The sheer thought of travelling with a baby is unnerving for any new mum. Ask any experienced parents for advice on the matter, and you’ll usually hear the phrase “Just travel as much as you possibly can within the first 6 months!”
To be honest, it’s completely understandable why. Up until this point, your baby is largely immobile and has a relatively simple eating, sleeping and pooping routine. But HOW does one actually fly with a baby?
Having taken a good number of flights with a pre-six-month old, I thought it might be useful to compile a list of helpful tips for first-time flyers, using my own experience thus far. Combined with advice from fellow travel-savvy mums and experts in the field, if nothing else, I’m hoping that these tips will help prepare new mums both physically and mentally before embarking on that first plane trip alone, no matter how long or short it happens to be.
Make sure you get all of the necessary travel paperwork and documentation in order well in advance, including your baby’s lovely shiny new passport and birth certificate. Compile everything together in a clear plastic wallet, including your own passports and any required visas. If you are travelling alone, you may need to take a concession form from your partner (for the US especially) plus a copy of your marriage certificate, the baby’s birth certificate and a copy of your partner’s passport.
It’s also imperative that you also take out adequate travel and health insurance that also covers your baby in case of an emergency.
Before you fly
Once you have booked your flight, call the airline and request a bassinet for your baby. If there isn’t one available, ask if you can have a seat with extra legroom, an aisle seat or even an empty seat next to yours so you can spread out and relax a little more. Being seated close to the galley or restrooms can be handy for speedy nappy changes or a nice space to stand up and settle the baby. You can also inquire about available seats at the check-in desk or at the gate itself when you reach the airport.
Don’t’ forget to read the airline’s policy on baby baggage allowances. This is something that constantly changes and is also dependent on which airline you choose to fly with. Most airlines will allow you to take a nappy bag plus a pushchair / car seat in addition to your own hand luggage allowance, but do check first.
Plan ahead and dress your baby in something practical but above all, super cute. Although this probably sounds ridiculously superficial, no one can resist a cute looking baby. Just make sure that it’s also something that can be whipped off in seconds in a confined space! Bonds Wondersuits are great, with their easy access, dual-direction zippers and fold-over footsies, plus the patterns are super cool. For the journey, dress your baby in two onsies, as the cabin temperature is always unpredictable, plus it will help contain any surprise poo-explosions. Also pack a couple of spare outfits for the journey.
Organise your nappy bag
Before you travel, it is worth investing in a good, sturdy nappy bag, with plenty of compartments. Make sure that it’s comfortable to carry, even whilst holding your baby, and that all items are easily accessible with one hand. Before you stow your bag in the overhead lockers for take-off, take out any items you may need immediately such as a pacifier, toy, breastfeeding cover, bottle of milk etc.
If you are using baby formula, measure out 2-3 feeds worth of formula, storing them in small plastic containers or zip lock bags.
Airports will allow you to take pre-boiled water for the flight if you tell them it is for the baby. Fill a thermos flask with hot water and also measure out the exact amount of water in 2-3 pre-steralised baby bottles. That way, all you need to do is add the milk powder. A great tip is to get your baby used to taking formula at room temperature before you leave, as it makes life much easier when your baby is desperate to be fed.
If you are breastfeeding on the flight, you can keep any expressed breast-milk in a cool bag along with an ice pack for the duration of your journey and use it when required. If you are planning to pump on the flight, take a hand held breast pump with you.
If you need to sterilise bottles on the aircraft, pack a few steralising tablets. Again, don’t be afraid to ask the cabin crew to help you as juggling a baby and sterilising bottles can be a little tricky.
Pack plenty of baby wipes with you. The smaller travel sized packets are particularly handy for journeys as you can store them in every pocket.
The safest bet is to pack one nappy for every hour of your total journey. This should cover you for any delays at the airport or on the flight, in addition to any unexpected surprises. Place each one in a zip lock bag so you can take it out and immediately place the dirty nappy inside to throw away.
Grab n’ Go change bag
To make inflight nappy changes as efficient as possible, it’s worth preparing a grab n’ go change bag. This should include:
- One nappy in a zip lock bag
- Small packet of baby wipes
- Small container of nappy cream
- Folding changing mat or a disposable one
- Spare baby outfit
When you return to your seat, prepare the bag again with a fresh nappy so you are ready for the next time.
This should go without saying but, PLEASE don’t change your baby on the aircraft seat or tray table!
Airline blankets can be quite coarse for your baby’s soft skin, so make sure you pack a soft baby blanket or sleep sack. Not only will it provide an extra layer of warmth on board, but it will also smell and feel familiar, making your baby far more comfortable and cosy during the flight.
