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Traveling with a Breastfed Toddler

 shutterstock_389551702-2Ashley Smith, Deatsville, Alabama

I think one of the best pieces of mothering advice ever imparted to me was “learn to be flexible.” Never was this more necessary than when I struggled to accept that my tiny, amenable infant was quickly becoming an energetic and opinionated toddler.

We floundered at first. With time my husband and I guided our toddler into a regular routine that benefited us all. In the morning, my daughter would nurse before we dressed for the day. In the evening, after dinner, a bath, and quiet playtime, she nursed before bed. On the weekends when we were together, she nursed after lunch to settle down for a nap. Things went smoothly.

Eventually, the time came when we decided to spend a few days away from home. Friends lamented that vacationing with a toddler was exactly the opposite of a vacation and warned that I would need a holiday from my holiday before it was all said and done. True enough, packing and preparing for the adventure (and eventually bringing it all back home) was tantamount to moving cross-country, but I found an indispensable ally for keeping my toddler happy and rested: our breastfeeding relationship.

Nursing was the only “normal” experience for my toddler when we were away from home. Think about it: waking up in a different room, doing new things all day, meeting and being held by different people, going to bed in a strange place. Those are earth-shattering changes for a toddler. I found that the moments we spent breastfeeding did help her “check in” with me and regroup before she toddled back into a brave new world.

Nursing was the linchpin to maintaining our routine. When we were away from home, we found that the bedtime routine did not start precisely at the appointed hour. I found that breastfeeding was the best and easiest way to tell my toddler where we were in our routine. She may have fought her bath and refused to brush her teeth, but settling down to nurse was universal. “This is bedtime,” it said to her and it worked every time.

shutterstock_273118055-2Nursing gave us both a reason to have some calm, quiet time together. If there is a word spoken or a sound uttered, my toddler simply must look around to see what she’s missing. Because she was easily distracted, I always chose to find a quiet, private place to breastfeed while we were out and about. At first it felt cumbersome and worrisome—I had absolutely no intention of hiding away to breastfeed—but I eventually came to realize that finding a calm place to reconnect helped me reenergize for all our activities as much as it helped her.

A breastfed toddler is still a toddler. Sometimes—no, many times—all I could hope to do was redirect my toddler to anything that wasn’t unruly or unsafe or both. Having some solid toddler-friendly items in tow was crucial. Here are some of my must-haves:

  • Safety plugs for electrical outlets. I spent an entire holiday weekend in a beach condo chasing my child and attempting to keep her from the light sockets. Next time, I will bring safety plugs and maybe a baby gate, depending on the environment.
  • White noise/sound machine. If your little one sleeps with a sound machine, bring it with you. Trust me; don’t rely on an app on your smartphone for this. Bring the whole machine so you can plug it in beside your toddler’s crib or bed and drown out the other sounds around her.
  • Travel-friendly snacks. This will depend on your toddler’s self-feeding skills. I like fruit or yogurt pouches. For me, it was important that travel snacks were not something to be dropped (thrown) by the handful and crushed between the car seat cushions. A vacuum can easily clean up crackers or cereal.
  • Never-before-seen toys and games. Gather some inexpensive and travel-friendly toys that will be new to your toddler. The newer the item, the longer your toddler will stay occupied before the toy goes in the discard pile. New books and a magnetic drawing board were two sure winners for my daughter.
  • An electronic tablet. Some parents may or may not agree with letting their toddler watch videos on a smartphone or tablet; however, for long car rides, it kept us all sane. Use with mother-approved content. My daughter happily watched (usually falling asleep) for much of the trip.

Traveling with a toddler can be challenging; however, planning, flexibility, and maintaining the breastfeeding relationship all help when traveling with the breastfeeding toddler.