Flying with your baby

A baby grabs her father's face on a planeThe sooner you start flying with your baby, the easier it is. You probably spend most of your time with your newborn in your arms anyway, so the fact that you’re on a plane is almost irrelevant. The chief challenge of flying with babies is keeping them entertained and newborns don’t require much in that regard, so if you have the opportunity to go abroad with your baby when she’s still very little, go for it. The other benefit to starting when she’s small is that it’s good practice for flying with her when she’s bigger and more aware of her surroundings: she’ll already be familiar with the strange environment of an aeroplane, you’ll be more confident and you’ll both have a better experience as a result.

This post only covers flying itself, but I’ve written about airports and airport transfers too, plus documents for travelling with children, buying travel insurance and applying for a passport for your child. I’ll be covering booking flights soon – sign up to the Baby Adventuring mailing list so you don’t miss it.

Feeding

2016-10-23 12.14.21
Post-feed on the baby girl’s first flight, to Santiago de Compostela, when she was six-week-old.

Take more food and milk than you think you might need – that way you’ll covered in case of delays, and will have plenty of snacks to hand that can serve as distractions at otherwise tedious or challenging moments. (We spend a lot of time walking up and down the plane with the baby girl, either carrying her or keeping a close eye as she toddles along, but when the fasten seatbelt sign is on and she’s not happy about staying put, a handful of baby rice cakes can be very handy indeed.)

Breastfeeding mothers might find themselves feeding more frequently and for longer than usual on flights, which can be exhausting, particularly at night, when you’ll be getting even less sleep than usual. Make sure you’ve got plenty of snacks for yourself, and that you’re drinking enough water. Some extra nursing pads might come in handy too. If you’re bottlefeeding, ready-mixed formula is much more convenient than making it up as you go. Bring enough sterilised bottles to last the duration of your flight, plus a couple of extras in case of delays. Extra muslin squares are a good idea whether you’re breast or bottle-feeding.

I’ve found that our feeding routine goes out the window when we’re flying, along with sleep routines (see below) – there are just too many distractions to contend with and it’s impossible to time things properly when you’re dealing with security, boarding, etc. So we try to go with the flow and offer the baby girl healthy snacks fairly often to make sure she’s getting enough to eat. For toddlers and babies over the age of six months, chopped cucumber and carrots, dried and fresh fruit, crackers, sandwiches and travel pouches of baby food are all easy options. You can put them in resealable sandwich bags, but we like to take mini Tupperware containers from home away with us, as they come in handy for snacks and meals on the go throughout the trip too.

Toys

A mother and child look at a magazine on a plane
Flicking through the inflight magazine for the 768th time on our flight back from Gozo

The longer the flight, the more entertainment you’ll require, so pack as many small, non-noisy toys as you can reasonably fit into your carry-on. It may seem like overkill when you’re packing, but you won’t regret having a plentiful supply. A favourite soft toy or two is a good idea, as are lift-the-flap books, colouring-in book and crayons, stickers and toy cars. A ‘stunt wallet’ filled with a few membership and loyalty cards that I don’t mind losing can keep the baby girl absorbed for ages. We always have fun with the inflight magazines too.

A friend always wraps several small presents ahead of flights with her kids, which she saves for moments when they’re getting antsy. The novelty of the present keeps them busy and the upwrapping is exciting in itself. I haven’t actually tried it yet, as the baby girl isn’t all that interested in unwrapping yet, but I’m planning to give it a go the next time we fly.

Crying

You could bring all the snacks and toys in the world and your baby will still probably kick off at some stage during the flight. It’s no fun dealing with a crying baby on a plane, but try to remember that your fellow passengers are more likely to be feeling sympathetic than annoyed – chances are that most of them have been in the same position at some stage. Only a real jerk could get angry with a parent clearly doing their best to calm their baby, and life’s too short to waste time worrying about what the jerks of this world think of you. Also bear in mind that the noise of the engines muffles the crying for those sitting even just a couple of rows away from you, so it’s probably not as bad as you think.

We’re lucky in that the baby girl has never been a big crier – if she cries, it’s usually for a reason, and it’s just a matter of working out what that reason is and coming up with a solution. (It’s a different story now that she’s started throwing tantrums, but more on that later.) Teething is always very challenging, and affects her feeding too, so we always travel with Calpol, infant Nurofen and teething gel. Earache while flying hasn’t been a problem for the baby girl but troubles lots of babies and toddlers: swallowing equalises pressure in the ears so try to get your little one to breastfeed, eat or drink during takeoff and landing. Walking around can be a good distraction – make sure you’ve got a sling with you to take the pressure of your arms and back.

If nothing does the trick to stop the crying, take her into the toilet for a few minutes. The quiet and privacy might calm her down, and even if it doesn’t, being away from other passengers, even briefly, might calm you down so you’re better able to go back out there and deal with it. This can work for toddler tantrums too, if you’re able to physically manoeuvre your child. If not, employ distractions in turn until something works (see toys and snacks above).

