Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Traveling with your baby

I just read a great post on EcoLogical Mom about traveling with your kids:

However, this post was geared towards traveling with slightly older kids. Since my baby is only 9 months old, I have no experience with flying with older kids. But I DO have experience flying with a baby. Here are some basics you should know about flying with a baby:

1. "Lap children" fly for free. Your baby is a lap child until age 2. However, if you can afford it, I highly recommend buying a seat for your baby. It is much safer for them to fly strapped in their car seat. This also gives you somewhere to stow them during the flight.
2. You can bring your stroller all the way up to the plane. They will take it from you right before you get on the plane and will have it waiting for you as you step off.
3. You are allowed to bring breastmilk or formula onto the plane in quantities greater than 3oz. If they ask to inspect it, request that they change their gloves before handling the bottle.
4. You are allowed to carry on a diaper bag at no additional charge. This does not count as your one carry on.
5. Call the airline ahead of time and let them know you will be flying with a lap child. This is VERY important. While they probably wouldn't turn you away at the gate, it makes the whole process much easier for you. And believe me, if you can make even a small part of the trip easy in advance, do it.
6. Get an aisle seat. You'll thank me later.

The Eskimo and I have taken 3 trips together, for a total of 5 flights and one really long car ride. All of these have been on our own. I can only dream of how easy this process would be with another adult. :) His first flight, at about 3 months old, was a breeze. He was an angel. And, I was lucky enough to have an empty seat next to me, so they let me bring his car seat on. While this was great for the flight, it was really challenging to get down the narrow aisle with a car seat, diaper bag, and carry on bag. The car seat is the safest place for your baby during a flight, but most of us can't really afford to buy a second plane ticket if we don't have to.

That first flight was the only one for which I used a stroller. Strollers are a pain in the butt. After that, I used my Ergo baby carrier. I'd throw the Eskimo up on my back, and suddenly making our way through the airport was "easy". But, without a stroller, you have to carry everything yourself. By our last trip, I had this down to a science. I found one small carry on with wheels and put EVERYTHING in there. If it didn't fit in that bag, it didn't go on the plane. When you're carrying a baby on your back, it's very difficult to carry bags with shoulder straps. Just sayin'.

So, what do you really "need" in your carry on? Diapers and wipes are obvious. We have always opted with 'sposies on trips. Packing up all our cloth, detergent, wetbags, diaper covers, etc is just not an option. You'll realize when you travel with your child that suitcase space is at a premium. I carry on enough diapers to get me through an ENTIRE day. I don't care how long your flight is. What if there's a delay? You can't buy diapers at the airport. And diapers are something you do NOT want to run out of. Bad bad bad.

Bring a few changes of clothes for your baby. There's nothing like having your baby puke all over himself and not having a clean onesie. Baby clothes are small, bring extras. I usually pack a spare shirt for myself too, just in case.

Burp rags! You will need these! I also bring my small wetbag to put soiled clothes and burp rags in. Much nicer than stuffing all the gross stuff right back into your diaper bag.

A bottle or two, either with expressed breastmilk or some formula. The Eskimo is a great nurser, but the activity of the airport and airplane can prove to be too distracting for even the best nursers. And it can be a bit embarrassing to be sitting there with your boob exposed while your little one stares at the passersby. Also, if you have a car seat on the plane, you are required to leave your child in it for take off and landing. It's impossible to nurse like this, so you will need a bottle if you're hoping to feed your baby and help his ears. I usually opt for some powdered formula and a bottle of water. Breastmilk only keeps for five hours at room temperature if it's freshly pumped and you probably won't have time to pump right before you leave for the airport. You may not need to use the bottle, but it is MUCH better to have it and not need it than vice-versa.

