I met her eye across the crowded terminal shuttle taking us to our airplane. She was another young mom, cradling a squirmy baby under one arm while keeping a tight grip on her stroller and carry-on with the other. We exchanged pleasantries and I detected a faint accent in her Romanian. She revealed that she was traveling back to her native Paris after visiting her husband’s family in Romania and I explained that we had come from a similar family visit with my relatives.
On the flight, we found ourselves sitting in neighboring seats. But while I was able to spend the majority of the hour and a half flight from Sibiu to Munich reading a book on my Kindle, she struggled to keep her increasingly agitated baby quiet and calm. Between bouts of crying (the baby) and pacing (her), we exchange smiles and I what I hoped read as sympathetic looks, saying, it’s alright, we’ve all been there.
But the truth is that in our seven weeks on the road and our numerous flights (both domestic and international), we had very few moments going through what that she was struggling with. I would have liked to help her, but while she was struggling with her agitated baby, I was pinned under the heavy weight of my sleeping one. My only discomfort while flying with our nearly one-year-old was being stuck and unable to move my legs as she mostly napped to the hum of the engine and the vibration of the plane in flight.
My secret? I nursed her at every take-off, timing it to coincide with nap time as best as possible, and letting her drift to sleep while enjoying my arms and the comfort of breastmilk. In a conversation with that same mom on our way out of the plane, she relayed that she had stopped nursing her eight-months-old “a long time ago;” information conveyed with no trace of nostalgia nor relief. It just was.
In Munich, I would later buy a parenting magazine (Eltern) containing a graph showing breastfeeding customs according to country, indicating that French mothers breastfed for shorter periods of time than many European counterparts (most weaning at around three months of age).
While I don’t believe in shaming mothers who are not breastfeeding (for whatever the reasons, as causes can be multifold and complex), I have relished my breastfeeding relationship and do encourage any new mom friends to consider breastfeeding before turning to alternatives. Moreover, when it came to traveling with our daughter, breastfeeding proved to offer a host of benefits that I never even considered when first starting to nurse.
In no particular order, here are just some of the benefits of breastfeeding while traveling with a baby:
1) Nursing baby “down” on flights and trains
2) Increased immunity at a time of high exposure to germs
3) An easy and quickly accessible source of food while away from home
4) Comfort at a time of constant change
Ironically, I had approached our summer of travel as the time to begin the weaning process. My reasoning was that she would be nearing a year of age and that had always been a number tossed around by friends, family, and medical authorities as a “good goal time” in terms of nursing. Do it for a year. And I did and assumed I’d be done. But as we began our journey, I realized just how imperative nursing would be for keeping our daughter happy, comforted, and nourished through weeks of changing locales, cuisines, surroundings, and languages. Nothing communicated familiarity and comfort like our moments nursing at the onset of a train ride or take-off in an airplane. Nursing allowed her to relax in various spaces and in unfamiliar contexts, seeking refuge in the tastes, smells, and sounds of her mama and her “home.”
Whenever I describe our breastfeeding relationship, I’m wary of romanticizing it or of vilifying the other ways in which parents can nurture and bond with their children. There are many ways in which strong and valuable bonds can be forged and breastfeeding does not elevate my relationship with my daughter to a superior status. But it has proven tremendously rewarding, undoubtedly valuable, and surprisingly useful in our first year together and even more so once we took our family on the road.
As for the weaning process? I believe that to be a personal decision best made by baby and mother, listening to the needs of both over the advice and suggestions of others. As with so many parenting decisions, this summer has taught me to take outside suggestions with a grain of salt and to listen to my daughter, our specific situation, and my parenting instincts above all else.
About Ruxandra Looft
Ruxandra Looft is a writer and editor based in Des Moines, Iowa. Originally from Romania, she's called Germany, Austria, and Canada her home before settling in the Midwest. She holds a PhD in German and Comparative Literature and writes about parenthood, academia, and life on two wheels on her blog Simply Bike. Find more of her writing on her website and on Twitter @Simply Bike.