Flying with a baby (newborn & infant)

The following post intends to provide advice on travelling with a newborn, and travelling with an infant; it is based solely on my own experiences and should not be taken as anything more than that. It is not gospel, research-based, nor is it necessarily applicable to any other situation. So I guess what I am saying is … it’s useless! Just kidding. I hope you are able to take something from this info if you are a new parent planning air travel with your little squish. It should be noted that I am referencing two age groups, not discussing travel with two babies at once. If my post were about travelling with two babies – a newborn and an infant – my advice would be simple: Don’t do it. Joking. Actually, I’m half-joking. Irrespective of my opinion, when it comes to travelling as a solo parent, I don’t think you would be allowed to do this as the ratio is usually 1 parent per child under 2 years of age. (I can’t believe they’d have to make a rule about this; who in their right mind would attempt such a thing?? Supermom or Super-crazy-mom I guess.). I digress.

AIR TRAVEL SOLO WITH A “NEWBORN” (0-3 months of age)

In my case, Heidi was 9.5 weeks when I flew with her solo from Ottawa to Vancouver and 11.5 weeks when I flew back.  It is a 5 hour flight. I was of course a ball of nerves in the weeks preceeding the dreaded too-many-hours-in-a-metal-contraption-with-no-escape-and-people-all-around experience. I made sure to get advice from fellow moms who had flown with their little ones, as well as reading various blogs on the topic. I am hoping that this post will contribute to the wealth of information out there and at the end of the day, that you take what you think might be useful/relevant to you and your squish’s special circumstances as you plan your trip!

If you are going solo as I did, I would suggest limiting your carry-on to essential items in ONE bag or a small purse and a diaper bag (not a big purse AND a diaper bag). While on Air Canada at least, you are allowed one carry-on for baby and then your usual allowances (carry-on and purse for yourself), if you are planning to walk through the airport with baby in a carrier/wrap, that’s a lot of stuff to handle; you’ll look like a walking coat-hanger and it just get’s too complicated. That said, if you are planning to gate check your stroller and car seat and have some room underneath, you could bring an extra bag but keep in mind you’ll have to carry all of that with you on the plane and find a place to stow it, as well as be able to access it while you are holding a tiny human. Good luck with that! In terms of content, I personally wouldn’t waste space taking too many magazines, candies, your iPad, etc. because you will need that precious space to ensure you have the necessities (and items for emergency purposes) in your bag. Some people however – who have non-fussy-always-sleepy babies may be fine to take a bunch of personal items because their angelic baby will not require any attention at all. All I can do is speak for myself, and the below list is what I would recommend:

Diaper Bag Contents: Please note this list is additional to your usual suspects which include driver’s license/passport, wallet, phone, phone charger, chapstick, gum, Gravol, Immodium, some spill-proof drink container for you, a snack (particularly if you are flying Air Canada where you don’t even get pretzels anymore … I don’t even like pretzels but good god, ANYTHING would be better than nothing!).

