The New Parent’s Guide to Travel with an Infant

When you’re pacing the aisles of your red-eye flight with a fussy baby in your arms while everyone else sleeps, you may find yourself wondering why you’re traveling with a baby at all. Why put yourself through the hassle? You can practically feel the other flyers thinking, “People with babies shouldn’t be allowed on planes.” Whether you just need to get from point A to point B on a plane or if you’re planning a vacation with your new addition, here are some handy travel tips to help you, your baby, and your fellow travelers get through the flight with your sanity intact.

First, don’t give up on traveling with your baby. If you traveled before, you should keep doing so. Travel will help you realize that the fun things in life don’t end just because you had a baby. In fact, they can be even better. Seeing the world through an infant’s eyes is fascinating, and you’re building amazing lifetime memories and strengthening your ties as a family. Although having routines is good for babies, being flexible with the will help him learn that a little change is okay, and not something to be scared of in the future.

1. Planning your trip

Although you may find it hard to believe, it’s much easier to travel with your baby when he’s in his first few months. Babies sleep much more at that age, are less distracted by sights and noises, and readily fall asleep in mom or dad’s arms. Before they’re a few months old, most babies sleep very well when swaddled; we loved the Kiddopotamus SwaddleMe, which has easy-fasten velcro tabs.

For babies of all ages, be sure the call the airline after booking your flights and request bulkhead seats (the ones at the front of the aisles). Although they have less room for under-the-seat storage, they give you lots of floor space for your toys, bottles, blankets, and even baby, should you need to lay him down. Bulkhead bassinets snap into the wall in front of the bulkhead seats, and are available from most airlines on a first-come-first-serve basis (ask when you call for seating). They can’t be used during takeoff, landing, and turbulence, but are a lifesaver when you need a place to put baby. My baby won’t sleep in one, but he loved lying in it, playing with his toys, watching us eat, and peering up at the movie playing above him.

If your baby is old enough to be on a schedule, you may consider getting a flight during his usual nap or bed time, in the hope that he’ll sleep through it all. Be aware, though, that because of the disruptive nature of driving to the airport, checking in, and going through security, it’s likely he’ll be too wound up to sleep.

>> Read about new ideas for family travel and read about why it’s not selfish for parents to travel with young kids

2. Packing for your trip

Make sure you have plenty of formula, bottles, or food. If you’re nursing, stay well hydrated so that you have plenty of milk throughout the flight. If baby is using a bottle or eating cereal, be sure to pack enough water – you shouldn’t use the tap water from a plane for baby, and you don’t want to be waiting on a busy flight attendant while baby screams for food. Although you shouldn’t have a problem in security bringing plenty of food for baby, pack it in a bag separate from your liquids and declare it before going through security. Philips Avent makes flat sealing disks for their bottles which can instantly turn their bottles into handy containers for food or formula.

Pack baby’s favorite toys in your carry-on, and bring a few new ones he’s never played with. Toys like Lamaze’s Soft Chime Garden make noise without being annoying to fellow travelers and have lots of patterns and textures to keep baby entertained. If he’s old enough, wrap the toys and present them throughout the flight. This helps keep him entertained and makes the trip something fun to look forward to. Food treats like cookies or crackers can also serve as small presents throughout the flight. And don’t forget the simple things – we kept our son distracted for almost an hour by playing peek-a-boo with one of his soft blankets.

Pack plenty of diapers and wipes, but remember you can also buy them at your destination, so no need to pack enough for your entire trip. Don’t forget diaper cream, burp cloths and bibs. Dress baby in layers or bring along a sweater and extra socks – it can be chilly on planes, but it can also be quite warm. Bring a receiving blanket or other soft, thin, blanket. It’ll pack easily and comes in handy for covering the bassinet, keeping baby warm, and in my case, mopping up water baby knocks over!

You may want to consider bringing a car seat if your baby is very young, especially if he sleeps comfortably in one. Otherwise, you may find yourself holding him in your lap or arms for most of the flight. Remember that you may use the car seat if there is an extra seat for baby, or if you have booked him a seat. You are not required to buy a seat for a baby under 2 years old.  If you cannot use the car seat, you can gate check it. Just remember that you’ll be lugging it around the airport, and with all your other baby things, it can be quite a lot to handle! If you’ll be using a car seat and/or stroller a lot, you may want to consider a travel system like the Sit ‘n Stroll.

Be sure to check ahead of time as to your individual airline’s baggage allowances. Some airlines allow extra bags for your carry-on infant, others may count a checked stroller or car seat against your baggage allowance.

>> Check out this list of great gear for traveling parents

3. At the airport

Remember that no matter how savvy a traveler you were before this, you will be greatly slowed down with a baby. You might have been a black diamond traveler before but now you go straight to the family lane in security. Expect to have to take baby out of his stroller or carrier when going through security even if he’s sleeping. Leave plenty of time at the airport, as you’ll find the last minute sprint to the gate pretty much impossible once you have a baby.

I have always used a carrier rather than a stroller during my travels for several reasons. First, many European cities are not quite stroller friendly, meaning that taking public transportation can mean carrying your stroller and baby up and down flights of steps in the metro. Buildings also tend to be older, which means elevators, if they exist, are small and slow, and restaurants can be too small to navigate a stroller through. It is also easier for me to check in and get through the airport wearing the baby – I have two free hands to handle tickets, passports, and baggage. Finally, although you can gate check your stroller, we ended up losing a stroller that way, and the last thing you want to deal with on your vacation is chasing down your missing stroller. Plus, my baby loves his carrier and will usually fall right asleep after I’ve been wearing him for a while!

Since you’ll get to the airport early, you’ll have plenty of time to take advantage of the airline pre-boarding. It’s a great way to get yourself settled in and make sure you have plenty of room in the overhead compartments for all your carry-on bags. You’ll also want the time to unpack anything you might need at hand during takeoff, such as bottles, toys, and burp cloths.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it, especially if you’re a single parent traveling with children. Airport attendants can help you transport your baggage through the airport so that you don’t have to struggle with carrying everything yourself. On the flight, fellow passengers and flight attendants are usually more than willing to help put your bags up if you have an infant in one arm.

4. During your flight

Before I became a parent, I often wondered why babies always screamed during takeoff and landing. Now I know. It’s not (just) the movement, noise, and change in pressure – it’s the fact that he must be strapped down, either in his own seat or to my seat belt. Babies are comforted by movement and being held, and it’s impossible to do either of those things while the baby is strapped to you. That said, you may be able to comfort baby by nursing him if you can or giving him a bottle.

My husband and I “saved” the use of the bassinet for moments when we both wanted to have our hands available. We held our baby and played with him or walked him up and down the aisles until mealtime. When our meals were served, we put the baby in the bassinet with some toys. He loved peeking over the edge of the bassinet to watch us eat, and it gave us enough time to enjoy our meal before he got bored.

Remember that despite your best efforts to be prepared, even adults have a hard time enduring long plane rides and there are lots of factors beyond your control. Baby might be teething, he might not like the bassinet, or you might have lots of turbulence so you all have to stay in your seats. All you can do is your best, and if baby is crying, any fellow travelers who are also parents will certainly be sympathetic to your plight!

Enjoy this time with your baby, and enjoy the freedom that travel will bring your family!

For more on traveling with kids, read:

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