Many parents are apprehensive about traveling with their baby. I’ve known moms who have never left their city for the first year of the baby’s life. In my case, I lived an hour away (by plane) from my family and so I had to travel if I wanted to see them. I was very nervous about it and even cancelled the first flight scheduled at 5 weeks of age because I didn’t think my baby was ready (many recommend waiting until the 2 month mark after your baby has received his first set of vaccines to fly). I also brought my 10 pound toy poodle along so you can imagine how much work it would be just to get through security. But each trip taught me new strategies and gave me confidence to do it again. By the time my little one turned 7 months old, he had already been on a plane 16 times with the longest travel time being 10 hours (we had a layover) and had driven with us on 5 road trips all totaling over 8 hours of driving. So here are my learnings that could hopefully help you make traveling a bit easier.
Bring a helper on the first flight. My first few flights to visit my family would have been solo flights since my husband had to work weekends. I was just too nervous to do it on my own. So we asked a friend to travel with me. Luckily my best friend had the time to do so. She helped with getting me through the security gate and placing our baggage in the overhead compartments. She also helped hold the baby to give me a break throughout the whole trip. Just having her there with me made a challenging and somewhat uncomfortable situation feel comfortable and safe.
Travel light. On my first couple flights I thought I had to have everything with me. I brought way too many baby clothes, toys, blankets diapers, and burp cloths. Having heavy and large luggage during any part of the trip was cumbersome and unnecessary. As my boy got older, he didn’t spit up as much or get his clothes dirty as quickly so I didn’t need so many extra clean cloths or clothes for him. You can always buy diapers at your destination too, so feel free to pack diapers for just a day or two and then buy the rest at the local convenience store. If you need a travel diaper backpack, the Travel Baby Depot Bag is highly rated.
Bring extra copies of your baby’s birth certificate. If you decide not to buy a plane ticket for your little one, you’ll need documentation to verify he is under two. Southwest Airlines requires this document while Delta doesn’t. If you want to travel internationally, you’ll need an original birth certificate or passport. We brought our baby to the local post office and got a passport for him that arrived in 4 weeks.
Bring a bottle of formula or breastmilk (for every 3-4 hours of travel time). Although my baby was mostly breastfed, I made sure to have bottles of milk while flying or driving in a car long distances. On the flight, some babies get ear aches because of the pressure of the cabin. By offering a bottle or pacifier (or breast if he’ll take it) during take-off or landing, you may be able to ease the pain through his sucking action. In the car, you can’t take baby out to breastfeed if you’re stuck in traffic so having a bottle will help calm a hungry baby.
Stay calm. Even if your baby cries for more than 10 minutes on the plane, don’t panic. It’s natural to worry that you’re disturbing other passengers, but by getting upset your baby may fuss even more. Sing, cradle, or offer a pacifier to your baby if he’s upset. You might also consider getting 10 sets of ear plugs and offering them to your neighboring passengers when you board. I would always bring my baby’s favorite light-up toy which will dazzle him even when he’s in the middle of a tantrum. Consider bringing a small toy (that he doesn’t get to see often) to provide instant distraction.
Check-in everything but your diaper bag. Prior to having a baby I avoided checking my baggage on all my trips. It was more secure and time-saving to keep my baggage with at all times. But since having the baby, it became difficult to maneuver the security gates and boarding/deboarding the plane with a baby (and dog sometimes). You could gate check your stroller which means you take your stroller with you all the way through security to your gate. At the end of the gate you fold up the stroller and leave it for the staff to store under the plane. You always have to get a tag for your stroller when you do this which is done at the gate ticket counter. If your bring a carseat with you, you get to check it for free. I always ask the ticket agent if the flight has extra seats. If there were extra seats, they would offer me a free seat for my baby (ask if they don’t) so I got to bring the carseat on the plane. My baby would sleep in his carseat on the plane (which should be strapped down just like you would in a car and placed in the window seat).
Bring a large blanket. It was always nice to have a lightweight blanket to set down any chance I had for our baby to crawl around and stretch his legs. We used it on his airplane seat, in the waiting area at the airport, and even in parks while taking a break from driving.
