Monday, 2 November 2009

Flying with a Baby

Having recently completed two international airplane journeys with our infant, I thought I'd throw out some long-haul travel ideas. Before we left for our second trip I was encouraged by some moms to get something like Benadryl to "encourage" the baby to sleep. I considered it for a while because our first experience had been pretty rough, but wasn't sure what to do. I finally decided to buy some in case I was really desperate, but to try to get by without it. Well, the decision was made when I discovered that neither of the drugstores I visited would sell anything like that for use on a child under six years old. I was really surprised! Just as well as I've since read recent studies that strongly discourage anything of the kind.

So, the following are some practical, natural (as in, non-medical) tips for helping you and your baby cope with a long flight, both for sleeping and for trying to stay occupied and relatively quiet while you travel.

1. Bassinet: If your baby is 22 pounds or less request a bassinet. This can be an invaluable way to free up your tired, sweaty arms, especially if you're traveling alone. It's basically just a little bed that hooks into the wall in front of you. In order to use one, you have to be sitting in the front of a section, so make sure when you make your reservations, that you choose your seat carefully. It may be worth a phone call to the airline to see if they can arrange it for you. Also, make sure you verify it when you check in.

2. Sleep Prop: Before you travel, choose an item for your baby to sleep with and work toward creating a sleep association. This could be a blanket, stuffed animal, pacifier or anything soft or cuddly that's safe to sleep with. (If you don't let your baby sleep with anything for safety reasons, disregard this point.) Make sure you only give the item to your baby when it's time to sleep. Then, when you are on the plane and your baby finds himself in a new environment, he will be able to understand that it's time to sleep when you pull out the sleeping prop. This worked wonderfully for us on our most recent trip.

3. Cheerios: If your baby is old enough for solids, I strongly recommend an investment in a box of Cheerios. They're not just food, they're interesting to play with (prior to eating, of course), make a relatively small and easy to clean up mess, and take a long time to eat. Put one at a time in your hand and make your baby pick it up for himself. This should be good for at least 30 minutes of entertainment!

4. Nurse/Bottlefeed: Of course, there's the conventional wisdom about nursing during takeoff and landing to help those little ears pop. Also good for keeping baby quiet and occupied for a few minutes.

5. Goody Bag: Assemble a little bag of never-before-seen items for your baby to play with. DO NOT take toys that your child is used to playing with. Save your precious space for new things that will keep baby occupied much longer. But, before you run out to the store to buy a bunch of new toys, do a walk around your house and see what kinds of safe, interesting household objects you have that might enthrall your baby for hours. Here are a couple of ideas from our recent trip with an 8 month old: a new toothbrush (this was a BIG hit). (Make sure it's a soft-bristled brush to avoid chaffing his little gums); a well-washed silicon pastry brush; a rubber spatula; a brightly colored ribbon; a Tupperware lid; half of a wooden clothes pin (without the spring, of course). I kept this odd assortment of things in a little zip up bag--like a toiletries bag--that he could also play with. That way everything was contained and I didn't have kitchen gadgets roaming free through my diaper bag. Speaking of diaper bags...

6. Organize your Diaper Bag: This is essential. The temptation when traveling is to let carry-ons become the dumping spot for everything that didn't fit elsewhere. As a result you end up with bulging, disorganized bags and it's impossible to find what you want when you want it. There's nothing worse when traveling with a baby. If you possibly can, ensure that the diaper bag is carrying only baby's things and that they are only things that are absolutely necessary. For instance, does he really need three changes of clothes? Ten diapers and a whole container of wipes? Six jars of baby food? Are bigger toys really better than small? Think carefully through every item you place in the bag and your ride will be much more pleasant for all.

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  1. Just found this blog, Jackie! Have to say I second those "flying with baby" tips. While I didn't fly internationally with Sophia, I did take her (by myself) on plane rides when she was 6 and 9 months old. Definitely keep the diaper bag free of all but baby stuff! Never heard of a bassinet for an airplane! LauraC

  2. The bassinet was a lifesaver! Unfortunately, we've only gotten one once. I just learned that some airlines will only give them to the youngest baby on board, so you just never know when one will be available. Others, I think give them on a first-come-first-served basis.