Where to sit

A man sits next to a makeshift tent on a plane
An attempt to get the baby girl to nap on the plane in a makeshift tent we erected on our empty middle seat

Children under the age of two can travel for (almost) free on most airlines if sitting on your lap, though you can buy a separate seat for them if you want. If you’re doing so, you might want to bring a car seat to secure them – check with your airline which models are suitable. Children over the age of two require their own seat.

For long-haul flights, it’s well worth trying to book the bulkhead seats and a carrycot or child seat, depending on the age of your child. This is sometimes more straightforward to do over the phone rather than online. It’s a good idea to reconfirm the carrycot booking before you travel and at check-in.

If these seats aren’t available and there are two of us travelling with the baby girl, we always book window and aisle, in the hope that the middle seat will be left empty. This tactic often works, and even when it doesn’t, your neighbour is very likely to be willing to swap their middle seat for one of yours, so you end up sitting together. For short-haul, we find two seats across the aisle from each other more convenient than sitting side by side, as you’re both easily able to get up and walk around with the baby or get things out of the overheard lockers.

Sleeping

A man sleeps with a sleeping baby on his lap while a flight attendant passes
The baby girl and my partner passed out on our flight back from the Canaries

A plane is a very exciting environment for a baby or toddler and all those new faces, noises and activities can make napping tricky.  Prepare for the trip by making sure your little one is well rested before you go, and don’t make ambitions plans for immediately after your arrival, if you can help it. That way if your baby doesn’t sleep at all on the plane, you can take the resulting tiredness in your stride.

You never know when a nap might be interrupted on a plane, so err on the side of encouraging your little one to nap as soon as she’s looking sleepy, rather than keeping her awake until her usual nap time. Pack your baby’s sleeping bag so you can mimic your usual nap time routine, and if you’ve got the bulkhead/carrycot seats, pack a SnoozeShade or similar that you can put on top of a carrycot to create a dark environment more conducive to napping.

What else to pack in your carry-on

A toddler sits in an open suitcase, other bags on the floor around her.
The baby girl helping us unpack on our trip to Gozo, November 2017.

Spare outfit
Wireless bone-conducting headphones
Nappy changing mat and wallet with a nappies and wipes (plus nappy rash cream and nappy sacks if you use them)
Extra baby wipes

Essential kit, part 5: baby monitor app

Almost every time we travel with our baby monitor we discover on returning home that we’ve left at least one part of it behind, necessitating either a trip to retrieve it or getting someone to post it back to us. The irritation we feel at our own idiocy is even more acute in those situations when the monitor hasn’t actually done its job, whether because the distances involved were too great, or the signal was blocked by thick walls or floors.

Fortunately, some friends introduced us to the Baby Monitor 3G app; not only does our regular baby monitor now stay safely at home when we travel, but we can be confident that we’ll be able to keep an eye on the baby girl in whatever situation we find ourselves in while on the move.

It’s extremely simple to use. You just buy and download the app on two devices – it’s available on Apple and Android phones, watches and tablets, plus Mac computers and Apple TV – and pair them, nominating one as the ‘baby station’ and one as the ‘parent station’. The app runs live video (or just audio, which uses less data) over wifi or 3G networks, and you can change the sensitivity of the microphone to suit the surroundings.

The app costs between £3.59 and £4.99 per device, plus any data charges if you’re using it over 3G, but that’s it – no in-app purchases or anything of that rubbish. Great for grandparents or other family members who only need a baby monitor on an ad hoc basis, and also for travel scenarios where you don’t have access to mains power, such as when camping.

When travelling by myself with the baby girl I take an old handset along so I can keep both my phone and laptop with me while still using the app. The spare handset is useful for travelling as a family too – god forbid one of us having to cope without our phone for the evening: how would we tweet about what a nice time we were having?

An Apple iPhone runs the Baby Monitor 3G app, showing that the baby is awake.
Uh oh

 

 

Train journeys with babies and toddlers

It pays to be very organised when it comes to taking a baby or toddler on a train, particularly if it’s going to be a long journey. Not all train companies will let you reserve a seat, and even the train companies that do don’t necessarily offer reservations on all their routes, but if you can book a seat, you should.

And the seat you should book, if it’s possible to specify (you can when booking direct through the Virgin trains website, for example, right at the very end of the booking process, or in person or on the phone with Great Western Railway), is one of ones closest to the wheelchair accessible seats. That way, if there’s no wheelchair user on your train, you can park the pushchair – unfolded – in the wheelchair space (it goes without saying that if a wheelchair user gets on, you have to give up the area for them). This avoids the faff of folding and stowing the pushchair in the luggage rack, but it also means you’ve got a place to put your baby down for a nap during the journey if need be. The wheelchair seats are also the closest to the disabled toilet, which is where you’ll usually find the baby change.

A pushchair with a cloth draped over it in the wheelchair area of a long-distance train, with the countryside rushing past outside.
Snoozing in the wheelchair area on a long-distance train.

If you can’t choose your actual seats when making a reservation (the case with the majority of operators), the next best thing is to select the ‘near the toilet’ option, as this will at least mean that you’ll be as close to the end of the carriage as possible. You might then have the option of leaving the pushchair unfolded, and standing with it while your baby sleeps, while at the same time keeping an eye on your stuff (less of an issue if you’re travelling with someone else of course).