A baby carrier or sling can be handy to use when your baby needs comforting or rocking to sleep. Some babies will actually sleep better in a carrier than the bassinet so it’s good to have the choice.
As well as your baby’s nappy bag and paraphernalia , airlines will allow you to take your own piece of hand luggage on board. Here’s a few things you may want to include for yourself:
- Your own emergency change of clothes
- A pair of flight/compression socks to pop on as soon as you get on the aircraft
- Some healthy snacks – particularly important if you are breastfeeding
- An empty water bottle that can be refilled on the flight
Also, make sure you dress comfortably for your journey. I find that wearing trousers or skirts with pockets is super handy as it’s a place to very quickly store small items when you have your hands full!
At the airport
Give yourself at least an extra hour to navigate the airport and get through security with your baby. Having that extra time will also give you the chance to give your baby a supplementary feed, or change his/her nappy before boarding the aircraft. Note that parents with a baby are allowed to board the plane first, so you can settle into your seat before your fellow passengers board the aircraft.
Consider taking a carry-on friendly stroller such as the BabyZen Yoyo. It’s lightweight, can be wheeled all the way up to the aircraft door, and stored in the overhead lockers throughout the journey. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you are struggling to hold your luggage, stroller and baby at the same time. Although cabin crew don’t always offer to help, if you ask, they are obliged to!
On the flight
When boarding your flight, find your seat and smile at every person you come into contact with. This simple, friendly gesture goes a long way – it shows confidence and subsequently puts fellow passengers at ease. Waste no time in making friends with the person sitting next to you. More often than not, they will have kids of their own and are willing to offer a hand when you need it most. If you are really lucky, they will hold your baby if you need to rummage around in your bag, dash to the loo or need a free hand to eat your inflight meal!
Have a friendly chat with the cabin crew and get them on your side. Mention that it’s your first time flying with a baby (even if it’s not!) and that you may need their help. In my experience, once they know this, they are very helpful and understanding.
During the flight, if your baby is making noises or is generally unhappy, show the other passengers that you are trying your best to settle the baby and they will be much more understanding. Don’t ignore your baby’s cries! If the whole situation becomes too uncomfortable, simply take your baby to the restroom and try to settle them in there before returning to your seat.
Take-off and landing may affect your baby’s ears and cause them some discomfort, so try feeding them, or offer them a pacifier or even offer your finger to suck on.
A bonus is that the white noise of the aircraft can actually help send your baby to sleep. When travelling long-haul, night flights are great for helping to settle your baby, plus most of your fellow passengers will be snoozing so they won’t notice your baby as much.
Don’t worry about keeping your baby’s routine whilst you are travelling as it will most likely fly straight out of the window as soon as you take off. The best thing to do is to switch to feeding on demand, and make sure that if your baby has not been fed for 5 hours, wake him/her up and offer a feed.
Looking after mummy
Make sure that you drink plenty of water and get as much rest as you can during the flight. Ask the cabin crew to keep filling up your water bottle and ask if they have any light snacks to offer between meals. If your baby isn’t quite settled when the meals are served, you can also request to have your meal after they have finished serving the rest of the cabin.
Watching movies with earphones on and a wriggly baby can be challenging, so I usually ditch the earphones and watch films with the subtitles displayed. It also means that if the baby wakes up in the bassinet, you will be able to hear and tend to them right away.
Jetlag and routines
There is never going to be a magical way of avoiding jet lag entirely when you travel far from home. It will take time for both you and your baby to adjust to a new time zone, but the key is that the less jet-lagged the parent is, the easier it is to deal with a jet-lagged baby.
In preparation for your trip, it’s worth getting your baby used to sleeping in various places such as a travel cot, an adult bed, pram, bassinet etc.
As soon as you reach your final destination, get yourself and your baby out in the daylight and the fresh air. You will probably need to feed on demand at the beginning of your trip as your baby adjusts.
Please try not to worry about your upcoming trip. If you are relaxed, your baby will be more relaxed, making everyone around you relax and making the journey far more palatable. Although easier said than done, don’t worry about your fellow passengers too much – after all, you’ll never have to see them again after the journey is over, and from my experience so far, most of them are very understanding and willing to help, especially if you are travelling alone.
The more you travel with your baby, the easier it will become. It won’t be long before you and your baby are confident travellers, so you can look forward to many more travelling adventures together.
I really do hope that you find the above of some help. Being a new mum myself, I do not claim to be an expert in the field of flying with a baby, so if you have any additional tips, please don’t hesitate to share!
For those expectant mums out there, please do check out my Pregnancy Travel Tips