Bring a baby carrier/stroller. Depending on your baby’s age and personality (and yours) you may decide it’s easier to travel with a baby carrier or a stroller. There are several baby carriers to choose from but whatever you choose make sure you have used it a few times with baby to get a sense of how to use it and whether your baby likes to be in it prior to your flight. I recommend one that’s easy to put on and take off and is easy to stow away. I usually brought a stroller along with me because my back is weak and having the baby in a carrier for long periods of time just didn’t work for me. (Here’s a full baby carrier buying guide). It’s nice to have a lightweight stroller (and one you don’t mind getting banged up. My wheels never maneuvered smoothly after a flight on Southwest when I gate checked it.). If you have a young infant you might want to bring a stroller that fits the car seat so your baby can ride in the carseat for the flight. My Peg-Perego Si was perfect for travel because it is lightweight, folded up easily, and holds an infant car seat. (Here’s a full stroller shopping guide). I did this up to 8 months of age and baby was happy on each flight (most flights were 1-2 hours long). You may need to purchase a seat for your baby unless the flight isn’t full. I always ask when I check in at the counter whether it’s a full flight or not. At that point you can decide if you want to purchase a seat for your child, check in your carseat (free), or hope that the flight really isn’t full when you get to the gate and that they’ll let your baby fly free in his carseat. Southwest Airlines always had room for us to fly free from San Diego to San Francisco.
Things you might want to have with you for your trip with baby:
Baby Carrier: If you like carrying your baby, I’d definitely bring a baby carrier on any trip with me. It enables you to be hands free as you check in, eat, etc. while keeping your little one close to your body. It’s a great place for your baby to rest, sleep, and explore the world too for a large age span (birth-18 months). The Beco Baby Carrier and ERGObaby Organic Baby Carrier are most comfortable for you and the baby while the Baby K’tan Organic Baby Carrier is easy to store in a diaper bag. If you’re looking for budget friendly and super lightweight just functional, you might consider the Ultimate Baby Carrier by Baby and Mom. The latest and greatest is probably the ERGObaby Four Position 360 Baby Carrier but there aren’t any special prints just yet (only gray and black). It allows your baby to sit forward, on your hip, or towards you which the original Ergo Baby Carrier didn’t. If you’re concerned about the carriers delaying or disrupting hip development in your baby (hot topic) you should check out the I-angel Hipseat because it has a built in seat for your baby to sit in for support.
Hand Operated Breast Pump: My breasts could get so full that they’d be ready to burst. It was really stressful when I didn’t have access to a place to plug in my electric pump and my baby wasn’t hungry or around. Having a hand pump that fits in your diaper bag is so important. It works just as well as an electric pump and allows you to store milk on the go. I’ve used it at weddings, on planes, in cars, at work and even at home when I didn’t want to bust out the entire electric pump set.
Diaper Bag: You will want to have a diaper bag with you with the essentials, but depending on how long your flight is you’ll decide whether you need EVERYTHING with you (which means a larger bulkier bag) or just a few things (traveling light is always my favorite way to go). For one that is lightweight but well organized and fashionable, you might consider the Skip Hop Duo Diaper Bag.
Nursing Cover: It”s nice to have a nursing cover since they fold down compactly and have many different prints to choose from. They wrap around your neck and usually have a wired top opening so you can see your baby as you feed him. You can make one yourself if you’re crafty or buy one. You could also use a swaddle blanket and tuck it into your shirt.
Having a stroller is really nice when your baby can’t quite walk yet. It’s convenient and has storage for all your baby items. Strollers fly free either as checked luggage or at the gate right before you board your plane. If you do gate check it, it could potentially get damaged (my wheels where never the same). You will also want to have a carseat which your baby can sit in during the flight. If you don’t have a seat reserved for your baby (and the flight is fully booked), you’ll want to check your carseat with your stroller.
Stroller Caddy: THIS IS A MUST HAVE! I didn’t discover these until my daughter turned 2 and my son, 4 and I love this for short and long trips. My stroller does have back pockets and a storage basket, but this stroller caddy helps me organize little things that can allow me to skip the diaper bag or just have easy access to things like car keys, my phone, drinks, snacks, and diapers and wipes.
Pacifier: These helped soothe my little one since he was born. He never had nipple confusion and they helped him sleep longer. I recommend them for flights especially since you won’t be able to always put your boob in his mouth when he fuses.
All-Purpose Blanket: It’s nice for you and your little one to stretch out during the flight so bring a blanket that can be folded compactly when not in use.
Blackout Curtains are also really helpful if you want your child to sleep longer in a new environment. The Gro Company Gro-Anywhere Blind offers a portable blackout curtain set to go anywhere with your baby.