As harrowing as it can be to travel to the airport, schlep all your stuff (and baby!) through the security checkpoint and then all the way across the terminal to the gate that is absolutely the farthest one from where you entered the airport (and trust me, it will always be that gate), and then cool your heels for two hours at the gate because you did such an awesome job of getting to the airport ahead of time…as harrowing as all that can be, the scariest part of any travel experience is actually flying on the plane with your baby.
Will your baby have seven dirty nappys in a row? Spit-up on the person sitting in front of you while you are standing and digging frantically through the overhead compartment for the bag with the burp cloths? Scream so loudly and persistently that the flight attendants make you exit the plane mid-air?
Maybe! But by being creative and staying focused on your baby’s moods and needs, you can make these disasters a little less likely to happen.
First things first, you’ll want to start the flight with your baby as dry and happy as possible. If you did not already change your baby’s nappy right before boarding the plane (and that is what I would recommend), go to the bathroom now and do it before take-off. Of course, there aren’t any guarantees. One time my daughter had a huge nappy right before we boarded, and I thought I was safe, and then an hour later she had a blowout that shot all the way up her back. We coped, and once I changed her again, she was fine for the rest of the flight.
To keep the pressure in your baby’s ears equalized during take-off (and landing, too) try to nurse or feed your baby a bottle as the plane moves into the air. You can also give him or her a pacifier or something else to suck on to relieve the pressure. Time this carefully, though. Once my nephew threw up everywhere during take-off because my sister-in-law had fed him two bottles already. Twice their plane had started to take off, and then stopped and returned to the airport to wait around some more instead. By the third take-off/bottle, my nephew had had enough!
Some people recommend giving your baby some children’s Benadryl for a flight to help his or her sinuses and, as a bonus side effect, basically sedate him or her to sleep. If you are going to try this, definitely check with your pediatrician ahead of time for the proper dosage, and test it on your baby beforehand to make sure he or she doesn’t react badly to it (about 30% of people get very wired after taking this medicine!).
The most important thing to keep in mind during the flight is to focus on your baby. If your baby is sleeping peacefully in a car seat then yes, kick back with a book or iPod movie and enjoy some you-time. Otherwise, however, you need to watch your baby’s mood constantly for signals about how he or she is feeling and try to head off any trouble at the pass.
Does your baby seem hungry or thirsty? Nurse him or her or bring out the bottle and snack bag. Does he or she seem uncomfortable? Check his or her nappy or remove or add a layer of clothing. Sometimes even just taking off your baby’s socks and playing with his or her toes can cheer the baby up. Does your baby seem tired? Unfortunately, if feeding hasn’t put your baby to sleep, you may need to walk up and down the aisle and rock him or her for a while to calm him or her down.
Does your baby seem bored? Give him or her a tour of your seat. Point out the window and talk about the things you are passing. Lift him or her up to inspect the buttons and lights above (though don’t call for the flight attendant by accident). Gently lift and lower your tray or let your baby play with the safety instruction card and the air-sickness bag. I once entertained my son for almost an hour with some magazine subscription cards. Get creative and act like you are having the time of your life. Your baby will most likely pick up on your mood and start enjoying him or herself as well. Take advantage of the flight to spend some good quality time together!
Whatever else happens, don’t panic. If your baby does start fussing and wailing, it can be very easy to get flustered, embarrassed, and angry at the situation. Your baby will sense your feelings and just get more upset. It can be very hard to do this, but stay as calm as you can and just keep trying new things to soothe your baby. Other people can be very judgmental about parents who bring babies on planes, but at the same time, people also appreciate seeing parents make the effort to keep their babies settled and happy.
If all else fails, one of my friends begins each flight by buying everyone around her a drink as a sort of pre-apology. And one time one of her fellow passengers offered to buy her one in return because he suspected she could use one the most! She didn’t take him up on the offer, of course, but in general people really will be empathetic to your situation if they can tell you are doing your best to keep your baby content.