Parents who have to travel with their little ones for business or pleasure know that flying with a baby can be a stressful endeavor-there’s packing the diaper bag, hauling the luggage, and of course, dealing with a cranky, overtired baby and blowouts mid-flight. (Shudder.)
As a mom who lived a thousand miles from my parents for two years, I’ve been that parent on a pane with a baby. I traveled thousands of miles from home with a baby strapped to my chest, dragging a big kid and a suitcase as I sprinted to a departure gate. Flying with a baby is definitely an adventure, and you’ll need your wits about you—but it doesn’t have to be an unpleasant experience. Here are my best tips for ensuring a (mostly) smooth ride when you’re flying with your baby.
Flying with a Baby: Things to Consider
There are many reasons you may need to travel with your baby: visiting family, resuming work-related travel, or taking a trip are just some of the many reasons people are taking their babies on a plane.
Whether it’s your first or your fifth time traveling via aircraft with your baby, you won’t really know how they’ll do on a plane until you’re up in the air. You’ll want to consider things like:
- How old are they? Your baby’s capacity for travel will depend a lot on their age.
- Are they sleeping and eating most of the time?
- Will they need more social and craving entertainment?
- Will you need bottles or will you be breastfeeding?
- How about snacks and entertainment?
- What are your plans for dealing with pressure on the plane?
- How will you handle diaper changes? What about a blowout?
- Will you have help carrying carry-on luggage and any gear like strollers or car seats?
- Do you have a plan in place for a cranky baby who won’t settle?
There’s a lot to consider and you can’t plan for everything, but you’ll want to be sure you consider your baby’s needs and developmental stage as you begin to prepare for your flight.
Tips for Flying with a Baby, From Parents Who’ve Been There
Once you’ve determined some of the considerations you have based on your baby’s age, it’s time to get down to business. Here are my best tips for flying with a baby:
Take Care of Yourself First
It shouldn’t seem strange to include this first: self-care is critical when flying with a baby. As with any other aspect of parenting, your children will respond and play off of your attitude and disposition. If you’re uptight, exhausted, and stressed at the airport, you can expect your baby to sense something is wrong and become cranky themselves.
Shed any guilt about doing what you need to do to relax and feel calm, even if you have to splurge on the $15 bag of chocolate covered almonds or an extra cup of coffee. You’ll do yourself and your baby a favor by treating yourself well.
Time Your Flight Right
Flights that leave early in the morning or late at night are generally good moves for a parent of a little one to coordinate their sleep schedule with flight time. But, as with any travel plan that involves a baby, be prepared for it to backfire.
Sometimes with all the action and new scenery babies are so excited (or overstimulated) that they abandon their routine nap. Choose a flight time that mostly mirrors your baby’s sleep schedule and hope for the best.
Spring for Seating
When flying with a baby under two, you will probably hold them on your lap since you aren’t required to purchase them their own seat. The American Academy of Pediatrics does recommend that infants fly in a car seat of their own if you can make it work, but of course, if you go that route, you have to purchase an entire extra seat.
I’ve never had the financial means to buy a whole extra seat, but extra room certainly makes a big difference in flying with a baby. For long or international flights, some airlines offer baby bassinets or infant seats, so be sure to ask at the gate if you think you’ll need one. And if you have the option, you could definitely spring for seating with extra leg room to give you both a little more breathing room.
Dress for Success
You may have read somewhere that you should dress your baby in a cute outfit for the plane, and while many parents do this, I always opted for quick-to-zip pajamas. I recommend clothing your baby in an outfit that has as few snaps and clasps as possible because the airplane changing station is tiny.
You’ll want to get in and out of there as quickly as possible when making a change, so dress your baby accordingly. And as always…pack extras!
Bring Your Baby Carrier
With all the extra baggage that comes with having a baby (literally, in this sense!), anything you can do to free your hands is a win. Since most of the time I flew alone with my kids, I am a big fan of wearing my babies in a baby carrier at airports to have my hands as open as possible. My baby always loved being close to me in the strange, fluorescent-lit environment of the airport.
Having a baby carrier can be crucial, even if you do bring along a stroller because you can push the stroller to your gate, where the flight crew will pack it for your, then set it back up when you exit. Considering how you will get your baby from gate to plane and back again will be crucial to your travel comfort.
