Last week on Thursday I embarked on a whole new aspect of motherhood that freaked me out: flying solo with a baby. Looking back on it now I can totally see what things I should have done differently, figured out what worked best for us as a mommy-baby team and can clearly see the things that totally didn’t work at all. Overall we had a great trip – we were flying out to Northern California to see my grandmother – and I am so thankful for the advice that I got from all of you on flying with a baby! Here are some thoughts below about what worked, what didn’t, and at the bottom of the post are all the tips and tricks I got from all of you guys!
- Pack light. I really tried to pack as light as possible this time around; when we drove to Texas over Memorial Day we definitely brought too much stuff and downsizing would have made everything a lot less stressful. This time around we packed one big suitcase with everything in it and checked it (we flew Southwest – yay for free bags!), but it was a little over the weight limit so I ended up carrying on the breast pump, diaper bag and Weston and gate-checked the carrier and stroller. That’s a lot of stuff for only two arms! Which leads me to points 2 & 3…
- Use a baby carrier. In an effort to pack light I decided that I didn’t want to take the Ergo with me in addition to the diaper bag and everything else; looking back I totally should have brought it along and worn it on the plane. I’ll get into the details of how everything went down in a bit, but Weston cried for the first 30 minutes of the flight and then passed out in my arms. Had I been wearing him in the Ergo I could have read or something while he slept, but as it was I was terrified to move in case I woke him up!
- Use the smallest stroller you can & rent a car seat. We took our car seat + base + stroller combo for a couple reasons – a) we didn’t want to pay to rent a car seat, b) Wes’s neck strength doesn’t warrant an umbrella stroller yet, c) I forgot that we don’t have to have the base to put the carrier in a car, and d) since he still doesn’t nap well outside of his swing we wanted to be able to put him in the stroller and rock him that way. Looking to future trips though I will definitely be renting a car seat and using an umbrella stroller (since I’m planning on “weaning” him off of his swing in the next few weeks anyway) – that would have made the entire trip significantly easier!
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions. I’m typically a pretty shy and very independent person, so asking anybody for help with anything can be a little hard for me to swallow sometimes. Asking for help was imperative on this trip though since Nate wasn’t with us on the trip out to California. I didn’t know what to expect or how family travel works at airports. So if you’re traveling alone with baby don’t be afraid to ask if there’s a family-friendly line at security, if there are elevators you can use instead of escalators, whether or not you can board early to get settled, how to gate-check stuff, if people can help you break down your stroller, etc. I found that people were incredibly helpful and most were very empathetic!
- Read your airline’s policies for traveling with a lap child. Since Wes didn’t need a ticket we just assumed we could just carry him on without anything; however, with Southwest (and I’m going to assume most airlines) you have to have a copy of the baby’s shot records or birth certificate to prove they are under the age limit for a lap child. I had no idea, so when we showed up and stood in line for 20 minutes to check our bag I was shocked when the agent asked for that from me. I was THISCLOSE to bursting into sobs when she said she’d let us through this time, but that we’d really need to get his shot records faxed to us for the trip back. Luckily we were able to, but I would have totally missed the entire trip if she hadn’t helped us out.
- Try to schedule your baby’s day around the flight so that he/she will nap then. Wes’s schedule was so thrown off all day and he was exhausted by the time we actually got on the plane. I tried as best as I could to keep the feeding/playtime/nap time routine and while it wasn’t perfect, he DID end up sleeping on the plane which was a lot easier than trying to nurse and play while sitting next to complete strangers. That being said…
- Don’t worry about anyone else. I know that sounds selfish, but at the end of the day you’re responsible for making sure you and your baby are OK. Other people might get mad about a crying baby (yeah, I’m talking to YOU guy-who-sat-in-front-of-me-and-gave-me-dirty-looks-while-my-baby-cried!) but with all due respect – screw them. They’ll survive and you can’t control them anyway. Just do what you need to do (nurse, play, rock, cry, whatever) to make things as good as possible for you and the little one.
- RELAX. My dad had to remind me about this, but babies can totally feed off of whatever you’re feeling. If you’re stressed and anxious they’ll be uneasy and fussy. If you’re relaxed and at ease, it’s likely that they’ll feed off of that and be as relaxed as possible too. Anxiety never helped anyone, so try as hard as you can to relax. Close your eyes, take some deep breaths, and tell your baby you love him/her.
- Go to the bathroom/change the baby right before boarding. I am really glad I did this; I inevitably always have to go to the bathroom whenever I fly and knew that it would be near impossible to do so with a baby in my arms. I went to the bathroom and made sure I changed Wes right before flying – luckily he didn’t have a blowout while we were on the plane, but I just felt more at ease with him changed and ready to go.
- Have faith in your baby (stole this one from Jen). The trip may not be perfect, but have faith that your baby can and will make the trip as best as he/she possibly can. It’s a huge, nay MASSIVE, change for them the first time around and they’re working through it the best they know how. Although our trip wasn’t perfect, I know that Wes dealt with things the best way a 4-month-old knows how and I’m so proud of him!
All that being said, here’s my experience in bullet points!
- Thursday morning we needed to leave our house at 9:30 to get to the airport in time. Wes woke up at around 6AM which was perfect for getting him fed twice before leaving! I fed him, we played, and then I put him down for a nap while I finished packing and showered. Then I fed him once more before heading out the door.
