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Traveling With Infants

With the holidays fast approaching –especially that Family Gathering Marathon, Thanksgiving – I thought I’d write up some things I’ve learned about traveling with young children. Much of this was passed on to me by my Mommy Focus Group when I first started flying with Madeleine, but some of this was learned the hard way. For the purposes of simplicity, I’m splitting kids into two groups – babies who aren’t mobile and toddlers who are. So I’d apply this article to anyone just barely crawling or younger; tomorrow I’ll cover getting around with mobile kids.

First, the good news. Traveling with a newborn, while daunting, is actually easier than traveling with an older baby or toddler. Newborns and young infants sleep a lot and you don’t have any meal or snack planning to take into account.

The bad news, though, is that young infants are wildly unpredictable, aren’t usually on a schedule yet that you can plan around, and generally have the potential to make the trip a nightmare for your whole family and a plane full of strangers.

Before you take off, think ahead. If your child’s old enough to have a nap or bedtime routine, reinforce that before you leave; these routines make bedtime much easier in a strange place. Also think about bath time: if you’re going to be someplace longer than a day or two, baby will need a bath and chances are there won’t be a baby-sized tub. So you may want to take a couple passes at taking a bath with baby in the big tub, or using the sink.

If you’re driving, you’re in luck. Babies don’t need to stretch their legs, so rest stops are dictated solely by baby’s hunger. You can choose to pump a supply of milk ahead of time or bring formula with you so you can “feed on the go”, or you can stop and nurse each time. On a driving trip, I liked to stop and nurse, but we never had more than a couple hundred miles to go. You can find a bottle warmer online that’s got a car adaptor, or you can simply put a cold bottle of milk in an insulated bag when you head out; breast milk is still “potent” for six to eight hours at room temperature, so usually the bottle would have just reached warm enough by the time Maddie needed it. Make sure in the car you bring baby’s lovey, if he’s got one, nap blanket, etc; these things will make naptime much easier if he usually resists naps. We also found it handy to have one of those mirrors that enable you to see a rear-facing baby from the front seat. It entertained Maddie and meant one of us didn’t always have to ride in the back seat.

If you’re flying, God bless you. Here’s what you need to know:

Children under two years old fly free. Tell them ahead of time you’ve got an infant who will be flying on your lap so it’s in the notes. Show up early to check-in; they’ll try to put you in a three-across seating arrangement, and give you the middle seat for free. If that happens, you can bring the car seat on the plane and give baby her own seat. You’d strap the car seat in rear-facing, just like in a car.

If that doesn’t happen, you’ll be holding kiddo the whole time. I suggest bringing a sling or soft carrier on board with you, which will make it easier for baby to get to sleep without you killing your arms for five hours. For take-off and landing, the FAA recommends not wearing the baby, but simply holding her in your lap. Otherwise, wearing her is a great help.

Basic airline regulations say that with a child flying free, you are allowed to gate-check a collapsible stroller – this can be an umbrella stroller, or an infant car seat with a collapsible stroller base - and carry a diaper bag without it counting towards your carry-on allotments. I had one attendant give me grief about the diaper bag, so now I print out the allowances and carry it with me.

As of this writing, airport security will allow you to carry breastmilk, formula, or baby food on the plane. If you’re doing formula, you can pre-mix it or buy bottled water in the waiting area to carry on with you; you’ll want the formula ready before the attendants come by with a drink cart.

Because here’s the biggest tip for flying with an infant: get them to nurse during takeoff and landing. It’ll equalize their ears and they won’t cry from pain. Sometimes keeping Maddie hungry to coincide with a takeoff was tricky, but definitely worth it.

Make sure you bring a well-stocked diaper bag on the plane with you: odds are that the flight will be delayed, you’ll need more diapers than you think, and baby will have a blow-out poop and need fresh clothing.

On the plane or during a long car ride, have small, QUIET toys available for them. Something that won’t distract the other passengers or the driver. Even the barf bag on the plane is interesting to an infant, so don’t stress about bringing everything. Make sure, thought, that you’ve got the “special toy” or lovey close at hand.

As far as being away goes, it takes a lot of planning; I’m not going to kid you. If you’re staying at a hotel, Marriots and Best Westerns have always had good Pack N Plays for me and my girlfriends; some hotels will only have the older, unsafe rolling cribs. Call ahead and ask to make sure. You may also want to bring your own Pack N Play sheets since hotels may simply offer you a twin sheet and tell you to “tuck”. If you’re staying with family or friends, ask them to check around and try to borrow a Pack N Play; it’s one less thing to have to lug with you on the plane. As a matter of fact, when we last flew to visit family, we had a borrowed Pack N Play at both sets of grandparents’ houses so Maddie could nap wherever we ended up. This was hugely helpful to us.

If your child’s on a schedule or routine, try to stick to it. Consistent naps – even if one is caught while driving around for forty-five minutes – will make everyone happier. Also, remember your baby’s new to this whole thing, and try to plan “break” times when she’s not surrounded by family. So much new stimulation all the time can be overwhelming. Maddie met her ten cousins last Thanksgiving and had a great time, but we were sure not to put her in the “whole family” situation for too long.

On that note, bring along a couple familiar items that will help your baby “retreat”. We traveled Maddie’s bouncy seat and her Gymini playmat; the bouncy seat unscrewed very flat and lightweight, and the playmat took almost no room. I used one of our carry-on wheelies any time we went to a relative’s house, and packed it with diaper bag and toys. Wherever we were, she had a familiar place to hang out and regroup. The bouncy seat had the added bonus of being a place to “park” her when I 1) needed my hands free, or 2) sensed she was tired of being passed from person to person; people aren’t as likely to ask to hold the baby if she’s happily strapped in to a piece of equipment.

Bringing baby’s “sleep stuff” is a must for us. As Maddie got older and began to have a blanket and stuffed animal in the crib, we brought the whole menagerie along so the crib would “feel” familiar to her. We also brought an MP3 player and portable speakers so she’d have her lullaby music while going to sleep. And knock on wood, we’ve never had trouble getting Maddie to go to bed in a strange room.

While packing your toiletries, pack baby’s as well. Don’t count on using hotel shampoo for her bath; if your infant’s skin is sensitive it’ll backfire on you. Bring a trial size of her regular bath stuff. Also, make sure you always travel with infant Tylenol or Motrin, and with a rectal thermometer. Having a baby spike a fever at 2 a.m. in a strange city, then try to find an all-night drugstore, is no fun.

Finally, remember that this is a vacation and  you're out of your comfort zone.  Vacations are not, in my opinion, the place to reinforce sleep training, etc.  Your baby will probably wake up and want to nurse more during the night because he's in unfamiliar surroundings; try to go with it, be patient, and do what it takes to get through the trip.  At home, babies often revert to their regular habits; if not, letting your baby cry it out at home is much more preferable than doing so in a crowded hotel.

I’m sure there’s more, but I think this has probably scared/overwhelmed you enough for one day. As long as you realize that you now are “those people” that everyone dreads seeing in the airport, you’ll be fine. Make full use of your checked baggage allowance, tell yourself that you’ll get through it, and realize everything just takes more time now, and you’ll come out the other end exhausted, vowing never to leave the house again, but with great pictures and great memories.

And everyone will have seen what an adorable baby you have and really, isn’t that what it’s all about?


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