Pump it Up
You are allowed to carry on breastmilk and a breast pump onto the airplane. Your breastmilk is a liquid that the TSA will allow to go through their screening. If you have a pumping bag for your feeding supplies, you will be allowed to bring it through the gate and onto the plane. Just be sure that you have spill-proof containers for your milk, because they can get jostled around on the flight. The Kindee twist-top pouches are especially handy, even if you don’t use the attached pump, because they won’t spill and can be opened and poured with one hand.
I found my cordless Elvie Pump to be exceptionally handy for flying on a plane, but if you have a standard pump, try to make it to a pumping room before you board the plane to have some milk readily available.
Feed the Baby on the Fly
You should anticipate your baby feeling some discomfort due to air pressure changes in the cabin of the airplane. When flying with my baby, I made it a habit to feed during liftoff and landing. The sucking motion of nursing relieved pressure on my baby’s ears and soothed her through any turbulence.
Whether you breast or bottle feed, consider timing your baby’s milk intake with these times of significant air pressure changes. If your little traveler is old enough for baby food, I’d recommend buying pouches of baby food for a mostly mess-free snack time. And if your little one is old enough, strategically-timed suckers can also be helpful to minimize pressure in their ears.
Bring Something Old and Something New
In new places, babies want to feel safe and secure. If you’re a nursing mom, you may find your baby will want to nurse more often on the plane as they seek reassurance and connection. Bringing a favorite blanket, stuffed animal, or toy from home can also help to calm baby.
I have also found it helpful to bring along a brand-new toy or book on the plane to distract baby from their unfamiliar surroundings. I usually buy something beforehand (you don’t want to pay the premium for airport toys) and stash it in the diaper bag, taking it out when baby seems bored or fussy. This has proved to be a successful method of distraction on long or delayed flights.
And of course, there’s always trusty screens—when you’re in survival mode, screens can be a lifesaver. The Amazon Kids’ Fire Tablet is especially convenient because it comes pre-loaded with content, has a built-in case that your little one can drop to their heart’s content without breaking it, and it frequently goes on sale for at least half off.
Bring Baby Some Headgear
Planes can be noisy. Some parents successfully calm their babies with familiar music, using headphones or headphone headbands to fill baby’s ears with peaceful tunes. Others may opt for some noise-cancelling headphones to keep things quiet for their little one.
Packing List for Flying with a Baby
Bearing in mind the duration of your flight, you’ll want to be sure your carry-on diaper bag carries solutions within it. Fill it with your essentials, emergency items, and treats.
- Baby carrier
- Hand sanitizer or sanitizing wipes
- Diapers (not too many, but a few more than you think you’ll need)
- Two or more bibs
- Changing pad
- Snacks or baby food
- Two changes of clothes
- Bottles and formula if needed
- Nursing cover if needed
- Familiar or favorite blanket or stuffed animal
- New book for your baby, toy, or stuffed animal
- Pain reliever, such as Tylenol or Ibuprofen (note: you will need to declare this to the TSA)
- Diaper trash sack (like these)
- Baby headphones
- Childproof tablet, if your family uses screens
- Diaper bag backpack
Whether your baby screams the entire flight or sleeps like an angel the whole way through, remember you are a capable parent. It will only add to your stress to try and please everyone around you by shutting down your baby’s cries—they are a baby, after all, and they are communicating the only way they know how.
Prepare as best as you can for your flight, and get ready to roll with the turbulence that’s bound to happen. Flying with a baby is just another adventure in the world of parenting, and you’re ready to nail it.
Frequently Asked Questions
What do you need when flying with a baby?
Your exact packing list will vary based on your baby’s needs, but you will want to bring extra diapers, extra wipes, and extra clothes, as well as food and drink for your baby. A familiar blanket and a new book or toy can help, too.
At what age is it safe to fly with a baby?
You’ll want to wait to fly until your baby’s immune system is better developed, around 3 months. Consult your pediatrician with any questions.
Is it okay to fly with a 3-month-old?
In many cases, as long as your baby is healthy, air travel is okay at 3 months. It’s a good idea to check with your pediatrician first if you have any concerns about flying with your baby.
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