
TSA Tips + What You Need To Know
Breastmilk, formula, juice & baby medications in liquid form are exempt from TSA carry-on limitations but will likely be tested. This means you can pack quantities greater than 3.4 ounces or 100 milliliters in your carry-on baggage and these do not need to fit within a quart-sized bag. I would recommend keeping them packed separate from your other carry-on items in a clear zip lock bag and alerting TSA agents right away that you have liquids over 3.4oz packed for your baby. Also be prepared for TSA to test any liquids that you bring through security.
On my first flight with Nate, the TSA agents did not test the 8oz bottle of breastmilk I had in my diaper bag– despite me alerting them that I was carrying a liquid more than 3.4oz. However on my return flight home, the agents did remove the bottle from my bag and go through the testing motions.
Basically what they do is open up the liquid and stick a little paper test strip into it. It takes about three minutes and you can stand there to watch as they do it in the security area. To avoid any spills or confusion I would recommend putting any liquid formula or breast milk into a secure container that’s easily accessible in your bag and simple for a stranger to open and close.
I made the mistake of putting Nate’s milk in a prepared Dr. Brown’s bottle (lots of little pieces) so it took the agent a lot longer to remove the nipple + gave me a ton of anxiety seeing someone else fumble around with baby’s bottle. Moving forward I will definitely pack all liquids in a container with a screw on cap vs prepared with a nipple. TIP: you can absolutely request for the TSA agent to put on new clean gloves before handing any of your packed liquids.
Frozen breastmilk & ice packs can be packed in carry on luggage. Similar to liquids, frozen breastmilk and ice packs over 3.4oz are allowed to be carried on flights. The big difference– frozen items do NOT require any TSA testing and do not need to be removed from your luggage when going through security. Frozen items can go through the conveyer belt scanner like any normal item.
On our flight back from Florida, I carried on 15 5oz freezer bags of breastmilk in the insulated cooler compartment of this backpack with no issues. I placed all the freezer bags into a large gallon-size zip lock bag surrounded by ice packs within the backpack and they stay nearly frozen the entire time. It was about 6 hours total between leaving for the airport, the flight itself and then the drive home that my milk was out of the freezer. If possible, I would recommend storing anything frozen in a bag or container separate from other belongings to avoid having to open it up and release the cool air while you’re in transit.
CDC BREASTMILK STORAGE GUIDELINES:
Freshly expressed or pumped milk can be stored:
+ At room temperature (77°F or colder) for up to 4 hours.
+ In the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
+ In the freezer for about 6 months is best; up to 12 months is acceptable. Although freezing keeps food safe almost indefinitely, recommended storage times are important to follow for best quality.
+ Breast milk can be stored in an insulated cooler bag with frozen ice packs for up to 24 hours when you are traveling. Once you arrive at your destination, milk should be used right away, stored in the refrigerator, or frozen.
More breastmilk facts + tips can be found at CDC.gov here.
Sign up for TSA PreCheck. I’ve had TSA PreCheck and Global Entry for years and can’t speak highly enough about the perks. You get to go in a separate faster line and don’t have to remove your shoes, belts or layers when going through the scanner. You also don’t have to remove liquids from your baggage if 3.4oz or under. Having it makes the security experience significantly less stressful. PS children 12 and under get to enjoy all the perks of TSA PreCheck if they are traveling with an adult that has the indicator on their boarding pass.
Be prepared to take baby out of their car seat or carrier to walk through scanner. For Nate’s first flight I actually wore him in his Artipoppe carrier the entire time through security. I had no idea what to expect, but surprisingly the agents were incredibly chill and did not ask me to take him out or make me put the carrier through the luggage scanner. On his second flight when I brought his car seat + stroller, I did have to unstrap him and push the stroller through the scanner while holding him in my arms.
tips for before the airport
Book a window seat. You’ll naturally have more privacy, can control incoming light and have a place for yourself to lean against and relax.
Practice folding/taking apart your stroller. Whether you’re planning to check your stroller as baggage or at the gate make sure you know how to fold it up/take it apart. We have the UPPAbaby Vista and while I’ve been a pro at folding it and throwing it in the trunk of our car for months, flying was the first time I had ever needed to take off the wheels and pack it in its protective travel case— highly recommend getting one to prevent damage. I brought the travel case with me in the bottom of the stroller through the airport and then packed it away at the gate. I practiced a few times at home in advance and took photos of what the stroller looks like packed up just so I had for reference.