  • Documentation: You should bring baby’s birth certificate and a letter from your partner indicating they are OK with you taking the baby with you. While no one has ever asked me for either of these documents it’s important to have them just in case as the staff are entitled to request them. Babies under 2 years of age do not need a passport to travel within Canada but you should have their Birth Certificate to prove their age (though IMO it’s pretty obvious if you have a 9 week old, unless you birthed a giant). If you are traveling outside of Canada you will need a passport for your little one.
  • 5-6 extra diapers & a change pad: It’s always better to have a few extra on hand in case of delays, diaper blowout, random bout of diarrhea, etc. Also, a change pad and/or receiving blanket make for a softer surface as the change-tables on the plane and in the airport are hard plastic. (Note: my LO decided to have the biggest and most explosive poo she has ever had, moments before check-in. Luckily my in-laws were there to help me as it was … a messy challenge. Glad it didn’t happen when I was on the plane, as my Boba carrier would have been soaked through and that would have been a nightmare in and of itself).
  • Wipes and a few plastic grocery bags/a large ziploc bag: Bring extra wipes and a few plastic bags to put dirty diapers, wet clothing, garbage, etc. into (or you can get those fancy “wet” bags). I would also suggest a large ziploc with one diaper, some wipes, and a change of clothes for the little monkey. This way you have it accessible if there’s an urgent need for a change on the plane, rather than rifling through your big carry-on diaper bag.
  • Change of clothing for you: While I didn’t pack a change for myself during either flight (I literally had no room), and decided instead to wear all black so I could wipe down any nasty stain with water, I think it’s a good idea! Heidi vomited all over during her second flight (when she was 7ish months old) and only a bit of it got on me but I would have been soaked had I been holding her.
  • Milk/formula and frozen veggies plus extra: I was breastfeeding Heidi when we took our first flight, but she was super fussy at the boob and took the bottle without difficulty (versus latching issues and milk spraying everywhere as was the case with breastfeeding). As such, I packed a few bottles with pumped milk as well as a bag of frozen breastmilk (which I figured would defrost over the several hours in my bag). I also packed some frozen peas in the bag because the airlines can be fussy about gel freezer packs (it counts as a liquid).
  • A few face-cloths and receiving blanket: In case of milk spillage, spit-up, diaper blow-out, etc.
  • Infant Tylenol: This is a personal opinion and I got the OK from a physician with respect to dosage, to prevent any potential ear-pain during take-off and landing. I fed her from the syringe about 30 minutes before take-off and she was good for both ascent and descent.
  • Soothers x 2: If your babe takes the soother, I suggest attaching one to your carrier and having one in the diaper bag. My little Heidi was a fusspot with breastfeeding and was better with the bottle, but as you can never be sure that they will be hungry right as you are ascending (which is when the ears would pop) it is good to have an alternate option. Worst case scenario you can put your finger in babes mouth to encourage them to suck. One thing to keep in mind is if baby is sleeping DO NOT WAKE THEM by trying to force something into his/her mouth! A sleeping baby will most likely do fine with the change in air pressure.
  • Swaddle or blanket that they like to be wrapped in (optional): Again, this is totally optional but my baby was not sleeping near or on me at this age and was in her crib. She liked to be swaddled still but given she slept in the Boba en route to Vancouver, and I didn’t have an extra seat beside me that I could lay her down on, I didn’t use the blanket. On the flight back, I had an entire row to myself – I know, SO LUCKY RIGHT?? – so I was able to lay Heidi on her back and wrap her with a muslin blanket lightly.
  • Cervical pillow (very optional; only if you would use it too): For the flight back, as I said, I lucked out with some space. I was able to put Heidi down and MacGyver a fort so that she wasn’t distracted by the people walking by). I used the cervical airplane pillow around her head so that she had something to snuggle into. She seemed to like it. With that said, she probably would have been fine with my jacket or something else (otherwise babe’s face may snuggle into the metal/plastic of the seat or seatbelt and you don’t want to risk this as they may wake up. Again, a sleeping baby is … a sleeping baby! Need I say more?)
  • White noise app (very optional): Heidi sleeps with white noise on my iPad in her room and I have the same app on my phone. I turned it on really loud and put it into her fort. She slept for almost an hour as far as I remember. That said, the plane has it’s own white noise and this is often sufficient to soothe the little monsters (as it did en route there).

What clothing to wear (you and baby):

  • Boba or some other stretchy wrap: This was a life-saver. While my LO didn’t always settle or sleep that well in the Boba, I figured it was worth a try and better than carrying or bouncing her around. I wore a tank-top underneath and the Boba as a “t-shirt” since it’s that material anyway. They didn’t make me take it off at security as she was sleeping and it’s not got any buckles or metal hanging off. During take-off and landing, you are supposed to take babies out of carriers but the beauty of the Boba is that you can pull down the side panels and it looks like babe is not in a carrier (I just put my jacket over the bottom on my lap and no one bothered me to take her out and wake her up). This wrap was the reason she slept; I bounced her in the back of the plane where the flight attendants congregate when she was crying and difficult to settle; the white noise is louder there. She fell asleep within 30 minutes and then stayed asleep for several hours. I was also able to go to the bathroom with her on me, whereas without a wrap this would be difficult to do unless a flight attendant was willing to hold her (which is likely, given they are often helpful, however if the babe is sleeping you don’t really want to risk waking her and would probably rather pee your pants than deal with a screaming baby. At least I would).
  • YOU – Layers of black/patterned clothing: Because when you wear black, you won’t be able to see the orange or milky yellow stains (poo and/or milk) once you wash them out with water. That, or wear something heavily patterned. Whatever you do, don’t even think about wearing white or anything light-coloured! You will sincerely regret it!
  • BABY – Multiple layers: Obviously this depends on the time of year, but keep in mind that regardless of the outside weather, the plane is notoriously too hot or too cold. You also don’t want an outfit that’s uncomfortable for baby (i.e. that gorgeous dress your family member or friend gave you or has too many “parts” (i.e. shoes, headbands, all other useless things for a baby that doesn’t even have head control!). You ultimately wnat to prepare for both temperature extremes so I suggest a cotton zippered pajama and a sweater in case it’s cold (we flew at the beginning of Spring and it was still pretty cold out). I also packed a little hat and mitts just in case.

