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From tantrums to touchdown: tips for flying with babies

Make good memories on your flight
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Flying with your infant is like the contact sport of parenting: you feel like you have to plan, train, know the rules and then proceed through the airport dodging people both well-meaning and mean-mannered. And that’s not to mention the stress of boarding, getting settled and wondering if you can keep your baby, and yourself, happy for the next two to six (or more) hours, all the while praying you don’t disturb the entire plane and have to endure the death stares of your fellow passengers.

Rest assured that many parents have been there, done that and lived to tell the tale. And with a little forward planning, these things are far easier to navigate than you think, and matter not at all once you’re safely at your destination enjoying the world with your little one. Follow these top tips to help you and your baby cruise through any in-flight turbulence.

Take care of yourself

Your happiness matters to your baby. However you are feeling, your baby will feel it too – taking care of yourself will help you both remain calm and cool throughout this experience. Do one thing before the flight that will allow you to smile in the face of scowling strangers and coddle your baby for hours on end; take a jog in the morning before going to the airport or spend a quiet minute with your coffee. Finding moments like these when you have a small child is challenging to say the least, but, if you want a stress-free trip, you need to be in tip-top shape.

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Don’t forget to wear your most comfortable clothes and bring an extra shirt for yourself. The last thing you want is to be covered in baby sick for hours.

Travelling through the airport

Since most airlines offer to ‘gate check’ strollers, it is a no-brainer to bring yours. But should you bring the big one or the small travel one? Some intrepid parents wouldn’t dream of going anywhere without their giant, load-bearing buggy, and with good reason; it has a basket underneath for all the stuff, and most of them are big enough to transport an infant and an older sibling. With all the gear required for travelling with kids, having a ready-made cart to wheel through ever-expanding airports is a dream. And if you have twins, there really isn’t a good alternative.

Getting settled

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The tricky question on the minds of every jet-set family is whether or not to bring the safety seat. The vast majority of airlines allow for children under two to be held on parents’ laps for the flight. When choosing seats on the plane- don’t pick the bulkhead. There is no place to store snacks, bottles, teethers etc, all of which you will most certainly need. Window seats are your friend. Not only is looking out the window really exciting for babies, but it also just feels a little cosier for you both.

Place things you may need right away – like books, small toys, snacks, wipes, and a burp blanket or extra swaddle – in an easy-to-reach place before shoving everything else you may want under the seat in front of you. Keep organised by thinking about your baby’s schedule and anticipating what they are going to need next. Just because you are confined to a small space doesn’t mean you can’t keep to your normal rhythms.

What goes in, must come out

Whether your child is on formula, mother’s milk or solid food, feeding can be one of the biggest stressors of travelling with your child. Every baby is different, and whatever your child’s particular brand of crazy, it feels impossible to honour it on a plane.

Smiling flight attendant bringing a baby bottle to a mother with a baby on an airplane.
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Parents of formula babies have a couple of choices. Pre-made formula comes in sealed packages so you don’t have to buy additional water once you are through security. Alternatively, you can pre-measure formula into bottles and source water once you are through security. For nursing mothers, it is important to note that in many places breastfeeding in public is a protected right, but that is not true everywhere. Be mindful of both the laws and societal norms of the country you are visiting. Feeding your baby during take-off and landing can help reduce stress from cabin pressure and has the added benefit of soothing your baby during the most difficult parts of the flight.

But what goes in, must come out! And changing babies on an aeroplane isn’t easy. Change your baby right before boarding, and once you are on the plane ask the flight attendant if the bathroom has a changing table in it (most do, but some don’t or only have one). Be nice to flight attendants and get them on your side – they can be allies.

When the flight gets too long

This is bound to happen. Wear a teether necklace and come well stocked with your baby’s favourite toys. Smaller, soft toys that are stackable and sturdy (and bangable) are perfect.

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Bring colouring books or books that are engaging, which your baby can touch and feel. Make it either a new thing, or something trusted and loved. Sing songs, talk about what you’re going to do when you land or what is happening out the window. You can absolutely entertain your baby for this long (and there is always the option of baby shark videos on your smartphone or tablet).

A successful landing

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This part is tricky. Remember that everything takes longer than you expect, so plan accordingly. Just like everyone else, you are probably more than ready to get off that plane, but if you have been successful so far, there is no need to rush. That antsy longing for freedom will reach your baby, who will, in turn, get anxious. Take a deep breath and relax into this last leg. Hopefully, you can grab everything and use that goodwill you’ve been fostering with flight attendants and fellow passengers to slip quickly, if not quietly, off the plane.

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