Tips for traveling with your very young one
Flying or driving long distances with an infant can be tricky. Here are some tips.
When it comes to traveling with an infant, a good rule may simply be not to unless absolutely necessary. But if you do have to travel with your newborn, here are few things to keep in mind before you take off for your journey.
“When you have a very young infant who is not yet immunized, be very careful not to expose your baby to people. With very young children, make sure they get their vaccines, and they’re up to date before traveling. Babies are very susceptible to things, and you should avoid large groups of people,” Dr. Pamela Hofley of Dartmouth-Hitchcock Manchester said.
There are many reasons why traveling with a baby is not a good idea, besides being exposed to a multitude of germs. Planes get delayed, leading to lengthy stays on the tarmac. Weather causes cancellations and unexpected overnight stays. Ear pain and fussiness can make a flight a nightmare for everyone. Luggage gets lost, and how many outfits, diapers and formula can you fit in a carry-on? Summer heat on long drives can lead to carsickness.
Have the grandparents visit you instead of taking an infant on a cross-country tour to meet the family. But if you have to travel, “if your child is healthy and well, off you go,” Dr. Hofley said. And don’t forget the appropriate car seat.
Flying with babies
Before you get on board — early and before the crowd — does your baby have the proper identification?
In the United States you’ll need a birth certificate (contact the airline first: some require the original certificate, some will accept a photocopy or digital copy), possibly a passport, and immunization records.
If your infant is less than two weeks old and you absolutely must fly, check with the airline first. Most will require a doctor’s note saying the newborn is OK to fly.
In fact, play it safe and notify whatever commercial airline you’re traveling on that you will have a babe in arms with you. Then you can find out everything you need to know to avoid any hold-up at the counter or being turned away at the gate.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, even though most domestic commercial airlines still allow babies to travel on your lap, it’s not safe. Whether in a jet or a car, in turbulence or with sudden stops, unsecured children get thrown around.
If you expect to fly a few times throughout the year with your child, not every Child Restraint System is approved by the Federal Aviation Administration. The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly recommends using an FAA-approved device.
Getting through security
The Transportation Security Administration has modified screening procedures for children under 12 and babies and their gear are not exempt. Your child is considered an infant if you have to carry him or her through screening; a toddler is a child who needs help walking through screening with a grownup.
Don’t leave home without them, but formula and breast milk in “reasonable quantities” must be removed from your carry-on for screening. If you have more than 3.4 ounces of liquid, the TSA officer will X-ray it. Baby food in a can or jar is OK but may be subject to additional screening. (The Food and Drug Administration says there are no known adverse effects from consuming liquids, medicine or food that has been X-rayed.)
- Ice and freezer packs are allowed in a carry-on but may be screened if they are “slushy.”
- Bring hand-washing gel and use it liberally. Use disinfectant wipes on the seats and arm rests, tray tables — every surface you come in contact with.
- To deal with ear pain from changes in pressure during takeoff and landing, plan to nurse or have the baby suck on a bottle or pacifier.
- The website of the Military Wife and Mom (www.themilitarywifeandmom.com) has lots of tips for travel with children. Lauren Tamm, who is also a parent coach, suggests this hack for nursing moms: Wear a nursing tank top with a zippered active-wear jacket or sweatshirt for discreet nursing. But first, thread a colorful shoelace through the zipper hole. Baby can play with the shoelace, but the key is bringing a few small toys to tie on to the shoelace, one at a time, for distraction without playing “dropsies.”
First, be sure to take care of yourself when driving and stop every few hours to stretch or rest, Dr. Hofley said. To keep kids entertained, she suggests having them read or playing road games, “not 15 hours of screen time.” Even a preschooler can help entertain a baby; making faces, playing peekaboo and singing silly songs can go a long way.
Bring water and healthy snacks with you but leave the soda and juice at home.
When baby’s on board, safety never takes a vacation. Whether staying with relatives, at a motel, campground or resort, childproofing is vital. Dr. Hofley recommends blue painter’s tape for covering outlets and wires. Warn grandparents to lock up or move medicines and cleaning products higher up, or pack a few cabinet locks.
Bring your own Pack ‘n Play, playpen or bassinet so you know you’ll have a nice clean bed for your child. Even if a resort has them for guests, “You can’t be sure they’re really clean,” the pediatrician warns.
By the water or a swimming pool, you can’t count on a lifeguard (or there may not even be one). Besides being vigilant about watching your children, “I recommend kids wear life jackets whenever they are around a pool or on a boat,” said Dr. Hofley.
“Parents should set an example by wearing theirs too, on a boat, for example.” Children and toddlers may not even make a splash when they fall into water, so keeping them in flotation devices is much safer.
Finally, when the inevitable traffic jams, detours and lost reservations happen, keep your cool. Months from now mishaps will become part of family lore and yes, you will laugh about it — even that trip to urgent care with everyone in their bathing suits after your toddler crammed a popcorn kernel way up her nose.
Mary Ellen Hettinger is a frequent contributor to ParentingNH.