Toys! I always go out and buy a brand new toy that my baby has never seen before we hop on a plane. Whether I buy it at Target or at Goodwill, it needs to be something new to your baby. If it occupies them for 15 minutes, that's 15 minutes where you don't have to entertain them. Remember, babies go through a phase where they want to throw everything on the floor. And it can be impossible to pick things up in the close quarters of a plane. On my last flight, I tied pieces of string to a number of toys and held onto the ends. That way when the Eskimo threw them, I could reel them in again. You may want to avoid balls or round objects that will roll away down the aisle of the plane. Before we take off, I usually pull all the toys out and put them in my seat pocket for easy access throughout the flight.

Pacifiers and/or loveys. If your baby enjoys his paci, bring a bag full. They will throw them, they will get lost in the airport and you do NOT want to run out of these. And if your child has bonded with a stuffed animal or other lovey, be sure that you have this with you. Airplanes are strange, scary places for babies and they will need all the comfort they can get.

If your baby is old enough, bring some snacks on the plane. There aren't very many healthy options at the airport. Bring something simple and clean. Obviously a messy snack isn't going to be good for anyone involved.

Okay, so your diaper bag is packed, you've got your checked bag packed, and you're ready to go. Get a ride to the airport. You don't want to have to park your car in long-term parking and haul your baby and bags for 3 miles. Have a friend or family member drop you off. If this isn't an option, get a cab. Believe me, you'll be happy you made this choice.

If you're checking bags, use the curb-side check in if it's available to you. Bring a few dollars with you to tip the porter. This saves you having to wait in yet another line inside the airport.

Security really isn't that bad. Pull out any bottles and let the TSA agent know about them. I was always given the option to leave the Eskimo in the baby carrier, but was told they would have to do and individual pat down. Um, no thanks. Do whatever you can to make the TSA agents' jobs easier. Put your carrier through the x-ray machine with your shoes and you're good to go.

I usually try to get the Eskimo to take a short nap right before we get on the plane, because he does NOT sleep on the plane at all. I find a relatively quiet corner to nurse him, put him in the Ergo and walk with him. I want him to sleep long enough to charge up his batteries so we don't have a meltdown on the plane. Our last flight, I managed to get him to stay asleep right up until the moment we took off.

So, now you're on the plane. Smile at the people around you and feel them out to see how baby-friendly they are. On one flight, I had a middle-aged lady with her 10 year old son sitting across the aisle from me. I could tell by the look on her face that she was picturing her little boy as a baby every time she looked at the Eskimo. Later in the flight, she offered to hold the Eskimo for me if I wanted to go to the bathroom! Heck yeah! Flight attendants are another great resource. Take note of which ones make funny faces at your baby as they walk down the aisles. Those are the ones who will hold your baby when you need to pee, too. :)

There are changing tables in most airplane bathrooms, but I don't have to tell you that the quarters are tight. Try your to change your baby's diaper right before you get on the plane. Granted, this is tricky if they're asleep. In this case, follow the golden rule and don't wake a sleeping baby. If your baby is too big for the bathroom changing table, find a clear spot on the floor of the plane, and lay them down. Just make sure you're the one sticking out in the aisle and not the baby.

The last thing that most parents worry about are their baby's ears. Technology and pressurization has come a LONG way, and most babies won't even notice the pressure change for the most part. I had a lengthy conversation with a flight attendant who told me that the take off isn't usually the problem, but the landing. If you're worried, give your child a pacifier or bottle to suck on during the landing. This helps with ear pressure.

Even when you've made all the preparations in the world, things can go wrong. Maybe your baby won't nap, or is teething, or is just generally cranky. It's okay. If your baby cries the whole flight, it's okay. Do your best to entertain him and keep him calm, but remember, you'll never see ANY of these people ever again. Who cares what they think of you? And honestly, if you're making an effort, most people are very kind. Sure, no one wants to listen to a screaming baby, but most of them have been in your situation and they feel your pain. Do your best, but don't worry about it. If you're frantic, there's no way your baby is going to calm down.

Most of all, have a great trip!

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