This plan won’t work if the space between the carriages is small or if the train is busy, so be prepared to fold your pushchair. The underneath of the baby girl’s pushchair is perpetually in chaos, making it difficult to fold in a hurry, so before I set out on a train journey I try to remember to do an audit, taking out the non-essentials and making sure all the bits and bobs I might need are in one bag that I can quickly grab out of the pushchair and take with me to my seat. Travelling off-peak is always going to be preferable, but if that’s not an option consider leaving the pushchair at home. If you can get away with a sling instead you’ll have a much less stressful experience on a busy train.

A pram with a sleeping baby in the vestibule of a train.
The baby girl in her buggy in the area at the end of a train carriage.

In situations where you haven’t been able to reserve the seat you want, get to the platform as early as possible and ask a member of staff where the carriage with the wheelchair seats will be stopping, so you can be first to those seats. There’s a website and app called Realtime Trains that train staff use to get advance information on which platform trains are coming into – it’s a useful way to get ahead of the crowd on busy routes.

Once you’re seated, other things to consider are food and activities. I learnt the hard way that the staff in the café carriage can’t heat up baby food for you in the microwave – the ones on trains are too powerful apparently. They’ll give you hot water though, so heating up milk isn’t a problem. If you want to give your child hot solid food, pouches are a good idea.

A quick note about milk while I’m on the topic – while I’ve found breastfeeding to be far and away the most convenient option when it comes to travelling with a baby, the one situation in which I was glad to have a bottle with me was on an extremely busy train on the way to Hull when the baby girl was seven-weeks-old. It’s not impossible to breastfeed standing up on a tightly packed train, but it’s not ideal, especially if you’ve also got a couple of bags with you.

As far as activities are concerned, bring as many books and toys as you can bear to carry – it’s stating the obvious, but long train journeys are boring for small children. If you’ve nabbed those coveted wheelchair seats, put a picnic blanket on the floor to make a play area. The baby girl is only happy sitting on my lap for so long, and when she wants to be on the move, it’s easier to let that happen than to fight it.

Once you’ve reached your destination you may need to take a bus or, if you’re in London, the Underground. Check out my post on navigating public transport with a pushchair for tips on how to do that.

 

 

Essential kit, part 3: pop-up tent travel cot

I’m not looking forward to the day the baby girl outgrows her pop-up tent travel cot. We bought it for a trip to Goa when she was four-months-old, and have used it every time we’ve gone away since then, at hotels, B&Bs, in our campervan, when staying with friends and relatives, and for nearly a month over the summer when we were working in Edinburgh.

It’s handy for a lot of reasons, the primary one being that it functions almost like a separate space within the room because it’s entirely enclosed once it’s zipped up. It’s not soundproof, and it doesn’t entirely block out the light, but it’s better than an open cot in both respects (if it’s not dark enough in the room we’re trying to get the baby girl to sleep in, we usually drape a breathable blanket over the top of the tent). The zip itself is important too: zipping the tent closed works as a sleep cue – for our baby at least (except when it doesn’t, of course). And once it’s closed, it’s a barrier to mosquitos and other insects.

Given how different sleeping in the tent is from sleeping in a cot, you’ll want to do a few practice runs before you go away. It took the baby girl two naps in the tent in our living room at home to get used to it, as I recall.

Depending on your destination and type of trip, you might find the tent useful in the daytime too; and for more than just napping. We put the baby girl in it all the time in Goa so she could roll around with her teething rings and toys in a relatively clean environment. We must have looked ridiculous carting it to and from our room all day, but the staff took it in their stride. We thought we’d use the tent on the beach a lot, but ultimately it was too hot to do that, so we stayed in the beachside restaurant most of the time and took turns going for dips in the sea. We’ve used it camping too, as a way of safely stowing away the baby girl for the moments when two sets of hands are required to set up or strike camp.

Further perks are that it packs down very small and is very light. It’s so small and so light in fact that you can take the tent as carry-on on a plane, or pack it into your luggage. Your actual cot cunningly concealed, you can then pass off another small bag as a travel cot, thereby making the most of your infant baggage allowance of (usually) travel cot, pushchair and car seat. I’ll be covering infant baggage allowance separately in a future post, so sign up to the mailing list if you want to read more (there’s a link on the sidebar on the right).

A major downside of the tent is that it doesn’t provide complete shade, so you can’t rely on it in sunny places – your baby will still need sun cream, a hat, etc. It gets pretty warm in there too – in Goa we used a little battery-operated fan and covered the baby girl with damp muslin squares to keep her cool.

The tent is very easy to pop up and pack away, but the fact that you have to be either on the floor or in a very deep bend to get your child into and out of it means that it won’t be ideal for all parents/carers. We use a conventional travel cot when we take the baby girl to stay at her grandparents’ house.

Baby on holiday in a pop-up tent travel cot on a beach in Goa, with the sun setting over the sea. A mini fan is keeping the baby cool. There are sun loungers on the beach.
The baby girl in her pop-up tent travel cot on the beach in Goa, her miniature fan keeping her cool.