Flying With a Baby. How Should I Prepare?

Written by Joanna E. Betancourt MD., FAAP

“We are planning on taking a trip to Hawaii this summer and I’m dreading the long flight with my children. What can I do to minimize the stress and help my kids cope with the long flight? “

A mother asked me this question recently. Flying with children can be very, very stressful. Not to mention uncomfortable. Especially when you feel everybody on the plane is wishing you had taken another flight while your baby is screaming at the top of her lungs.

There are a few things however, that you can do to make you trip a bit more pleasant. Remember, though, many babies never show the slightest signs of discomfort. But until you know that your own child (and you) will be spared, the thought of a baby screaming because of ear pain, boredom hunger or whaterver else may be huring her is easily and understandably one of the most dreaded aspects of air travel. And from firsthand experience, I can tell you it tends to be all the more disconcerting when that baby happens to be your own.

Fly when your baby’s tired – I know this isn’t always possible, but if you can help it, try to schedule the flight when your child is due for a nap. The caveat is that a tired baby may also be extra crabby due to the distractions of flying.

Take along the car seat – Taking along the car seat means you’ll have to purchase a seat for your child, but for long flights, I think it is worth it (depending on the cost of the ticket of course).

Keep diapers and wipes handy – Put wipes and a few diapers in a seat pocket. It’ll be easier to have those items accessible when you need them.

Pack Snacks – Lots and lots of snacks. Not only to keep the child busy while takeoff and landing, but also to help with chaging air pressure which may hurt a baby’s ears. It is important to account for delays when packing snacks. You don’t want to be stuck on a tarmac with a hungry baby.

Changes of clothes – For the baby and you. Trust me on this one.

Plastic zipper bags – Great for wet, messy baby clothes—and wet, messy grown-up clothes.

Bring plenty of toys, books, coloring books and games – Anything that will keep your baby distracted.

Keep your cool – Yeah, you may get a few nasty looks from inconsiderate people, but try to keep your cool. Keeping your own cool can go a long way when you’re trying to soothe your baby and have to remain seated.

Other tips – Offering a bottle, breast, or pacifier during the times when the pressure changes in the cabin are likely to be greatest-during takeoff and initial descent.

Out of Earshot -Airplane cabin noise hovers around 100 decibels, and is even louder during takeoff. Using cotton balls or small earplugs may help to decrease the decibel level your baby is exposed to, and as a result make it easier for her to sleep or relax

What if my baby or child is sick?

If your baby has a cold or ear infection, discuss with your pediatrician whether you can give him an infant pain reliever, some decongestant (which some pediatricians do recommend and some parents swear by, but which nevertheless has not been clearly proven to help), or whether it’s best to postpone flying. In most instances, travel plans are not flexible enough to cancel because of a cold, but be aware of your increased odds of dealing with ear pain when you do hop aboard.

In my experience, the biggest challenge is with crawlers and toddlers who get antsy and upset when they aren’t allowed to move around. Younger and older kids tend to be easier. Either way, it is always best to prepare and to think about traveling with the baby. After all, you know your baby better than anybody else. So I’m sure you’ll make the right choices.

Dr. Betancourt is a practicing pediatrician. Her practice, Salud Pediatrics, is located in Algonquin, IL, a suburbs of Chicago. She has 3 children and one outstanding husband ;-). As a pediatrician, one of her many goals is to be a resource to parents as they raise their children to be happy and healthy adults. 

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2 thoughts on “Flying With a Baby. How Should I Prepare?

  1. Having flown with our children more than a few times, here are some tricks we’ve learned:

    – Don’t let their feet hit the ground unless they have to. Carry them to the bathroom if necessary. Once they think they can walk around, they’ll squirm forever.

    – If your kids are old enough, have them chew gum. Hopefully, it’s enough of a treat that it’ll make them happy, but it’ll help with their ears a lot, too.

    – Don’t have your kids sit in your lap. Get a seat. It’s a LOT safer and makes your life easier.

    – Fly Jet Blue or one of the airlines with built in TVs. Our kids don’t get to watch much TV, but if they’re flying from NYC -> SF, they can watch as much as they want! :-)

  2. Flying with a carseat is much safer, and in the case of my own kids, they did much better because it was like being in the car. Having them contained in their seats is a huge help. In fact, they usually fell asleep. Other things to try are a portable dvd player or laptop with dvd. I always nursed my babies or gave them a bottle/paci to suck on as we were taking off/landing. And as a note to those NOT flying with babies/toddlers, I have literally always been lucky to be sitting next to someone who ended up being super helpful. If you are sitting next to a parent flying alone with a small child, be as nice and helpful as you can to them. It make their trip so much easier!

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