27 January 2015

Flying to Australia with a baby - an update

We recently flew to Australia from the UK with my 12 week old baby. If you follow my blog, you'll know that I wrote a blog post about it in November as I was pretty worried about it since our little one isn't the easiest of babies. You can read the post here. Thank you to everyone who gave us advice on what we should do - your comments were really helpful.

So we survived! 

I have to say that the flight wasn't easy. Lots of people said "if you're relaxed then your baby will be relaxed." But this just wasn't the case with us. Our little one was OK for about 10 hours, but any more than that was just too long for him to be in an alien environment surrounded by noise and people. 

My son enjoying his first swim in Oz

We flew with Etihad via Abu Dhabi. And, when we got off at Abu Dhabi, a couple of people said to us "your baby was so well behaved." Well, he soon wiped the smug smile off our faces when we got back on the plane and our little one said, "nope, I'm not having any more of this!"

However, we did survive. And, I thought I would share my experiences over a couple of blog posts. We had a great holiday and I'm really glad we took the opportunity for him to meet his cousins even though the flight was a bit of a nightmare!

I hope the following blog posts will be helpful or interesting to someone reading this:
In these posts, I'm going to mention some of the products that we used as well and ones that I wish we had taken. I don't get paid to write this blog and didn't get any freebies. So these are just things that we found really useful. Also, nothing in here is advice and ultimately you should do what you feel best and is most safe for your child.

My son enjoying Christmas in Oz

Anyway, I'd be really grateful for your feedback, or if you have any other thoughts then please share them below.

16 tips for flying with a baby

As you may have read from my previous blog posts I recently flew to Australia from the UK with my 12 week old baby. 

We really struggled to know what to take with us for the flight, especially as we didn't have much hand luggage allowance for our baby (with Etihad, we only had an additional 7kg allowance). Before I went I asked from some advice from friends and family as to what to take and I had some great suggestions, so thank you very much.

Unless you have a dream baby (which we don't and none of the other babies on the flight were that easy!) then flying long haul is not going to be easy with a small baby. So I thought I would share with you what we found really helped and hopefully this will help someone else travelling soon.

1. Don't get too stressed if your baby doesn't sleep

Finally asleep on his Dad

At the age of 12 weeks, my baby had only slept in the quiet, warm, familiar surroundings of my bedroom. Then, suddenly he was thrust into an unfamiliar place, with a constant background hum, people walking past the whole time and intermittent banging from the trolleys and people going into the toilet. There was just too much going on for him to properly settle. 

On the flight from Heathrow to Perth, he didn't sleep in his bassinet at all. He either laughed when I put him in there or screamed. It just didn't feel like his bed. In fact, he only really slept on me or my husband for a couple of hours at a time. On the plane next to us was this woman who was getting increasingly irate at her 5 month old baby for not sleeping. She kept shouting at him and shoving a dummy in his mouth. It was really upsetting for her, the baby and everyone around. 

Yes our son screamed and got overtired, but we tried our best to stay calm and to keep him as calm as possible. In my experience, shouting at a baby does not work! In the end, he was fine and we were fine and it actually meant he slept really well when we arrived in Australia. 

Yes I am still awake

2. Forget about the routine
At home, we are pretty rigid about when our son goes to bed, how frequently we feed him and how long he naps for. However, this all went out the window on the flight. I probably breastfed him about 20 times!  I say, do what you need to do to calm your baby. 

3. Do something to help your baby's ears pop
I got lots of advice about breastfeeding my baby at take off because the swallowing naturally helps them to pop their ears. The problem on the Etihad flight was they were really insistent on him sitting on my lap, strapped in and facing forward. On other flights, I found the stewards to be less rigid and I was able to turn him around and feed him. Whatever you are able to do, try to get him swallowing. So breast feed if you can, put a dummy or a bottle in his mouth or get him to suck on your finger. We did this and the air pressure didn't seem to bother him too much.

4.  Don't lug your whole change bag up and down the plane every time you need to change your baby 
Changing a baby on a flight is a nightmare. There are only certain toilets that have baby changing facilities (you are not allowed to change your baby at your seat) which means there is always a queue at these ones. Once you get into the toilet, the changing table is the smallest, slipperiest thing you will ever see and the plane keeps moving. Our baby wriggles when he is changed and I had to grip him to stop him from falling off. And, then the air pressure does something strange to a baby's insides (we were warned about this). I won't go into to detail, but he basically we went through quite a few nappies. 

Our Pacapod with its handy

Rather than lugging your change bag to the toilet every time and then rummaging around for a nappy, wipes, change of clothes and change mat for your baby, decant a small amount from your large bag into a smaller one. Our PacaPod change bag was perfect for this because it came with two small bags inside. Someone suggested pre filling nappy bags with a nappy and two wipes. But trust me, you might need more than two wipes and you might well need a change of clothes for him. So a small selection of items in a separate bag worked well for us. 

5. Don't forget a change of clothes for yourself
As I said, the air pressure did something funny to our son's insides. Suffice to say, both my husband and I had to change clothes. And, I'd dress comfy - let's be honest, you're not going to get upgraded when you have a baby.

6. Bring a variety of clothes for your baby
We found that some flights were warm and some flights were cool and so we needed different clothes to suit the climate. Plus the pressure thing effecting his insides. Basically we changed him about 6 times!

