The first time I flew with my oldest daughter Khloe (now almost three), she was only six weeks old! It was a lovely, yet sleepless, time in our lives, but it soon became very clear to me that if I wanted to see my parents during these precious first weeks of Khloe’s life, and spend time with my husband, who was very busy at work and couldn't leave New York, I’d need to work up the courage to take my tiny baby on a big, scary airplane – every new parent’s worst nightmare!
Khloe’s pediatrician told me that ideally she would have had her eight-week shots first, but if I had to fly before then, it wasn't going to be the end of the world… I was not completely convinced.
The night before our first flight, I spent hours packing and almost zero time sleeping. I found myself pondering a LOT of questions - Why do little bitty babies need so much stuff? And how does all that little stuff take up so much space? Would she cry the entire flight and force everyone to stare at me with those annoyed looks that all non-parents give? If she needed her diaper changed, how would I do that in a TINY bathroom – and what if there was turbulence?
I called friends for reassurance, but they didn't sugar coat it – it was going to be tough, but we’d survive. Sure enough – they were right.
Soon, we were pros at flying with a newborn. Well, I should say we were pros at flying with a newborn on a domestic flight. However, my rose-colored-glasses wearing Hubs took this to mean that we were ready for a seven-hour international flight to see his family in England for Christmas. By now, Khloe was six months old, but my husband’s nonchalant attitude was vaguely soothing and annoying at the same time.
It turns out, mastering the flight is only half the battle. Next comes figuring out how to schedule your child’s sleeping and feeding needs when traveling abroad, but I’ll cover tips on adjusting your baby to a new time zone in a future blog post!
Once my second child, Lola, was born, I had the experience of traveling with a newborn under my belt, but adding a second baby to the mix presented a whole other set of challenges. Picture this – me on a flight (without the Hubs), Lola was just three-months-old and Khloe a “spirited” 18-months-old. That three-hour flight became a balancing act of me trying to hold on to the newborn in a baby carrier, while lassoing a feisty toddler into a CARES1 harness. All I know is I still think I should have earned a medal – or maybe it was the lovely passenger sitting in our row who deserved one!
Through it all, this is what I learned about flying with a newborn or infant:
- Do fly while baby is still a newborn – The rumors are true – the younger babies are, the easier it is to fly with them. The only downside is the frequent diaper changing, but it’s worth it to see the look on your relative’s face when they meet your new bundle of joy!
- Carry two diaper bags – a large one and a clutch-sized one – There will be many times that you'll need to change your baby in the lavatory, which is a tight squeeze by yourself. Add a squirmy child, a changing table that’s propped up over the toilet and a large diaper bag to the mix and you're asking for trouble. Avoid this problem by investing in a small case just for diaper-changing necessities. My personal favorite clutch is by Bella Tunno - they come in crazy fun patterns and have a metal ring handle for easy carrying. (Tip 1: Take the hard wipes case out and use the diaper case with a few diapers in it as a “pillow” under babies head during changing rather adding discomfort to baby’s head on the hard table. Tip 2: Carry a separate clutch for each baby. We have one pattern for Little and a different one for Littler. This helps because size does matter when diapers are concerned!)
- Pack a change of clothes - for Baby and Mom – It seems obvious to pack spare clothes for baby in case of a diaper leak or spit up. However, many moms forget to consider what those same accidents do to their own clothes! Avoid having to travel in smelly or wet clothes and pack at least two simple easy-to-roll-up changes of clothes for you and your baby. You'll be glad you did!
- Take some weight off your shoulders by nursing or using powder formula – Nursing while traveling is not only the quickest and easiest way to feed your baby, it also requires the least amount of “supplies.” However, if it makes you uncomfortable to nurse in public, or if you aren't nursing, use a powder formula. You can store it in pre-measured containers or buy the single-serving packs. This way, all you have to do is pack empty bottles and add water, as needed. Plus, powder formula lasts longer than the pre-made kind, so you'll waste less!
- Pack extra wipes – They come in handy much more than you'd think – wiping off trey tables before use, cleaning your hands or washing your face after a long flight, etc.
- Don’t forget the entertainment – It’s no surprise that the older a baby gets, the quicker they can get fussy during a flight. Minimize mid-flight tantrums by having a few tricks up your sleeve. In my experience, a combo of old favorites like books (especially those with interactive features) or stuffed animals and snacks can get you through any rough patches. Also keep in mind - no child regardless of age, is immune from the always amusing game of flip the tray table down and slap it back up, so try to stop them in their tracks with non-disruptive distractions. Your seat neighbors will thank you!
- Reduce crying during takeoff and landing - Make sure your baby is either nursing, bottle-feeding or has a pacifier during take-off and landing to combat ear pressure. If your baby is teething, be prepared for more irritability. Our pediatrician suggested administering ibuprofen or acetaminophen about 45 minutes prior to takeoff when our baby was teething to reduce pain.
- Check the stroller at the gate until you can no longer fit baby in the baby carrier- This is especially helpful if you’re traveling with baby solo. Otherwise, it’s really a clumsy situation to fold the stroller at the gate while holding the baby and dealing with diaper bags and carry-on luggage. For toddler travel bring the lightest and least expensive stroller you have – it might not be the most fashionable, but sometimes you have to go with function over fashion when traveling!
- Leave the car seat at home - Wait…Hear me out. I’m certainly not suggesting that you drive your baby around without a car seat, but I am saying you can travel without bringing your own. In my experience, we’ve been able to rent a car seat with our rental car or borrow one from friends/family when we arrive. It may take a little more coordination before your trip, but it saves so much space and weight when traveling by plane.
- Relax - Once you're in the air, remind yourself you will eventually land somewhere and get off the plane. And yes - you and your baby will live to tell about it.
1 CARES, the Child Aviation Restraint System, is the only harness type child aviation safety restraint ever certified for airplane travel by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
Author: Diana Heather