Tips for flying with your baby

September 6, 2012

Tomorrow Ian, Lily, and I are headed to meet my family at our beach house in Long Beach Island, New Jersey.  Though the beach house has always held great memories for me, I haven’t been in years.  I’m excited to share it with Ian and Lily and introduce them to some of the delicious local foods.  Fresh clam chowder in bread bowls, the best fudge I’ve ever hand (I seriously won’t eat fudge unless it’s from the local place), water ice, Belgian waffles piled high with ice cream, strawberries, and whipped cream… the list goes on.  It’s a beach vacation but I’ll probably come back 5 pounds heavier.

Anyway, before we can start the beach-fest, we’ll have to get there.  I thought I’d share some of my favorite trips for flying with a baby.  A few simple plan-ahead strategies can make even the longest flights less stressful.

1. Scheduling.
a.  Try to plan flights when your child is sleeping.  Lily’s first plane trip was a red eye and she slept from before we boarded until after we landed.  She was four months old at the time and even though I was on a plane, it was the best sleep we had both gotten up to that point.

b.  Try to book direct flights, when possible, since take off and landing times can be the most difficult part of flying.

c.  The bottom line is you never know when you might need to get up, so aim for an aisle seat if you can.  Sometimes walking the aisles can soothe a fussy or overstimulated baby.

Most airlines let babies fly on a parent’s lap until they are two years old.  This is certainly the most economic way to go about it, but for my first flight with Lily I was traveling alone.  I booked Lily her own seat so she could snooze in her car seat.  When you travel with a car seat, the airlines tend to request that you book a window seat for the baby, so the car seat doesn’t block the exits.  This worked out just great for us.  Lily was undisturbed and slept like a champ.

2. Packing your diaper bag.
a.  Food.
1.  Liquids.  If you’re breastfeeding your baby, you may not need to carry bottles, etc., but if you are like my family and using formula, you’ll have a few more components to juggle.  You can premix bottles, but then you have to worry about declaring them at security, keeping things cool, etc.  What has worked for me is buying water when I get through security and filling one or two empty baby bottles prior to boarding.  (No need to worry about pouring water on a possibly turbulent plane!)  You can then just add pre-measured powdered formula to the bottles when you need it.  I actually use this travel trick of pre-measured water and formula when I take Lily out on the weekends, and it’s completely simplified my life.

Note: I found this nifty formula storage container before my first trip with Lily and it’s now a must-have in my diaper bag.  You can fill the compartments with up to 4 scoops of formula (enough for an 8 0z bottle) and the spout keeps things easy to pour into narrow-necked bottles.  I’ve had my container for 5 months and never once had a spill.  If you’re not using formula, you can also use the container to hold munchies, etc.

2.  Solids.  For babies eating solids, try to take easily portable foods like crackers, puffs, etc.  When it comes to produce, bananas and avocados  are my go-to foods, because I can mash or slice some food for the baby and eat the rest myself.  Just bring an extra spoon or two in case one gets dirty.

b.  Clothes.  Airports and airplanes can get quite chilly so bring blankets and easy on, easy off layers like cardigans.  Bring an extra set of clothes for you and your baby in your carry-on.  Because you just never know.

c.  Entertainment.  Bring along a quiet toy or book for your baby to hold on the plane.  I like toys with toy loops so you can attach play rings and hopefully prevent the toys from dropping and hitting the ground.  There’s nothing that makes the germaphobe in me squeal more than a toy dropped on the floor that the baby then wants to stick in her mouth.

3.  At the airport.

a.  Strollers.  This is where your travel system works its genius charm.  Airlines allow you to gate check strollers, so you can push yours around the whole airport.  A stroller is super handy for carrying your baby (obviously), but it doubles as a luggage caddy.  If you use a travel system with a detachable car seat, you can put the car seat to work when you get to your destination.  Just be sure to ask for gate check tags at the counter, and if your travel system has two pieces, put a tag on both.

b.  Diapers.  Try to change your baby’s diaper just before you get on the plane.  For short flights this might be enough to tide you over.  For longer flights, the changing tables in the bathrooms aren’t that great, and the bathrooms are tiny, so take only what you need into the bathroom.  Also, bring extra diapers.  Like, a lot extra.  Nothing like your kid peeing on the clean diaper before you even seal it to make you wish for back ups.

4.  On the plane.

a.  Offer a pacifier or bottle during takeoff and landing.  Sucking on something helps relieve the pain that air pressure changes can bring.

b.  Relax.  At the end of the day, babies are people who might get tired, stressed, or bored on flights, just like you.  If you’re calm and having fun, it’s more likely that your kid will, too.  Just remind your husband that the airplane is not an amusement park.  There is such a thing as overstimulating your baby.  (Ahem, Ian.)

When flying with a baby, you may encounter lots of variables, but preparation can help you keep your cool.  And if your kid decides that nothing is going to please them and dear help everyone around you there’s going to be a tantrum, then that’s what it is.  Just bribe your seat mates with smiles and maybe some candy.  Then you just need to grin and bear it.

Good luck and happy travels.

Note: Pics are courtesy of my iPhone.  Lily is 5 months and 7 months in the photos.

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