I’m covered in crumbs. Also, in milk, in about a tablespoon of applesauce and in sweat. That’s because I’ve been on an airplane wrangling my 17-month-old toddler and my four-year-old daughter for the last five hours. The four-year-old is doing just fine, actually. She’s getting a ton of screen time and I know I’ll pay the price later for the movie marathon we’ve allowed, but I’m okay with it given it’s a special circumstance.
The toddler on the other hand? Well, it’s just a tough age. Too old for cuddling and napping as we zoom through the sky, too young to hold her focus for any length of time. She’s in constant motion. If this plane does not speed up and get to our destination ahead of schedule, I may collapse in an exhausted heap.
Our trip—for which I am actually completely grateful because it’s a privilege to take my kids to a new place with new adventure—made me think about the first time I ever traveled with a child. It took me back to how I overpacked, how I overstressed and how I underappreciated how simple it could actually be.
There are tons of parents who ask me in my office if I have any advice for the plane or the airport with a baby. Turns out, you can optimize your travel experience by taking these easy steps:
Carry As Little As Possible, Check the Rest
Know how, when you go through the airport, your carry-on luggage and personal item seem to somehow get heavier and heavier the further you walk? Multiply that times ten with a baby because you now have an extra PERSON you are lugging. There are obviously some items you have to bring with you – a small stack of diapers, wipes, a change of clothes, bottles if formula-feeding. But, the less stuff you have to lug through security, through the terminal or into the overhead bins, the better. Better to check it and forget it, in my book.
Don’t Spend Extra Time In the Airport, Except When Boarding The Plane
A lot of new parents think they should get to the airport super early if they are traveling with a baby or child. Usually, though, that just means extra chances for meltdowns (for your baby, not you) and germs. Obviously, give yourself enough time to make your plane, but don’t plan to linger excessively. On the other hand, when it’s time to board the plane, consider your unique situation.
Airlines offer family boarding early on in the boarding process, which can be tempting. If you don’t have an assigned seat or you have carry-on luggage that demands overhead bin space, take full advantage of this perk. If you haven’t brought much with you, though, consider minimizing the amount of time you have to sit “trapped” in a small space with your infant.
Stay Away From Sick People
This is a hard one since, notoriously, airports and airplanes tend to be germ fests. The number one way to avoid a baby getting seriously ill from air travel? Don’t take them until after they are old enough to receive their first set of vaccines and are out of the highest infection risk zone.
In our practice, we don’t give the first set of vaccines until at least six weeks old and recommend waiting a few weeks after vaccination for the shots to take effect before flying. I waited until about three months until flying with my first baby. Once you’re on your way, it pays off to wash your hands well with soap and water often and to keep your baby away from direct contact with sick people.
Give Baby Something to Suck On
Once you depart on your flight, you’ll want to help minimize discomfort in your baby’s ears, which can build as the pressure changes with altitude shifts. Giving baby something to suck on (a pacifier, a bottle or a breast) can really help. On the way up, it’s obvious when you need to pay attention to helping your little one with this but, on the way down, it’s easy to get the timing wrong.
Instead of waiting for the flight staff to tell you you’ve started your descent, be observant. When you start to feel the plane descending, get your baby going on an ear pain prevention plan by initiating some type of sucking motion (note: if they are asleep, let them sleep).
So you have a baby on a plane? Oh, well. Tons of other passengers have been in your situation and we’re not irritated when we hear your baby cry. Those who are will have to just suffer through. If your baby wails the entire trip, it makes sense to at least acknowledge the patience and understanding of others around you.
But those little gifts some propose to assuage your neighbors preventatively? Unless you have tons of free hours you would not rather spend doing ANYTHING else, I say forget it. You paid to be on the plane just like everyone else and you’re doing way more hard to work to make the trip successful than any of your seatmates.
In the end, traveling with a baby can actually be significantly easier than you first imagined. Hey, at least it’s not traveling with a toddler. Pack light, get the timing right and feel confident–you’ll be there in no time.