Tiny Winy is 16 months old and has a whopping 12 trips under her belt — proof that just because you have a baby, your travelling days are not over.
Since being born, this frequent flyer has been to four countries: Trinidad via London, Japan (Tokyo twice and Okinawa five times), and Thailand (three times). It’s more stamps than many get in their whole lives!
So after all of these trips, what’s the best way to fly with a wee one? Travelling with a baby is not easy. We’ve all been there, stuck in economy class, cramped up next to some sweaty inconsiderate blob who has decided to own not one but both armrests, and to make it even worse, to rub salt in the wound, there’s a screaming baby sitting in front of you. I’m not sure what’s worse — being the mother of the screaming baby, or being the passenger stuck within earshot of the screaming baby. Both are pretty terrible.
In the dozen trips I’ve done with my little frequent flyer, I’ve gotten a lot of practice in handling babies on a plane, and preparing for trips. And here are Ten Tips for Travelling with Babies that I hope will help you prepare for your own trip.
1. Calculate how many diapers you need for your trip, and then pack two extra. I budget one diaper per two-hour period. So if you’ve got a 10 hour flight ahead of you, pack at least five diapers. It’s easy to forget about baby pee when you’re busy and stressed out with catching taxis, checking in, running through terminals, finding boarding passes and what not. Always have more than enough diapers. On a recent flight, the chief purser came to me and asked if I had any extra diapers to give another couple who had run out and was desperate. I was happy to be able to help them out in their time of need.
2. Related to the diaper situation – of course always have a change of clothes for baby, not only a pants but also a shirt. Take the change of clothes in a ziplock bag so that if they do have an accident and their clothes are wet, you can neatly pack the dirty clothes in a storage bag.
3. Babies always cry during take off and landing, but according to a physician I saw when my kid came down with a flu the day we were scheduled to fly, the landing is way worse in terms of the pressure on the ears. Make sure to always have snacks and drinks for them to use during descent. The descent and landing period takes roughly 30 minutes on average so when you hear the captain make the announcement, you know exactly what you’re facing. Don’t give them ALL of the snacks in the first five minutes. Space them out very, very slowly so that the adjustment is very gradual and the kid keeps swallowing and clearing their ears all the way down to terra firma. If you’re still breastfeeding, try to nurse your baby during the last ten minutes of the flight (though this can be very challenging in economy).
4. Ask flight attendants for help. Imagine that you’ve realised your baby has peed and needs a change. So you take them to the tiny bathroom to change them on the fold-down baby changing platform. While in the bathroom your sneaky, sneaky body, recognising the proximity of a toilet, decides that you too need to pee. It is incredibly difficult to hold a baby and maneuver your pants and underwear down and take a pee all while juggling a baby. Make use of the flight attendants. After changing the little one, open the door and ask them if they can hold your baby for a moment while you relieve yourself. Most of the time they are quite happy to have a tiny person to play with. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
5. If you know you have to fly at a time when baby is usually awake, try to shorten their earlier nap so that they will sleep more on the plane. This might mean waking baby up prematurely (gasp!) in order to get them tired enough to sleep later on while they are on the plane. Mean, but at times necessary.
6. Avoid accepting cups of liquids from flight attendants. If they offer you a drink, try to get it in a bottle rather than a cup. Or better yet, take an empty bottle with you, and just before boarding go into the bathroom and fill it up with tap water. Tiny hands in tiny spaces spill big glasses of juice all over your nice clean jeans. Sticky icky icky.
7. Whenever you go on a trip, take a baby medicine bag with you. It should have liquid panadol and a syringe in case your baby gets a fever (which happened to me the last time I went to Tokyo). Also pack a thermometer to check temperature, bum cream for diaper rash, Vaseline for dry skin, and a small bottle of baby bath soap.
8. Get yourself a baby belt for chairs. It is a lifesaver. When on the go, I’ve found that not all hotels and not all restaurants have high chairs or baby seats, and let’s face it, sometimes you just need to get your kid OFF of you. I bought this chair strap in Japan and it adjusts to any seat and holds the kid in with velcro. Useful in airports and when you get to your destination so you can try to have one civilised meal!
9. Pack your baby’s absolute favourite book with you. The familiarity will calm them down. I don’t care if you’ve read ‘Goodnight Tiptoe’ every night for the last eight months. Take it with you! If books don’t do it then take a toy or something to keep them entertained. My 16-month-old was quite fascinated with a pack of stickers and that kept her occupied for quite some time. If you’re lucky, you’ll be flying on an airline that has individual entertainment systems for each seat. In that case, let Spongebob do the babysitting for you.
10. I’ve always loathed the sight of parents with their kids on a leash. But a friend of mine who is an incredibly knowledgable super mom recently told me about the benefits of using the leash while going through airports. It’s great for when you’re travelling alone so that you don’t have to physically hold them in your arms all the time, especially if you are at the check-in counter or need to use a pen. The leash at least lets them stand up or walk a bit without the risk of wandering off and getting lost. I’ve never tried it, but will give it a go this summer when I have to make the painful trip to Trinidad by myself!
In conclusion, travelling is hard and exhausting, and travelling with a baby is doubly so, no doubt about it. But with a little preparation and careful packing, you can hopefully avoid a lot of stress, and try to relax and enjoy the flight. So make your list, check it twice, and don’t be afraid to take to the skies with your wee one!