Dealing with death stares, nasty comments, cramped seats and your very own crying baby at 30,000 feet is something I know very well. As a mom whose baby boy logged more than 50 flights during his first year of life (including six international flights) here are my honest, battle-tested tips on traveling with baby.
How to Handle Your Crying Baby:
The most important thing to remember is that a baby only has one way to convey his/her needs or discomforts – to cry. Crying for them is the same as talking (or whining) for our fellow adult passengers and us. So, instead of cringing and panicking at the first whimper from baby, take a deep breath and use the same skills you use at home to figure out the reason for the tears (hungry, tired, wet, cold/hot or in pain). (Note: I guarantee you, that you hear your baby’s cries 100 decibels louder than anyone around you, regardless of their dirty look)
- I usually go with a combo of solving hunger/ear pain first and try a breast or bottle.
- Always have a nursing drape, bottle or pacifier close at hand from take off to landing.
- Bring enough water on the plane with you for at least the first bottle. Flight attendants are not always readily available before take off to get you water to fill your bottle.
- TSA allows parents/guardians flying with babies to bring breast milk; water or liquids in any reasonably necessary amount through check points to feed your baby in flight. View TSA guidelines here.
Nursing Made Easy During Flight:
If you are planning on breastfeeding in-flight, which I did for the first six months, wear something easy to maneuver yourself in and out of in cramped quarters (test it out by trying to breastfeed in your car and then subtract 10 inches of space).
Also, you might feel more comfortable in the window seat as it is a little more private. If you are squeamish about breastfeeding in front of everyone on a plane, I guarantee that everyone on the airplane is so self-absorbed and focused on whatever electronic device they have in their hand that no one will even notice.
Choosing the Best Seats:
I prefer bulkhead when traveling with baby as it gives me more legroom and guarantees no one leans his chair back on top of me and lap-baby during the flight. The only downside is that you need to put all your bags in the overhead for take off and landing.
As baby gets older, bulkhead gives you a place on the floor that is safe for baby to sit/stand and play during flight. Additionally, on international flights, the bulkhead are the only rows where the airline provided infant bassinet can be attached – and if you are traveling internationally, you want that bassinet!
Note: If you are traveling alone with baby, always choose the aisle. You don’t want to be trapped in a window seat next to two sleeping people when your baby starts crying or has a diaper explosion!
The Essentials - What You Need to Have In-Flight:
- Strollers: We love our strollers that fold up small enough to go in the overhead. That way there’s no waiting for the gate-checked stroller with a squirmy kid. I’ve tested the Mountain Buggy Nano (works with infant car seat), the BabyZen Yoyo (best quality and recline) and the Pockit Stroller (smallest, but no recline) and all have different plusses.
- Baby carrier/sling: This makes getting on the plane and settled much easier as your hands are free.
- Diapers: No less than 2 but no more than 5 – unless you are on a 24-hour flight to Australia, then baby usually isn’t going to go through more diapers in air than he does during a single day, but there’s always a chance of a ripped diaper. I always fly with Pampers Baby Dry diapers because they can hold a wet diaper 12 hours before baby becomes uncomfortable, meaning I only have to change poopy diapers onboard.
- Disposable changing table pads: I am yucked out about germs in airplane and airport bathrooms, so I use disposable changing pads instead of my usual one because I don’t want to bring those germs home with me.
- Change of clothes: For baby and for you (ladies, bring an extra bra too). I’ve actually used the change for myself more than for baby.
- Bottles/sippy cups, water, formula, snacks and lollypops: I bring lots of little packs of easy to hold snacks to keep it interesting. For babies eating solids, I usually pack the Ella’s organic single fruits or buddy fruits squeezies because they are less than 3.4oz each so they don’t have to be specially screened. I also bring little packs of teething wafers, pretzels or animal crackers. Small things like puffs and cheerios just end up everywhere.
- Swaddle blanket: I always bring one with me because they fold up super small and are great for any number of emergencies (cold flight, bib, changing table pad, nursing drape, scarf to hide the stain on my second shirt etc.)
- One toy/book for every hour: Think small and bright colored (have you ever tried to find a black matchbox car on the floor of an airplane!?!) I would not bring your child’s favorite anything on board as things that get left behind on an airplane end up in a black hole.
- iPad/IPhone: Load it with little kid-friendly movies that are easy to watch with or without the sound. Our little one’s favorites are Mary Poppins, Wizard of Oz and Frozen. Also download a white noise app – great for quieting a baby.
- Phone and iPad charger.
- Teething tablets, cold tablets and baby Tylenol.
- $20 bill: In case you are on a regional jet and need a cocktail (admit it, it's okay to have one).
You will note, I did not advise bring gift cards or whatever to buy off fellow passengers. I don’t believe in rewarding bad behavior, and being a jerk to anyone traveling with a child is bad behavior. If they are super nice and helpful, like the woman who held my baby one Christmas flight so I could change after he had spilled an entire glass of water on me, then by all means, buy them a drink or give them a hug!
Above All Else, Remember:
Patience, humility and a sense of humor: Flying with a baby is hard work!
Babies can be unpredictable and messy. When you think of how cranky air travel makes adults, you can understand why little ones cry. That said, the earlier you travel with your baby, the easier it will be in the long run. Don’t let the anxiety over other passengers’ discomfort make you a less tolerant or successful parent. Again, take a deep breath and do what you would do at home and try not to take any mishaps too seriously. Rely on the willing help of strangers. They wouldn’t offer if they didn’t mean it.
* Special mom note: The TSA rule on bringing liquids, including breast milk, in whatever volume through for baby only applies when baby is with you. As is typical with regulations written and executed mostly by people who are not women of child-bearing age, they missed the mark on the whole breast milk thing. If you are traveling without baby and pumping, you cannot store and take all that breast milk home with you on the plane (even if it is frozen) - which is, of course, the primary reason any woman would need to bring pumped breast milk on an airplane.
About the author: Nicole Rodgers is a proud mother of a beautiful two-year old boy and consultant by day. Did we say she also has an expert eye for design? Her interior design company, J.H. deSibour Interiors, specializes in elegant room layouts and cozy nurseries. Contact her at email@example.com.