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Traveling With an Infant

My husband and I have family spread out across both coasts, so we knew there would be some traveling early on with our little one. Our first adventure came when Levi was just six weeks old: we were flying from Virginia to Wisconsin. With the holidays approaching, hopefully sharing our journey with you will help you prepare well for your next adventure!

Step 1: Research

I researched what to pack and how to keep my son calm before, during and after the flight. I also crowd sourced info from my well-traveled mom friends. When I told friends we were planning on flying with our newborn, they looked at us as if we had three heads. But you know what seemed worse than a direct 90-minute flight? A 15+ hour road trip with a baby.

Step 2: Prepare & Pack

I made a list in my notes app in the weeks leading up to the trip and would add items to it when they came to mind. Since we were traveling in August and would be spending time at the pool, I added pool paraphernalia (reusable swim diaper, sun hat, hooded towel, and swim suit). My mom was procuring a number of borrowed items for us to use during our two-week stay in order to minimize the number of things we needed to bring – especially the larger ones. She got a universal click-in stroller for the car seat, a Pack’n Play, a portable changing pad, some baby toys, and a swim floaty with a sun shade.

To help with packing, a friend recommended I go through a typical day in our lives and make a list of everything Levi touches during the day. It gave me a good idea of the kinds of items I needed to bring, or have available at my destination. I packed as many diapers as I could fit in my suitcase because he was right on the edge of sizing up from newborn to size one diapers and I wanted to use them up. We ended up buying some diapers while we were in Wisconsin, which worked out great. If you’re going to be traveling for more than a few days, it might make sense to save packing space and only bring a handful of diapers with you and then buy some more at your destination.

The afternoon before our trip, I packed my suitcase and loaded Levi’s gear in a small duffle inside my suitcase to keep it organized. In order to replicate Levi’s sleeping environment at our destination as closely as possible to the one he was used to at home, I was bringing some portable suction blackout curtains just in case our room wasn’t quite dark enough, as well as a rechargeable white noise machine.

We had timed our flight so that Levi could nap for a bit at home, then we’d transfer him to the car seat and finish his nap on our drive to the airport. The last item I packed was his Halo sleep sack, since he’d been napping in it up until a few minutes before we left. Some parents recommend bringing a sheet from home with you so that the new environment smells like home.

Before we headed out the door, I double checked the diaper bag (which would be my carry-on for the flight) and made sure I had two complete changes of clothes for Levi, a change for my husband and myself, ample diapers and wipes, a few burp cloths, a blanket, a dry bag, a gallon sized Ziplock bag, extra pacifiers, and a changing pad.

Step 3: At the Airport - Checking In, Security, Terminal, Boarding

I was so thankful to have my husband traveling with us because I’m not sure I would have been able to manage without him. I brought along a padded car seat case with backpack straps, but had not yet decided if we would check the car seat and I would wear Levi in the Ergo carrier, or bring the car seat with us on the plane. We decided to take the car seat with us to the gate and if there was an extra seat, we could take it with us free of charge. If the flight was full, we had the car seat case and could gate check it. We checked our suitcases and headed towards TSA. (Side note, baby gear doesn’t count towards your luggage allowance, i.e. strollers, car seats, etc.).

Getting through security wasn’t too challenging, but be forewarned that if your child is still in the car seat at this point, you’ll need to take him out, put the car seat through the x-ray machine, carry your child through the metal detectors, then put him back in the seat. (Side note, you can bring baby formula or pumped milk through security with you and it doesn’t have to follow the three ounces or less rule. However, be prepared for a TSA agent to possibly look through your cooler and maybe even test your milk). Also, depending on what airline you are flying, they sometimes require a birth certificate if you are flying with “infant on lap” to prove that they are under two years of age.