Other info:

  • Aisle seat (always) and back row (if possible): On the Air Canada flight between Ottawa and Vancouver, there is no option to request a bassinet in the bulk-head row as is often available in international flights from my understanding. On the flight there, I was stuck in the middle of the plane in an aisle seat, which worked out OK because Heidi slept most of the way (only after I bounced her to sleep in the very back of the plane) for over an hour. I should note that I always choose the aisle because I get too cramped otherwise, and with a baby you want to be able to get up and move around (especially if they are sick or screaming). On the flight back I chose the very back of the plane, as these seats don’t recline and they are also located right by the bathrooms. So super desirable, right? Ha. The benefit of the back row is that often – if there is room on the plane and it is not oversold – people will have the flight attendants move them elsewhere and you may get the row to yourself or at least an extra seat (which makes a huge difference when you have a baby). You are also located super close to the flight attendants and the bathrooms (i.e. water, napkins, change tables, toilet, you get it.). This also means you have the option of extra hands and quick help (without having to press that help button), additional white noise (the back of the plane is louder) and more space to walk and bounce your baby (in the area where the food and drinks are prepared and where the flight attendants sit on those fold-down seats). So yes, while you may have to forgo your dream of reclining in your seat, relaxing with wine and a movie … let’s be honest, you aren’t going to be doing any of that anyway! At least if you have a baby like mine. If your squish sleeps on you without a problem then maybe you are fine anywhere on the plane. But personally, I would rather be safe than sorry, and by safe I mean sit in upright discomfort, catching the whiff of bathroom air, than risk being trapped in the middle of the plane with a screaming baby or covered in vomit (both have happened to me). Plus, the flight attendants give you someone to talk to AND the passengers waiting for the bathrooms are great entertainment for your little one once he/she is older (i.e. 7-8 months of age).
  • Stroller and car-seat check: Make sure you ask question and don’t just go by the website. Air Canada indicates that you cannot gate check a stroller unless it’s a folding umbrella stroller (i.e. super small). If I had known that they don’t actually abide by this guideline and will let you check any stroller that folds  (a big jogging stroller in our case) I would have brought my stroller to the gate rather than wear my squish the entire time. Alas, we knew for our second flight when she was older and this made a big difference as she was not nearly as wearable for long periods (read: squirmy and extremely curious). I also checked my car seat at the counter the first time I flew and since have realized that probably wasn’t smart (again, no one at the counter told me of the free option to gate check both the stroller and car seat). The reason people are skeptical of checking the car seat at the counter is that anything can happen to it when it’s thrown on that luggage belt and then is subsequently thrown into the belly of the plane … Mine came out looking fine and functioning well, but you just never know if there’s been some minor damage that could impact it’s safety if – heaven forbid – you were in an accident. The second time we flew, we gate checked the stroller and car seat along with several other families and I had no concerns about the way (I assume) it was handled.

Additional considerations when flying with a 7-7.5 month old:

The same basic principles apply, but there are a few obvious differences. Firstly, baby doesn’t need to eat 24/7 anymore so you can breath a sigh of relief if you’re bottle feeding as you don’t need to bring as much with you. I would still suggest all of my previous recommendations however you’ll probably need a better carrier – something more structured. I used the ergo (zipper pocket is huge) and found that to be sufficient. I also brought along two or three relatively quiet toys (made crinkle noises and had shiny parts; no annoying musical toys please: you don’t need any MORE enemies than you’ll already have … ). I’d also bring extra wipes if you’re at all worried about your munchkin putting everything into his/her mouth or bring his/her mouth to everything (the seat, seatbelt, menus, barf bag, etc.). If your baby likes a sleep sack, I would bring that and/or any tiny stuffed toy that may provide him/her the encouragement to nap!

Everything aside, I have to say it’s certainly not relaxing flying with a newborn or infant, so don’t go into it with high expectations! In this specific case I would say it’s all about the destination rather than the journey … 😉 And even if your squish is an absolute angel, you will likely still be on high alert and not in “vacation mode” until you land. It’s a little different than the pre-baby days, when vacation mode would start the second you were done work for the day (and the plane ride was part of that fun!) All in all though, it’s worth it and you’ll feel accomplished for bringing your new little human with you on an adventure. For us, visiting Nana and Opa on the other side of the country was just non-negotiable so when people say “wow, you’re brave” or “good for you flying with such a young babe” I felt like saying … “It’s not like I woke up and decided to push my boundaries and get as far out of my comfort zone as possible … We HAVE to see family. That’s that!” This is actually something I was prepared to say had I encountered any cantankerous curmudgeonly passenger that complained about my baby (which I didn’t) … Thankfully 😉

Hope this was somewhat helpful and please feel free to comment below if you have any of your own travel tips, stories, etc.

xo

Daniela

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