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Tips for Air Travel With Babies
The following is written by a work colleague who did a lot of long flights between Australia, Canada and Europe during the time her kids were babies. As you will see, it is crammed with extremely useful tips for staying sane with babies on long (or short) flights.
The following is based on my experiences of international air travel over large time zones with a baby. The following can be scaled down as appropriate for shorter distances. Good Luck!!! Remember remain calm at all times as the baby will quickly pick up your mood.
Seating - If possible request a seat with a bassinette not in the centre as the movie screen is often above this seat and is very distracting for the child when you are trying to get them off to sleep. Also ask if you can have the side without the toilet sign. One time I had this above the crib and it went on and off all night. I eventually covered it up using clothes pegs to hold something in place.
What to bring??? Everything you are going to need!!! It is not advised to count on the airlines to provide anything. For me this included the following:
Food - enough food for the trip and then some in case you get delayed, the baby decides to start a growing spurt etc. I found it best not to count on food from what you get served as you generally want to try and eat with a minimum distraction/ disturbance from the baby. Note planes do not have microwaves. They will heat any food by putting the container in hot water. Not all flight attendants will store the food in their fridge so try and bring food that does not go off easily and store it in sterilised containers to help reduce deterioration.
Milk, Formula - If you are bottle feeding bring more than required for the same reasons as above. Bring 2 bottles (see the Travel - Formula section below for an explanation). If you are breast feeding bring some formula/bottle as over they extended travel you might find you supply is not adequate. If you are breast feeding, fluids on the flight becomes quite important. Consider bringing a water bottle for the flight attendants to fill up as the glasses of water are so small.
Clothes - A change or two of clothes for the baby and yourself (the baby may be sick or spill things on you).
Nappies - Again more than enough nappies as the baby might all of a sudden get the runs or you might get delayed.
Bedding - Bring along a familiar blanket or sheet. This will also provide something to put down on the ground during your stopovers. As well any aids your child needs for sleep toy, dummy etc.
Toys - Bring along that toy that amuses your child in his/her worst mood (I had this big caterpillar clipped to my bag). Best put the toys away from the child a week before the trip so they are sort of new. Don’t forget any toys they need for sleeping.
Others - I packed the different things into zip lock bags to maintain some semblance or order in the bag. They were also useful for keeping some things refrigerated with ice when the flight attendants wouldn’t but things in the fridge. Bull clips and clothes pegs for holding blankets etc up.
Leave behind- the good book for yourself. If you have any spare time you will be sleeping and it will only weigh down your already heavy bag.
Prams/Carriers - I brought a baby sling for the child and an umbrella style pram that I used mostly for the heavy bag that was carrying all of the above mentioned stuff.
I found it best to back things into zip look bags. For example all the nappies in one bag, another bag for food, another clothes etc. This allows you to keep some order in your bag during travel.
For as long as possible before leaving try and maintain a reasonably strict routine of sleeps for your child. This will facilitate maintaining the routine during the flight and re-establishing the routine on the new time zone when you land. The couple of days preceding your trip if possible take an afternoon nap when your child does to stock up your sleep reserves.
The first thing I did when I got on the plane was talk to the flight attendants and explain that their death would result if they woke me up for a meal etc. My plan was to sleep when the baby slept and if that meant my meal was cold so be it. I generally found they were most cooperative. The flight attendants are generally quite busy so don’t count on them for much support. This way if you do get some help it is a pleasant surprise (which I never got).
Baby Sleeping and Eating Patterns - The plane is not the place to start time changes for your baby. I found it best to maintain the sleeping and eating patterns of the place you are coming from for the child. Just leave your watch on that time and do as you would at home. I found the baby did not become over tired or cranky making for a relatively pleasant flight.
Your sleeping and eating - SLEEP WHEN EVER THE BABY SLEEPS. That means putting your head down immediately. Everything else can wait (except maybe the toilet). Try and be prepared before you put the child down, ie have water for yourself and formula. Resist the movies. If you do this you have some chance of arriving with a bit of sanity. Even if the flight attendant says the meal is coming in 5 minutes ask it to be held, as you might only get half an hour and not be able to sleep for quite a while after. Otherwise, eat when the meals come or as you like.
Sleeping - I found that my baby was easily distracted by the people walking by. To over come this I hung a blanket down from the overhead locker. In cases where your child is too big for the bassinette you can use it as the structure from which to hang the blanket from, when the child sleeps on the floor. Airlines don’t really allow the child to sleep on the floor but if you set it up while they are busy, and they sleep (or pretend to be asleep) when they finally notice, hopefully they won’t wake you (I was lucky). When the baby is falling asleep get out of eye contact from the baby and if necessary let them cry for a bit. The background noise of the plane really dampens the sound of a baby crying.
Formula - The flight attendants often get busy just when you need a bottle. They do not have microwaves on planes so heating a bottle up takes some time holding it in hot water. To get around this and have a bottle whenever you need one, ask the flight attendant to fill your bottle with boiling hot water (they have a tap for this). Keep this wrapped in a blanket or something and when you need it either add some cold water from you water bottle or another bottle (if sterilised water is required) to dilute to the right temperature and then add your formula. This way everyone stays happy.
Once you have arrived start immediately with the same eating and sleeping routine you used at home for the new time zone. I found I had to wake the baby after 2 hours of morning and afternoon naps (she normally slept 1 - 1½ hours at home). Put them down even if they are not displaying any signs of tiredness. I also recommend that you take naps as well and early to bed as nights won’t be good for a while. For a 12 hour time change I found it took 7-10 days to get my baby on track. The rule of thumb is that it will take 1 day to adjust for every hour of time change.
As with the plane, try and make the bed as similar as possible to the one at home.
Gabriella, Chiara & angel called home