- We met Nate halfway to the airport so that he could drive our designated “baby car” to the airport the next day (he flew out Friday morning). Nate walked us in to the airport and helped check the bag, where we found out that he could get a gate pass to help me to the gate. I didn’t know those existed – if you have someone who’s able to help I would highly recommend doing this!
- He ended up leaving right after we got through security, so Wes and I hopped on the train to the terminals by ourselves. We were off!
- When we got to the the terminal we made our way to the gate to gate-check the stroller/car seat, then hit up the bathroom before we started boarding. Our flight ended up being delayed a bit, so I got a bottle ready and fed him while we waited (I’m not super comfortable nursing in public, so I brought frozen milk and empty bottles for the trip – it helped a TON in my comfort level, but do whatever you feel comfortable doing).
- We went to the bathroom once more before boarding.
- We got on the plane, sat in a window seat and he started to fall asleep until the flight attendants started making the safety announcements. He woke up and played for a bit until we took off.
- As far as take off was concerned, Wes has never taken a pacifier and I couldn’t position him to nurse, so I just stuck my (freshly-washed) finger in his mouth to suck on to help with his ears popping. He didn’t seem like it was an issue, but once we got to 10,000 feet he totally lost it.
- The next 30 minutes he scream-cried and I turned into a nervous wreck. He was totally THAT baby, but I literally tried everything and nothing worked. Finally I just sat him up and started rocking side-to-side and he passed out. He woke up again about 10 minutes later and then I laid him on my shoulder where he slept pretty much the rest of the flight.
- As we were landing he was waking up and started to fuss again; thank goodness we were there! Thanks to some of the sweet people sitting around me (and the great flight crew) I was able to get off the plane without a hitch.
- As we walked off Wes was totally fine – and had two very excited grandparents waiting to snuggle him!
I honestly don’t know what would have helped with the screaming before, but I’d like to think that *if* I had been able to feed him a bottle on the plane and *if* I had been able to put him in the Ergo he probably would have done better. That being said I can’t know for sure, but I DO know that the flight back on Sunday with Nate was so much easier! The fussiness was very limited and he slept in the Ergo like a champ (Nate brought it out with him on Friday).
Hindsight is 20/20, and like I said in the tips at the first of the post – Wes really was doing the best that he could with the situation handed to him and the fact that he’s only 4 months old. We are so blessed to have such a happy baby, and I am so thankful that he got to see his aunt, grandparents and great-grandmother on my side!
Here’s a little compilation of the fantastic tips that I got from you guys – thank you so much for being willing to share!
- Linda – “Our first flight with our daughter was when she was 9 months old. It was a lot easier than I expected. Just have something for him to suck on during take off and landing if needed to help with ear popping. My daughter nursed or used her pacifer and we did not have issues. She did really great. I think this is another one of those times that the anticipation makes it much harder on the parents than it actually is. I brought a nursing cover “hooter hiders” and just discretely nursed. You get over it when you know you are doing what you have to for your baby. Good luck!!”
- @DawnesDad – most important thing is to have a bottle for take off and landing, babies don’t naturally swallow to adjust ear pressure, pain
- Robin – Flying with baby. They rule the flight, they are in control and no matter how prepared you are, they still find a way to throw you for a loop! Change of clothes for you and him, plenty of wipes and diapers, snacks and fluids for you (sometimes we forget ourselves!). Check the stroller at the gate, you will want it with you as soon as you get off the plane. Ask for help, the airline staff is always happy to board you first, hold a baby, and help you carry things. And since he is soooo cute, everyone will want to help you out!! Have fun!
- Lyn – I flew by myself with my son when he was about 10 months old. I had gotten a separate seat for him with his carseat (recommended by the doctor) but if I had to do it again, I would spare myself the cost and hassle of lugging it on and just hold him. (depending on how long the flight is). Our doc also recommended giving him a little decongestant before takeoff to help with the pressure. Also I made sure he was eating during take off and landing because it seemed to help not make his little ears pop. Make sure you go to the bathroom before take off so you don’t get stuck having to go in the middle of a flight and have to try to take the baby into the tiny airplane bathroom and figure out how to hold him and pee at the same time without bonking his head on something, or more importantly, keep him from touching something gross (speaking from experience). Give him a diaper change as well. Other passengers were very helpful, and a nice man helped me carry my stuff off the plane…and we got to board first, so that helped to be able to get settled before the crowds got on. Good luck!
- Sarah – Gigi didn’t fly until she was a toddler, but we took Lu to Hawaii at 5 months. It truly wasn’t too bad…I think it just depends on the kiddo. Check your car seat/stroller at the gate, bring a hooter hider for the plane, try to time his nap for when you are in the air. You’ll do great!
- Ewa – As far as flying we did two flights one in the morning there and one in the evening back. They were both very easy but the evening one she pretty much slept the whole time. I had the ergo on me at the airport and most of the time on the flight and it worked great. And you have your arms free for other things and bags. Then she slept in my lap with her head on my legs and her legs on the arm seat. Worked great. We gate checked the car seat and snap and go. I tried to feed at take off and landing but she wasn’t hungry and she had no issues at all. We haven’t started solids yet will probably at 6 months. I hear you on the standing thing. Ella just wants to stand ALL the time when you hold her. Might be an early walker. Bring disinfect wipes and wipe your table and handles