While my most recent travels have been with a 2 and a 3 year old, I do have some experience flying with a baby. I've heard horror stories, but, honestly, traveling with an infant was far more pleasant than I ever thought it would be.
In a quick summary, the best part was everyone cooing and fawning over my baby while he slept peacefully in my arms. The worst part was hauling and keeping track of all the necessary gear while making sure baby was safe and happy.
My own experience and the input of a few other moms prompted me to make a quick list of tips for traveling with a baby:
1. Adjust your schedule to offer feedings during takeoff and landing. Sucking on that bottle or breast will help relieve the pressure in a baby's ears, which can be very painful. Get the flight started off on the right foot by encouraging your baby to eat first thing, and wrap up the trip with another meal. If baby doesn't want to eat, offer a pacifier instead.
2. Use Ready-to-Feed infant formula for in-transit feedings If you feed your baby formula, this is one of the very few instances where I'll encourage you to splurge on a small pack of RTF formula. While it's more expensive, the convenience can't be beat when you're trying to hold your baby and get a bottle ready for her while packed into an airline row with other people and a hungry baby.
Pack your powdered formula in your luggage to use once you're at your destination. Note: prepared baby formula and pumped milk are liquids that are allowed on airplanes. Be sure to tell the staff at the security checkpoint if you have either with you.
3. Sit apart from your partner if you're traveling as a family I know this sounds weird, but having one parent sit a few rows behind the other can help tremendously when entertaining or soothing a baby. Alternating baby-duty between parents offers baby a change of scenery and a refreshed parent. Plus, it gives mom or dad a break to eat or rest. Consider a 1-hour-on/1-hour-off schedule if the flight is going take a few hours.
4. Wear your baby in a front carrier Keeping baby in a carrier allows you to carry baby and keep your hands free. If you and baby can do it, keep her in the carrier until you're in your airline seat. Having both hands to juggle your boarding pass, ID and everything else your traveling with is an enormous help! Plus baby wearing makes it easier to…
5. Gate check your stroller Load up your stroller with anything you would otherwise be pulling or carrying plus your car seat (it can be done, trust me!) and push it through the airport. Anything you don't check at the luggage checkpoint can be pushed right up to the gate.
You'll get a special “gate check” bag to attach to your stroller and the airline staff will add it to area with the rest of the luggage. It may not be handled as gently as you might handle it, but your stroller won't get tossed around with all the rest of the stowed suitcases, either! Plus, your stroller will be waiting for you when you deplane. Be sure to check with your airline to make sure they allow gate-checking.
6. Bring an extra changing pad and plastic bags Even if you're baby has never had a diaper blow-out, Murphy's Law says the first time will be when you're on an airplane, in a middle seat, traveling by yourself.
That said, even the neatest diaper-changing mom can end up with a mess in the areas around and under baby. If your changing pad gets dirty, don't try to shove it under that tiny airplane bathroom sink and scrub it with airplane soap. Just stick it in a plastic bag, knot it and break out your spare for the next change.
7. “Case” the plane before takeoff Find out where the flight attendants will be and take a peek into the lavatories before you're in the air.
Some airplane bathrooms simply do not have enough room to change a diaper, meaning that you'll be better off changing baby in your lap or standing up and laying baby on your seat for a diaper change.
Remember to be be courteous to your fellow passengers. I have a feeling that most wouldn't take issue with changing a wet diaper, but a poopy diaper should probably be changed in the restroom.
8. Pack at least one extra outfit for everyone Use all the space in your carry-on to stash away at least one extra outfit for you, baby and your partner, if they're going to be with you. It's not unheard of to be spit up on and pooped on almost at the same time, right? If it happens on an airplane, you'll be especially happy that you're prepared with a change of clothes for both of you.
9. Bring Baby's favorite lovey plus new toys Make sure baby has his or her blankie or special lovey for comfort. Any other toys you bring along should be new and exciting to prolong the entertainment factor.
10. Be prepared with a mini first-aid kit Even if your baby doesn't usually need them, packing a little kit with infant pain-reliever, teething gel, a teething ring and infant gas relief drops means you won't be frantically wondering how soon you can get to a store that has one of those items, let alone how much it will cost! Spending $10 or less on a few possible in-flight needs might save your sanity once your in the air.
As with almost everything baby-related, what works for one parent may not work for another. Take these ideas with a grain of salt, and please do what works best for you and your little ones!
Readers, what tips would you offer to help parents flying with a baby for the first time?