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Traveling, Working, and Breastfeeding

Ng Bee Ting
From New Beginnings, Vol. 26 No. 2, 2009, pp. 26-27

After the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Towers in New York, new rules for air travel were devised and human milk was allowed on airplanes only when mothers were traveling with their breastfed babies. The rules failed to take into account breastfeeding mothers who are separated from their babies, until a woman from Minneapolis, USA, on a work trip, created a furor after her pumped breastmilk was discarded by airport security. She eventually succeeded in getting the USA transportation authorities to change the rules and allow expressed breastmilk to be carried on flights when mothers were traveling without their infants. This took place in August 2007. The USA now has the most liberal air travel security rules in the world in relation to breastmilk.

But the rules have not changed in other parts of the world. Every day during a recent work trip from my home in Malaysia to Japan, I would dutifully pump out my breastmilk, request hotels to store my milk in their freezers, and carry the milk, along with cooler bags and ice packs, as I traveled from one Japanese city to another. When it was time to board for the seven-hour return flight to Malaysia, I was stopped by airport security as breastmilk was allowed only if I had my infant with me. They didn't understand that if my baby were with me, I would not need to express my milk! They didn't understand that breastmilk needs to be chilled; otherwise it will spoil. They didn't know that the cargo area does not have suitable conditions for the bottled milk. "Rules are rules," they said.

Are traveling, breastfeeding and working mothers like me really a rare species? So rare that people who set civil aviation rules can ignore our needs? I think the rules need to be changed!

I have now managed to negotiate a deal with Malaysia Airlines in Narita Airport. On my return flight -- provided I inform the airline one week in advance of flying -- staff will prepare dry ice to pack very carefully with my milk, which is then shipped business class.

Adapted from a story in the WABA Mother Support Task Force E-newsletter

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