The nature of a pilot’s job is challenging for breastfeeding mothers who seek to pump after returning to work. Complications arise when legs are long or turnarounds are short. Finding appropriate facilities to pump, transport, chill, and freeze milk can be difficult. Further, if you are unable to perform this necessary function, medical complications can occur including leakage, engorgement, and mastitis.
This section provides resources and information for pilots who return to work while breastfeeding. Pumping while flying is certainly a logistical challenge, but it can be done. Only mom and baby should decide when to stop breastfeeding. The issue requires a delicate balance between safety of flight and accommodation of the pilot’s physiological needs.
ALPA Aeromedical—also known as the Aviation Medicine Advisory Service, or AMAS—provides free, confidential consultations with medical professionals to all ALPA members in good standing. Contact ALPA Aeromedical at 303-341-4435 Monday through Friday 0830 to 1600 MT or visit the AMAS website. If your MEC has an Aeromedical Committee, consider contacting them as well.
- The FAA has not issued rules governing pilots who express milk in flight.
- When operating an aircraft, the primary responsibility of flightcrew members is safety of flight.
- Pumping must not interfere with the operation of the aircraft or crewmember duties.
- Expressing milk is a physiological need.
- Good CRM should always be used when managing pilots’ physiological needs.
- The pilot in command is ultimately responsible for and is the final authority on the safe operation of the aircraft.
Check in your collective bargaining agreement and with your company for rules and procedures for breast pumping.
The information contained herein is provided as a service to the pilot community and does not constitute an endorsement of any specific agency, business, or organization. ALPA makes no claims, promises, or guarantees.
- Moms Pump Here locates nursing rooms at airports
- Mamava provides lactation pods and suites in public spaces, including airports; the mobile app finds Mamava pods and other vetted pump-friendly places
- Additional resources can be found on social media sites where parents facing the same issues offer real-time support.
Tips & Tricks for Pumping Pilots
The following tips and tricks have been collected by line pilots who are or have been nursing mothers. This does not constitute ALPA guidance. Although ALPA does not endorse and has not reviewed any specific products referenced below, these are suggestions from fellow pilots. We recommend that all pilots do your own research and make decisions that are best for you.
Secure a high-quality cooler bag. Polar Bear, Luggage Works, Strong Bags, AO, and Yeti all have great options. Use cloth headache bags (filled with water and frozen) to keep your milk cold. If you can’t refreeze the bag during your layover, fill it with ice. The cloth prevents condensation from forming on the outside of the bag, which could soak your bag, and also from getting stuck to the freezer in the hotel fridge.
Invest in a good pump. Our nursing mothers have found the Willow to be the smallest and most discreet pump, offering additional features beneficial to pilots. Everything works inside the pump and inside your bra—no external tubes, cords or dangling bottles. The Willow automatically switches to expression phase based on your individual milk production. The milk flows into a disposable, spill-proof bag in the pump. You can move freely and track the progress on an included app. Fully charged, the Willow lasts for five pumps. Additionally, pilots have found success with the Medela Freestyle. It doesn’t require batteries, and each charge is good for five to six pump sessions. It’s lightweight, small, and can fit easily in any bag or cooler.
Go manual. Bring a hand pump as backup. If you forget your charger, your pump breaks, or you can’t find an outlet, this tiny pump can save the day.
Pack for your pump. If your pump has a battery pack, bring extra batteries. Store your pump pieces in the cooler or fridge between uses to cut down on washings. You can wash all parts at night in hot water and let them air dry while sleeping. Make a wash kit of travel-size dish soap and a half sponge and/or small bottlebrush. Carry pump wipes in your bag for times when soap and water aren’t available. Medela makes a steam bag for sanitizing pump accessories with water and a microwave.
Store milk. Pilot mothers recommend using large containers to store milk while on a trip, then separating them into servings before freezing at home. This helps with cooling the milk and prevents spills. It also eases transport if the only fridge available is in the hotel lobby or restaurant. If you prefer to pump into bags while on a trip, you can place them inside an airtight container to prevent punctures or tears during transport.
Plan ahead. Look at your schedule and plan your pump breaks. If your seniority and aircraft type allow, consider bidding for leg lengths and sit times that are conducive to pumping. If you realize you must have a longer time between pumping sessions because of the circumstances (mechanical delay or weather divert for example), make every effort to add a few pumping sessions closer together in the next 24 to 48 hours. It may be necessary to pump a few extra times during a layover to offset decreased pumping sessions during your flight duty period.
Talk to your crew. If you need to make time to pump, bring your crew into the loop. CRM is critical for pumping pilots.
Prepare for storing milk. Call layover hotels ahead of time to ensure a fridge is in the room or available to store milk. Breastmilk is protected as medicine. If the hotel attempts to charge you for the fridge, explain it is medicine/breastmilk. If the hotel is unable to provide a fridge in your room, ask to use an employee or kitchen fridge to store your milk in the same manner they do medicine for guests. Talk to your flight management about storing milk in your base, if you transit your base during your trip.
Know TSA requirements. TSA exempts breastmilk from the liquid limits, even if traveling as a passenger. You must declare breastmilk, and it may be subject to extra screening.