We arrived at our gate with plenty of time to spare. I found a secluded corner of the terminal and fed Levi. Many airports have little pods specifically for nursing that lock, have outlets for pumping, and even dimmable lights. My husband ordered some lunch and I went to use the restroom and grab something to eat as well. When I returned, Levi was strapped into his car seat which was resting next to my husband as he finished his sandwich.

“Oh, there’s some mustard under…” I began to say before my voice trailed off and I realized the liquid oozing down under the car seat onto the table was unfortunately not mustard…

I quickly lifted Levi out of the car seat and discovered a massive blowout. We sprang into action. I whipped out all of our supplies and got to work as I heard an announcement over the PA that our flight was beginning pre-boarding. As my husband had been handling Levi while helping me, he now required a change of clothes, so he headed off to the restroom to change while I cleaned Levi and the car seat up – as best as I could. I dressed him in clean clothes and bagged up the dirty ones. I used lots of wipes and then laid down a burp cloth over the wet (but mostly clean) part of the seat (once we got to my mom’s house in Wisconsin, I watched a YouTube video to learn how to completely remove the cloth car seat cover and then put it back on again).

We lined up for our flight with only a few minutes to spare. I sure was glad I’d packed extra supplies! My plan had been to change Levi right before we boarded the plane so, hopefully the blow-out situation won’t happen to you, and you can just do that in a nice, relaxed manner. One tip if you’re worried about this, is to preemptively put a very absorbent burp cloth or small blanket in the car seat before you get on the plane – just in case.

Step 4: On the Plane

The ticket checker notified us all that the flight was only 60% full, so luckily, we got a row of three seats all to ourselves and we were able to keep Levi comfortably in his car seat. I know families with young children get priority boarding and can board before most others, but I think, depending on the age of your kids, this can be a double-edged sword. Yes, you have a little more time to get settled before the plane is full, but then you’re also on the plan longer. Growing up, we were always some of the last people on the plane – intentionally – because my mom didn’t want to be cooped up on a plane with two very active kids for one moment longer than was necessary.

I gave Levi a pacifier to suck on during take-off, which would prevent his ears from building up painful pressure. Many moms also choose to feed their babies during take-off and landing to help with the ear pressure issue. Both methods are effective! Thankfully, he was asleep not long after we took off, and slept the whole flight. Aside from the blow-out in the airport, the flight itself was gloriously uneventful.

Step 5: Deplaning, Baggage Claim, Driving Home

We waited for everyone else to deplane before we gathered our belongings and our child so we wouldn’t be rushed. We made our way through the airport down to the baggage claim. While my husband waited for our luggage at the carrousel, I fed Levi again and then changed his diaper. By the time I’d done all that, my husband had our bags ready to go and my mom was waiting for us outside at the curb. We had survived!

Bonus: Flying Solo with an Infant

While I was fortunate enough to have my husband with us on our trip out to Wisconsin, he had to return to work a few days later and Levi and I were staying longer, so when we took our return flight back to Virginia, I was flying solo. I decided to check the car seat with my suitcase and then just wore Levi in the Ergo carrier through security and all through the flight. No blowouts this time and wearing him worked great, too – much easier than schlepping through the airport on my own with the bulky car seat. (Another option is to bring a lightweight stroller you can put the car seat in and gate check that).

My bottom line for you is to be extra prepared for spills and messes, give yourself extra time, and consider whether you’ll be on your own or will have extra help. Think ahead, run through the various scenarios, and prepare, prepare, prepare!

Bonus: Managing Time Zone Changes

If you’re traveling across multiple time zones, you’ll want to take into consideration how this will affect your baby’s sleeping and feeding schedule. Try to keep them on their normal schedule while traveling, and then once you arrive, get them on the time zone where you’ll be staying as soon as possible. Of course, delays are expected when traveling, so don't stress if your baby misses a nap or naps a little extra long on the travel day. Try to keep your baby up until close to their normal bedtime, even if that means squeezing in an extra cat nap or adding an extra feeding. Within a day or two they should adjust.

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