8 Tips for Traveling with an Infant
It’s officially that time of year. We’ve made it past the first half of winter and quite frankly, the thought of another 2 months of cold weather is a bit depressing. It’s time to get out of town! There’s something about a vacation in January that makes getting through the winter months seem somewhat bearable. After months of being confined to the indoors, it’s nice to be able to soak up some sunshine, or simply get a change of scenery.
As a new mom, I had a lot of anxiety my first time traveling with my daughter. The first time my husband and I traveled with Chloe she was only 6 weeks old and we didn’t have the first clue what we were doing. Although our trip was only a 4 day stint to the west coast, we packed enough luggage for a 2 week, multi-climate, exotic getaway. I’ll never forget the look on the ticket agent’s face when she asked if it was just the 3 of us. “Yes, 2 adults 1 infant and 6 bags, that’s correct.” I knew I could never be too prepared. I mean, what if she poops her outfit 5 times a day every day we’re gone? She will need 20 outfits for four days! The trip went without any major hitches (aside from temporarily losing custody of our laptop bag in the airport) but needless to say, there are things I learned throughout our travels and things I wished I would have known before embarking on our first airplane ride with an infant.
After 3 trips in just 4 short months, I have learned quite a bit about traveling with an infant. From booking seats to carry-on essentials, these 8 key tips provide any mom with some basics do’s and don’ts when it comes to traveling with an infant.
1. Booking Seats
Children under the age of 2 can travel for free on many airlines, however with this option they are not given a seat. Although the airlines recommend purchasing a seat for your infant, we decided that the cost of ticket prices were a bit extreme to buy a seat for a baby who will realistically spend only minimal time in their car seat.
However, one tip I learned when foregoing a purchased seat for your infant is this: Book the aisle seat for me and the window seat for my husband. This leaves the middle seat open in our row. Sure, any one can book that seat. But, 99% of passengers will choose to switch to another middle seat if they have a choice between moving or sitting between a family with an infant. In the unfortunate scenario where it’s a full flight, you then have a window or aisle seat that you can offer to trade that passenger so that your family can sit together in your row. Also, in all of our flights, as soon as the ticket counter at our gate was open, we asked the agent if the flight was full. If it wasn’t they would usually block the open middle seat for us or rearrange the seating so that one of the few open seats on the plane was the one between us. This allowed us an exclusive row for our family of 3 plus we were then able to carry on our car seat, which is the safest place for infants to be in flight especially during take off and landing. It benefits everyone on the flight if the extra seats on flights are allotted to passengers with small children, so the agents are pretty easy to work with on this one if it’s not a full flight.
TSA explains their guidelines for carrying on breast milk, formula or juice for young kids. The great news is that you can carry those things on legally. They also don’t care much about how many ounces you carry on (within reason) or if it’s frozen or thawed. However they do test the milk per their regulations. Just make sure you pull these items out of your bags before putting them on the conveyor belt. Here is the link you need to verify the regulations: TSA Guidelines
3. Take Off/Landing
With the change in cabin pressure on take off and landing, babies can have a hard time with equalizing the pressure. This can cause ear pain and discomfort. Babies don’t necessarily adjust well to this change in pressure so there are 2 things you can do to help them: offer a pacifier to suck on or feed them (breast or bottle). Both of these options stimulate the swallowing reflex and help to eliminate any issues with cabin pressure changes.
4. Mile High Diaper Changes
I got to be a bit of a pro at in-flight diaper changes in Chloe’s car seat, when we had an exclusive row to ourselves. However, on flights where we shared the row with another passenger, I spared our row-mate and took Chloe to the changing station in the restroom. Not all airplanes have a changing station in every bathroom. On most aircraft, there is only one changing station on the plane. So when you board the flight, ask the flight attendant which restroom has the changing station. This will eliminate part of the frenzy when the inevitable in-flight Code Brown occurs. (FYI this is usually 5 minutes after take-off… babies just know the most inconvenient times to poop!)
5. Car Seats
The first time we traveled with Chloe we were the schmucks who lugged around our heavy, awkward car seat base. Then I had a revelation when a friend told me that we never needed to do that! All car seats have features to safely buckle them without the car seat base. Check in to this option for your specific car seat before you forego the base, and make sure you know how to do this before you leave because this feature can be hidden and obscure. This feature is also key to buckling the car seat in on the airplane as the base usually cannot be used.
6. Dress in Layers
One of our flights was absolutely freezing and on another we were sweating our butts off – it goes with the territory of flying. You just never know what your cabin temperature will be so dress yourself and your infant in layers. This is the only way to temperature regulate an infant while in flight. Don’t use the little air vents above your head as they circulate the cabin air which is just a recipe for catching a cold or the flu.
When you book your hotels you can state on your reservation that you need a crib. However, most hotels do not automatically put your crib in your room until you request it upon check-in. To eliminate the last-minute frenzy to get a crib set up, call the hotel the day before check-in and let them know you requested a crib and need it set up in your room. Most 4-5 star hotels will set up a pack ‘n play (which is good to know if you want to bring your own sheets from home). In addition, make sure your hotel offers in-room refrigerators if you are bringing bottles of breast milk or planning on pumping during your trip. Some hotels already have this but others only offer in-room refrigerators upon request. All of the hotels we stayed at gave us this amenity free of charge when we told them we were using the refrigerator to store breast milk.
8. Make Friends but Don’t Try Too Hard
Being friendly with your neighboring flight passengers will help when your little one starts crying 30 minutes in to the flight. Some people give the passengers around them little care packages with ear plugs and “I’m sorry in advance” treats. Personally, I had enough to carry without worrying about that, though I have to admit I think it could be a nice gesture. Ultimately, you are going to have grumpy, frustrated people on your flight – people who don’t like kids, people who don’t hesitate to share their two cents about how to quiet your crying infant, and people who were hoping to get an uninterrupted nap in and instead found out they are in the middle seat between two parents. Let’s face it, most of us have been on that side of things and it isn’t the best surprise when you find out you have a crying baby on your flight. No matter how much you tell yourself you won’t let other passenger’s frustration get to you, you can’t help but feel bad when yours is the baby screaming on the flight. Just remember: you alone know what’s best for your baby. There are always other parents on the flight who have been there and will offer you encouragement and reassure you that what you’re going through is simply a parenting right of passage. It’s not easy traveling with an infant but it certainly helps you grow in empathy as a person and especially as a mom.