Stick to your regular schedule
Try to schedule the departure of your trip around your baby's regular naptime or bedtime — if he has one. That way your baby will sleep for at least part of the trip. "I would recommend that a parent refrain from interrupting a baby's sleep schedule before a flight," says Daniel R. Bronfin, MD, clinical pediatrics professor at Tulane School of Medicine in New Orleans and physician at New Orleans' Ochsner Foundation Hospital. "Trying to sleep deprive an infant, for example, in order to make him/her sleep on the plane, will often backfire."
Catharine Shaner, MD, FAAP, a pediatrician and advisor with the American Safety and Health Institute in Holiday, Florida, recommends parents try to schedule flights during non-peak times or days, so it is less crowded and less overstimulating for your baby, which can make for a very fussy baby. She also recommends parents call and confirm their travel itineraries with the airlines ahead of time. At that time, request any special seating requirements, such as asking for a bulkhead seat — where there is no seat in front of you — which should offer the most room.
"Some airlines do not make these available ahead of time and sometimes the bulkhead may be the emergency exit row," Dr Shaner says. The emergency exit rows are typically off limits for parents traveling with young children.
If you can't get a bulkhead seat, ask to be seated in a "noisy" area of the plane, recommends frequent flyer Phoebe Dey of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. "I think most airlines do this anyway, but if not, I would request it," she says. "Most of the babies were seated in the middle of the plane, right over the engines. Not only does it muffle some of the sound from crying babies, the vibration seems to knock the babies right out."
Elizabeth Pantley, parenting expert and author of Gentle Baby Care, says parents also should ask airlines if they have any special features for families traveling with babies. "Some companies offer bassinets, gate check for strollers or early boarding privileges."
What to bring
You probably will have loaded your suitcases up with all the essentials, but don't forget to have a diaper bag — preferably one you can carry as a backpack — handy and packed with the following:
- Plenty of diapers, wipes and diaper rash cream for the trip. (Ask friends or relatives to have some diapers on hand for you at your final destination.)
- A bag to hold dirty diapers, especially if you use cloth.
- A bottle of hand sanitizer so you can "wash" your hands when you don't have access to water.
- Bottles and extra pacifiers.
- A baby blanket — good for warmth as well as for privacy when breastfeeding.
- A change of clothes — or two — for Baby. You may also want to dress him in layers, since airplanes can be rather cold or get very hot!
- An extra top for you (in case you are breastfeeding and leak breastmilk).
- A travel-size diaper changing pad or disposable diaper changing cloths.
- A small can of disinfectant spray or wipes that kills bacteria and viruses to clean surfaces where you change your baby, such as Lysol or VIROFREE.
- A bottle of water for mixing formula and for you to keep hydrated! Make sure to ask the flight attendant for a cup of warm water to put the bottle in to heat the formula or breastmilk.
- A bib, bowl, spoon and baby food if your baby is on solids, along with snacks for babies on solids.
- A cloth to quickly wipe up spills or spit-up.
- A carrying case that can keep pumped breastmilk bottles cold.
- Some toys to keep baby entertained.
You may also want to bring an umbrella stroller — maybe even one that reclines — or a front carrier to make getting around the airport a lot easier. Typically, you will be allowed to check your stroller just before you board the plane and it will be stored with the luggage. The airline workers will then bring it up for you just after you get off the plane.
Kerry Zarend Camp of Memphis, Tennessee, first flew with her son when he was three months old. "I nursed him on take-off and landing — making many business men blush!" she says. "The flight attendants were very helpful and one was delighted to hold the baby while I used the restroom. Of course my dad got the terminal mixed up and was late to meet us so we were waiting a long time. I was very glad to have my stroller!"
Christina Tillsley, of Franklin Lakes, New Jersey, who flew with her baby when he was just a few months old, recommends changing your baby's diaper right before you board the plane. "Bring plenty of wipes and [zipper plastic] bags, plus any favorite 'lovies' your little one might have," she adds.
Dr Bronfin also suggests that along with your essential items that you try to make friends with those you are sitting next to on a plane. "You will feel a bit less guilty when the baby wails or spits up on them," he adds.
Pantley says if your baby is unhappy and begins to cry, take a deep breath and focus your attention on your baby. "Fellow passengers who are unhappy about the disruption may forget that you have as much right to be on the airplane as they do," she says. "They also may forget how difficult it is for a baby or young child to be patient during a long flight. Your best defense against an unpleasant stranger is to say with a smile, 'I'm doing the best I can.' And then tend to your baby."
When traveling by plane, the change in altitude, especially when taking off and landing, can cause an infant to wail! There are a few things you can do to keep his ears from hurting.
Dr. Bronfin recommends you either breastfeed your baby, offer him a bottle or give him something to suck on — like a pacifier — during takeoff and landing. This, he says, will prevent increased middle ear pressure and pain. Dr. Shaner says to keep nasal passages dry and to prevent stuffiness, parents should make sure their baby is well hydrated.
"Dry nasal passages make Eustachian tubes [in the ear] stickier and more difficult to operate," Dr. Shaner says. "It is important to begin as soon as the plane leaves the ground or as soon as the pilot announces the descent, for waiting too long may make simple maneuvers such as swallowing ineffective." Dr Shaner says a decongestant may help with nasal stuffiness and suggests giving the medication one hour before takeoff. Always check with your doctor before giving your baby any medications, to make sure the medication is suitable as well as for dosage allowances.
"It is NOT recommended to fly with a cold, sinus or ear infection," Dr Shaner warns. "Eardrums may rupture in those cases."
Pantley recommends taking your baby to your healthcare provider a week or two before your trip to ensure he isn't "harboring an ear infection or other illness. If possible, avoid exposing your child to other children the week before the flight so he's less likely to catch one of those many kid-carried bugs," she adds.
Along with taking care of your precious baby, don't forget to take care of yourself! If you are traveling just a few months after childbirth, don't be too hard on your body. "Make sure you drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration, especially if you are breastfeeding, and don't lift anything heavy off the carousel or anywhere else. You could easily hurt yourself," says Paula Shelton, of Wellington, New Zealand, creator of the website www.flyingwithkids.com. "When you nurse on the plane, make sure you use the pillows to support yourself, or invest in an inflatable lumbar support to help your back. It really makes a difference to be comfortable when feeding."
Dr. Shaner says the safest place for a baby during the flight is in an FAA-approved car seat. You may have to purchase a seat for your infant as well. Many airlines, however, do allow a child under the age of two to ride on your lap. "Check with the airline to see if your brand [of car seat] is approved when purchasing tickets," she says.
Sounds easy, right? Keep in mind you will soon be at your destination and in the arms of happy people who can't wait to see you and your baby! Just remember to take everything in stride, take a deep breath and enjoy the ride!