Traveling with Infants, Part 4
In the Air
One of the main sources of discomfort for infants traveling on airplanes is the change in cabin pressure when taking off and landing. This causes pressure in the ears, and can be quite painful for the baby, particularly if the baby has a stuffy nose. Prepare for this by planning to nurse or give a bottle or pacifier to the child during take-offs and landing to help alleviate the pressure.
Younger babies (under 6 months) tend to sleep on planes, and many are lulled by the engine noise. If your baby is awake and fussy, use a Baby Bjorn or other baby sling to walk up and down the aisle to give the baby a change of scenery. Bring along an age-appropriate new rattle, book, toy, or stuffed animal to keep the baby amused, and don’t forget cool teething rings for babies needing something to chew. Airsickness bags can make an on-the-spot hand puppet—just draw a face on the bottom of the bag and amuse your child with endless games of “Peek-a-Boo”.
When it’s time to eat, it is fairly easy to nurse on the plane. Although there was an incident in 2006 where a nursing mom was ejected from a plane, which caused widespread protests, it is perfectly fine to nurse your baby on the plane. You might want to bring along a small pillow for extra support, since the ones provided by the airline are fairly small and slippery. You can improvise and use few rolled up airplane blankets or baby blankets from home, and use an extra blanket for privacy. Book a window seat if would like maximum privacy. If you are using bottles, it is easiest to use the pre-measured, individual servings of formula. If using powdered formula, measure it out beforehand in individual baggies or in a container with compartments made just for this purpose. Bring along a small, soft-sided cooler for anything that is frozen or must be kept cool.
You can thaw out frozen breast milk in hot water using an airsickness bag. Ask the flight attendant to pour some hot water into the bag (make sure they are usually plastic lined and won’t leak). Put the frozen milk in, slosh it around, and wait for it to thaw or warm up. Another idea is to get a collapsible bowl at a pet store and use this as your bottle warmer, along with hot water from the flight attendant.
Many airplanes have fold-down changing tables in the restrooms, but not all do. Ask the flight attendant which ones have the changing tables before you hike all the way to the back only to find that the changing table is in the front of the plane. Be sure to bring along enough plastic bags to dispose of the diaper. If the baby is small enough, you may be able to change him or her in the seat, but as a courtesy to those around you, take the dirty diapers to the restroom for changing.
Since the restrooms are extremely small, some parents opt to do diaper changes at their seats. It's up to you whether you want to risk the scorn of your fellow passengers by changing a dirty diaper at your seat. Just try not to do it during meal service.
You might be concerned that the other passengers will end up hating your guts by the end of the flight if your baby cries. If this is a concern, try to plan your flight for mid-day and nights, when there are likely to be fewer serious business travelers on board. Ask to sit at the back of the plane, where the engine noise is louder, so the baby noise will only be heard by those in your immediate vicinity. You could also offer to buy a glass of wine for your seatmates, or offer up free earplugs to the people around you. The best thing to do is to forgive yourself and your baby. After you've fed, burped and changed him, and he's still crying, just let it go. Babies cry; it's what they do. People need to just get over it.
The main thing to remember about traveling with baby is to relax. It will likely go much better than you are anticipating! For us, the times that strangers and flight crews were kind and helpful far outnumbered the occasional rude stare and surly "that's not my job." It was amazing how often business people and random strangers got misty-eyed looking at him and started telling us about their own kids or grandkids. For many parents, this is the best time to travel with kids. Enjoy it!
Photo: Frank & 8 week old Alexander en route to Kansas, 2000. Taken by me.
An earlier version of this article appears on the Travel for Kids website.