Holiday Travel is Challenging: State and Federal Policies that Support Breastfeeding Make it Better

Contact: Cheryl Lebedevitch
Phone: 773-359-1549 x 21

Holiday Travel is Challenging: 
State and Federal Policies that Support Breastfeeding Make it Better


Chicago, IL – The holiday season is upon us, and for many people, that means they'll be taking a plane to visit family and friends. Airports tend to be crowded and slow-moving during the holidays, and since traveling with a baby or while expressing milk presents some challenges at any time of year, the seasonal crowds and long lines can add a layer to the complexity. Thankfully, federal laws and policies that support breastfeeding help make it easier: all 50 states now protect breastfeeding in public, the TSA allows breast pumps and expressed milk through airport security checkpoints, and increasingly, airports are providing private spaces for pumping or nursing. Various bills are making their way through Congress that would make air travel, during the holidays or any time of year, even better for breastfeeding travelers. 

Under the Friendly Airports for Mothers (FAM) Act, which passed through the Federal Aviation Authority reauthorization last year, by September 30, 2020, all large and medium hub airports are required to provide a "lactation area" in each terminal that is not in a bathroom, is clean, private, lockable, handicap accessible, and offers a place to sit, a flat surface, a sink or sanitizing equipment, and an electrical outlet. The recently introduced Friendly Airports for Mothers Improvement Act (S. 2638)/Small Airport Mothers' Rooms Act of 2019 (H.R. 3362) would extend these provisions to small hub airports. In total, this bill would ensure that breastfeeding people traveling through an estimated 81 airports in 41 states and territories would have access to lactation spaces. That's a positive change for thousands of families, particularly those traveling to and from rural areas.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has special procedures to meet the needs of infants, toddlers and lactating people. Passengers are allowed to carry formula and breast milk in quantities greater than the 3.4 oz limit that applies to other substances. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers travelers clear recommendations. The "Travel Recommendations for Nursing Familes" webpage notes that "Passengers are allowed to carry with them all expressed milk, ice, gel packs (frozen or unfrozen), and other items required to transport expressed milk through airport security checkpoints and onboard flights," and, importantly, an individual "does not need to be traveling with a baby to be able to carry milk or supplies." The Traveling Parents Screening Consistency Act of 2019 (S.2381/H.R.3246), which passed the House in September, requires that the Comptroller General of the United States review implementation of the 2016 Bottles and Breastfeeding Equipment Screening Act (BABES Act) and overall effectiveness of related TSA screening by October 15, 2020. The review will include factors such as whether TSA officers conduct screening beyond the scope of protocol and training, effectiveness of systems to monitor and respond to related passenger complaints, adequacy of TSA's communications and information sharing practices on the topic, and more in order to make recommendations for improving TSA's overall screening practices relating to such screening.

No matter what they're doing or where they are, breastfeeding people need to feed their baby or pump breast milk every few hours in order to keep up their supply and avoid discomfort, leaking, and possible infections. Airports are just one of many public places where they may face challenges finding a clean, private space to pump. Unfortunately, there is no shortage of horror stories shared by breastfeeding people traveling through airports that don't provide a clean, accessible space. One mother, who shared her story with the U.S. Breastfeeding Committee, a national nonprofit organization, wrote:

"I traveled for work in 2018 a few months after my daughter was born. I was on the same flight as my boss on the way home. There were no lactation rooms in this particular airport and no outlets for my electric pump in the bathroom, so I spent 45 minutes sitting on a toilet hand expressing milk from my breasts into paper towels. It was messy and time-consuming, but if I hadn't done it, I could have gotten an infection that would have kept me out of work for days. I felt so disrespected and unsupported by the facilities that I also felt like I couldn't explain what I was doing to my boss. We can and must do better." – Anonymous, Maryland

"The U.S. Breastfeeding Committee is so pleased to see support from both houses of Congress for expansion of legislation that supports breastfeeding travelers. The more society normalizes infant feeding in public, and considers the needs of lactating people, the more equitable our country will become for people in all phases of their lives and family development. Parents should be able to travel with or without their children for work or leisure, without wondering whether the simple need for a clean, private lactation space will be met," said Nikia Sankofa, Executive Director of the USBC. 

As of 2018, all fifty states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands have laws that specifically allow breastfeeding in any public or private location. The 2019 passage of the Fairness for Breastfeeding Mothers Act further normalizes infant feeding by requiring that certain public buildings that contain a public restroom also provide a lactation room, other than a bathroom, that is hygienic and available for use by a member of the public.

"We celebrate these wins, because data shows us that 80% of mothers intend to breastfeed, and 83% actually do breastfeed at birth. Yet only 25% of U.S. infants are still exclusively breastfed at six months of age, largely as a result of social barriers that can (and should) be changed. The passage of bills like these, that support breastfeeding people wherever they are, is another step in our journey toward creating a society where all families can safely and comfortably provide for their families," says Emily Taylor, Chair of the USBC.


For more information about the benefits of breastfeeding refer to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Office on Women's Health webpage.

For more information about traveling with formula and breast milk refer to the TSA Guidelines.

For more information about state breastfeeding laws refer to the National Conference of State Legislatures webpage.

The U.S. Breastfeeding Committee is national nonprofit organization that works to "drive collaborative efforts for policy and practices that create a landscape of breastfeeding support across the United States," with a focus on the values of leadership, integrity, and inclusion. USBC is made up of over 100 member organizations, including federal agencies, non-profit organizations, and breastfeeding coalitions.

Recent Stories
Impact Report: 2021 Breastfeeding Policy Priorities

2020 State and Territory Breastfeeding Reports Now Available!

Updated Resource: Federal Appropriations for Breastfeeding