Traveling with a baby doesn’t exactly elicit imagery of relaxing family togetherness. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Although most pediatricians advise keeping your newborn at home to avoid sickness and establish a routine, travel is sometimes necessary (and desirable!). Whether your plans are emergent or leisurely, there are ways to make your adventure safe, easy and enjoyable for your growing family. Adjust your expectations and plan for success by heeding our helpful tips for junior jet-setters.
Baby’s first wings
When it comes to flying, how young is too young? Carol Wilkinson, MD, pediatrician and medical director of Kinsights.com, advises parents to wait until their infant has had his first round of vaccinations (generally at two months, although as early as six weeks) to travel by plane, train or bus. “Since infants are still building up their immune systems, they are more susceptible to general viruses which can be easily spread in confined spaces like planes,” she says.
But flying with an infant isn’t just your doctor’s decision. Many airlines, including Southwest, have an official policy that requires passengers be at least 2 weeks old before boarding. There are always exceptions, however, and most airlines will quietly accept a newborn with a medical release from a pediatrician. So why two weeks? “This allows time for possible health conditions that were not found on the initial newborn exam to be discovered. Some conditions, such as heart or lung issues, may make it unsafe for your infant to fly, or these conditions may restrict when and how long your child can tolerate a flight.” says Tracei D. Ball, MD, chief medical officer of OnCallMobileMedical.com and Wellness PLLC.
If possible, it’s smart to delay travel until the mother has had her own postpartum checkup as well. “While traveling with a newborn may be safe for the baby, the mother may find it uncomfortable if she had a C-section. She may not be permitted to fly or travel until cleared by a doctor, usually at a six-week check,” reminds Carole Hallett Mobbs, founder and editor of ExpatChild.com.
Once both you and baby have been cleared to fly, remember to pack plenty of formula, sterile nipples and other feeding supplies if he takes a bottle.
If you’re nursing, bring along nursing pads, a backup breast shield (if needed) and nursing cover. According to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), security should treat breast milk the same way they treat liquid medication. This means parents are allowed to bring more than three ounces of breast milk, but it can be inspected at the security checkpoint. Be aware some TSA agents may want to open containers, which could create an unsterile environment for your breast milk.
While there is no official rule for how much formula you can bring on a the plane, TSA encourages families to only bring what they need. This can be tricky for parents who may not know what their newborn will consume from one day to the next. To be safe, pack what you think you’ll need plus a bit extra in case your flight gets delayed or cancelled.
To date, security checkpoints allow you to walk through a special area while wearing baby in a carrier. And because children under 12 years are not required to remove shoes at security, you won’t have to worry about your baby’s footwear. However, TSA agents may ask to swab your hands for residue or do a light pat-down.
Kick it to the curb
Here’s a tip from veteran parent travelers: Make the airport process as easy as possible by checking your bags curbside instead of lugging them inside to the general ticket desk. Lines are often shorter, and you can ditch unnecessary gear as soon as possible. Fortunately, most airlines—including Delta, American and United—allow you to check baby-related items like strollers and car seats for free. Some even allow travel cribs at no charge.
If you’re keeping your stroller to cruise the airport, opt for a travel system that allows you to easily detach the car seat and remove baby when you check the stroller at the gate. Remember, you will need to take apart the entire system and send your gear through the scanner at security. Although a stroller is handy for hauling your tot and belongings, there are definite upsides to checking big gear and wearing baby in a carrier or wrap instead.
Don’t hesitate to look to your flight attendants for help beyond getting situated. Sara Allegra, mom of two and founder of the Sub Saharan Education Project, travels with her children several times a year to West Africa. When her daughter was an infant, she started showing signs of a stomach bug in flight, spiking a fever and losing her appetite. Allegra could no longer get her baby to nurse or take any food but luckily remembered the flight attendant was a grandmother. She asked for help and was quickly assisted. Together they got the baby sipping fluids again.
What if your baby is fussy with no signs of stopping? Offer to buy adult passengers around you a drink. They might refuse, but it breaks the ice and lets them know you care about their comfort, too. You can also try passing out small bags with a sweet treat, earplugs and a short note explaining that you are flying with a baby and will do what you can to keep her soothed.
Don’t miss the boat
Cruises can be a potentially relaxing way to travel with a baby. Once the airport or road trip to the port is behind them, families can move at their own pace and enjoy their vacation from the moment they step on deck.
But not all cruises are baby-friendly or equipped with common conveniences. And many cruise liners don’t allow babies until they’re at least 6 months or older. Pick a baby-friendly cruise—like one on Disney Cruise Line—for babies as young as 12 weeks. They allow you to preorder formula, wipes and diapers and even deliver them to your stateroom. While most baby-friendly cruises offer strollers and highchairs, some need to be reserved in advance or are distributed on first-come, first-served basis. Have a backup plan in mind in case a stroller isn’t available or you need more diapers than anticipated. Remember many cabins come equipped with only a shower and small sink. Unless you want to bathe your baby while holding her in the shower, request a cabin that has a tub.
Unlike other modes of transportation, cruises are difficult to navigate with an endless sea of baby gear. Excess gear needs to be stored somewhere in the confines of your cabin. It may be necessary to splurge on a bigger cabin, so you can spread out and walk around with a restless newborn in the middle of the night. While it’s smart to pack as minimally as possible, you’re best not to scrimp on hand sanitizer. Cruises carry crowds of germs for long periods of times, so do what you can to help keep your family germ-free.
Dreaming of a relaxing afternoon at the pool? If you have older babies who are ready to swim, check the cruise ship’s policy on diapers before you book. With the exception of Disney Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean, most do not allow swim diapers in the pool or splash areas.
Home away from home
Newborns don’t need much to settle in for the night short of a place to sleep and sustenance. But hotel walls aren’t very soundproof, so you risk waking up your neighbors in the middle of the night with a crying baby—or worse, being awoken by loud guests next door.
To avoid trouble, ask the hotel for a quiet room, and explain you’re worried your baby will wake up surrounding guests. They’re more likely to respond to the pervasive threat of multiple complaints than give you a quiet room for the sake of your beauty sleep.
Renting a house or apartment or asking a hotel for a quiet room can lessen the stress of an infant overnight. Inquire about necessities like a fridge to store any premade formula or pumped breast milk and a bathtub instead of a solo shower. Some vacation rental properties also offer grocery delivery service recommendations, which can help out with necessities for mom and dad, as well as supplies for baby.
Take the time to do a little research before your trip. A bit of forethought and a hefty dose of flexibility can make for an agreeable adventure the entire family enjoys.