Make sure your car seat is FAA approved. If you are going to bring baby on the plane in their car seat it has to be FAA approved. Most car seats have this certification, however make sure to check first just in case. Typically there will be a big sticker somewhere on the bottom or side of the seat that will say it is certified for use in aircraft. We have the UPPABaby Mesa.
Diaper bags do not count towards your carry-on luggage allowance. Check your airline’s policy first, but to my knowledge most carriers allow passengers to bring on a diaper bag free of charge in addition to whatever carry-on luggage is allowed per their ticket. So if you normally travel with a small rolling suitcase and a large purse, you can also bring on a third bag with your baby’s necessities without incurring an additional fee.
Car seats and strollers do not count as baggage. Again check your airline’s policy, but to my knowledge most carriers allow passengers to check a car seat and stroller at the gate or as checked baggage free of charge.
Give yourself extra time. As parents, we already know that everything takes longer with children. The same applies to airports and flying so plan accordingly!
See if your airport has a mother’s lounge or nursing pod. Lots of airports have private areas just for mamas to breastfeed and change baby. Worth looking into if you have a long layover or a delay!
tips for at the airport
Bring a copy of baby’s birth certificate. Check your airline’s policy because some require you to show a birth certificate as a form of identification when flying with an infant. I think it’s also smart to have in case airport or flight staff question your baby’s age since children 2 and under are not required to wear masks. I brought a copy of Nate’s with me in my purse, however I was never asked to show any type of documentation for him on either flight (so far we’ve flown United and Allegiant.)
Ask for a boarding pass for baby at check-in– even if they’re a lap infant. When I flew with Nate as a lap infant, he still needed his own boarding pass. It wasn’t sent to me when I did the normal online check in for myself so I had to ask for it when I dropped off my bag at the airport check in.
Break down your stroller before heading to the gate. If possible, fold and pack up your stroller before heading down to the gate. This way you can just quickly carry on baby in their car seat or carrier and not have to scramble to do it while other passengers wait behind you.
Do not be afraid to ask questions or request help. Remember: most people in this world are KIND. Do not be afraid to ask a question or seek out help. Folks are very sympathetic to parents traveling with small children, especially solo. On my two flights with Nate, I got multiple offers from airport staff, the flight crew and other passengers to help me with my bags and to hold him. I also had no shame in asking for help when I needed it.
tips for on the plane
Nurse, bottle-feed or give baby paci during landing & takeoff. Doing this will help relieve any possible ear discomfort due to cabin pressure and altitude changes.
Bring a back-up bottle. I nurse Nate for all of his daytime feedings, however he is very prone to getting distracted so I packed a bottle of pumped milk with me just in case he needed a top off to fill his belly. He was still a little fussy after nursing both times that I’ve flown with him, so I did end up giving him the bottle and homeboy PASSED out. You know your baby best, so I would just pack what they need to have a full belly and restful sleep on the plane.
Have entertainment! I’d suggest have a favorite toy or two + have some Netflix or YouTube shows downloaded on your phone in case baby gets antsy and needs a distraction.
Don’t stress. Easier said than done of course, but just remember you’re in a unique situation. Do not stress about sticking to a nap or feeding routine. Do what you need to do to make yourself and baby comfortable, whether that’s screen time with Cocomelon or giving baby an extra feeding to help them settle.
1. Face Masks | 2. Sanitizing Wipes | 3. Pacifier Clip | 4. Pacifier | 5. UPPAbaby Vista | 6. Portable Changing Mat | 7. Hair Ties | 8. UPPABaby Mesa | 9. UPPAbaby Vista Travel Bag | 10. UPPAbaby Mesa Travel Bag | 11. Nursing Bras | 12. Magnetic Onesies | 13. Insulated Cooler Backpack | 14. Music Toy | 15. Wubbanub Pacifier |16. Nursing Friendly Top |17. Nursing/Car Seat Cover
Pack These Things In Your Diaper Bag!
Portable Changing Mat (I changed Nate in the airport before/after each flight and used this pad as a clean surface on top of the pad in the airport bathrooms)
Sanitizing Wipes (Nate’s paci fell on the floor at one point so I used these to clean it)
Zip Lock Bags (to store any dirty clothes, drool-soaked bibs, etc. away from the other items in your diaper bag)
Hair Tie or Scrunchie (necessary for me when I breastfeed)
Nursing Pads (if you’re breastfeeding and have a strong let down)
Extra Change of Clothes (I packed an extra onesie/pair of pants for Nate JUST in case of a blowout. If baby is a messy eater/prone to spitting up, you may want to bring an extra top for yourself too.)
Light Blanket (for covering baby during naps)
Comfortable Face Mask (for yourself– these are my favorite)