7. Pack some bedding
The air stewards did supply us with a blanket for the bassinet (one of the adult ones folded). However, I would recommend bringing some lightweight sheets or Muslins to put inside the bassinet as well. It's quite scratchy material and the familiar smell if your own sheets might help your little one feel more at home. We also put our baby  in a 1 tog sleeping bag when we put him down so it was more like bed at home. Also, the plane was pretty bright at times and the lights often woke our baby up. So if you have some thin scarves or Muslins to hang over the bassinet, that might help.

8. Take something to keep your dummies sterile
A friend of mine told us about a dummy steriliser you can get from Milton. You have to get the steriliser prepped before you go and it you can then use it to sterilise dummies for up to 24 hours. It's a really useful place to keep your dummies and means they are always clean when you want to use them. It also clips onto the side of a bag.

9. Load some music and white noise onto your phone or MP3
Because of the constant hum from the air plane, we found that we could play music and white noise to our baby while he was in his bassinet without it really bothering other passengers (well, no-one complained!). Our baby always has his lullabies playing when he sleeps, so we felt this helped calm him and feel more like he was at home.

10. Get your baby used to a sling before you fly

My son asleep in his Close Caboo 

at Abu Dhabi

We had to change planes at Abu Dhabi and we were really grateful that we could just pop him in a sling to walk around the airport. If you have an older child, Abu Dhabi actually has strollers you can hire, but they don't give you your own buggy back during transfer. My son hated his sling at first and it took me a while to get him used to being constrained for any period of time. So I used to wear my Close Caboo round the house and he soon got used to sleeping in it. This meant that when we were at Abu Dhabi for a couple of hours, he literally slept the whole time so we had a break from entertaining him (and he slept!). 

11. Keep hold of your buggy as long as you can

My son as he travelled through

 Heathrow airport!

Once you get on the flight, you only have two options for things to do with your baby. You either hold him or you put him in the bassinet (you can't put him on the floor for instance). So to save your arms, I would recommend you hold onto your buggy until you get to the gate at the airport. You can check your buggy in with your other hold luggage and it means it all gets loaded onto the air plane at once. And, it is a bit of a faff getting to the gate and having to arrange with the stewards for the buggy to be loaded onto the plane. But the stewards are used to it! Our baby slept while we wheeled him round the airport and it was a real godsend not to have to carry him.

12. Pack some Calpol
There were some points on the flight when our son screamed. And he couldn't tell us what was wrong and maybe he was just frustrated. But with the constant noise, the lack of sleep and the air pressure affecting his ears, he might just have been screaming because he was in pain. So pack some Calpol or other pain relief for your baby, you might find it really useful (the air steward actually offered us some calpol at one stage when he was really going for it!). 

13. Remember their favourite toy

Our son's toy trying

 to cheer him up

You can't pack loads of items in your hand luggage because you'll find there just won't be space. But a couple of items to help distract them might give you a bit of relief. We brought our son's favourite pirate toy, a soft bunny and also some black and white baby shapes books which we showed to him while he was lying (awake!) in the bassinet.

14. Change the scenery if you can
As I said, you can't always tell why a baby screams. Sometimes I think my little one screams because he is bored or frustrated and I'm pretty sure that was part of the reason for his screeches after about 14 hours! We found walking up and down the plane really helped to chill him out. Especially if there were friendly people who stopped for a coochie coo. Even standing in the food preparation area gave him something else to look at which seemed to help. 

15. Share the load
I was really lucky that I was travelling with my husband. So I could pass the devil to him when my tether was met. It also meant that he could hold him while I ate. I ordered a special meal because it meant my food arrived before my husband's. So I could scoff mine down while he held the baby then hand him back before his arrived. 

If you are flying with Etihad, they also have these Flying Nannies. They didn't do that much for us. But on the return flight, the lady sat next to us was flying with her daughter on her own. And the nannies held her baby when she went to the toilet and also when she was getting her sky cot ready. Also, you'll be surrounded by parents in the same position. So if you need help, just ask.

16. Sleep when your baby sleeps
Realistically, you're probably not going to be able to watch back to back movies on the flight (although to be fair, my son did stare at Frozen without squawking for about half an hour). And, if you're lucky enough to get your baby to sleep in the sky cot, you're probably better off getting some shut eye rather than trying to watch the latest film release. I actually downloaded a book to Audible on my iPhone and listened to that on the flight. It kind of drowned out the noise while I was walking round with him... Does that make me a bad mother?

I hope you found these tips useful. It'd be great to have your feedback. Have a great flight and just remember it will come to an end and you don't have to do it again... Oh, apart from on the way home. 

15 things to pack when going on holiday with a baby

Before we went on holiday to Australia with our 12 week old, I literally had sleepless nights about what to pack for the time we were away. I knew that realistically we could just buy anything we needed, but our budget is quite tight while I'm on maternity leave and I couldn't guarantee we could get to the right shops given the places where we were staying. 

So we basically packed everything! We flew with Etihad who had quite a generous baggage allowance. And we ended up having four suitcases which was probably more than we really needed. We also had one internal flight with Virgin Australia where we had to pay additional baggage allowance.

Here's what we were really glad we packed and some things we wished we had taken: 

1. Travel bassinet

Asleep in his travel bassinet

Our son was only 12 weeks old when we flew, so we picked a travel bassinet over a cot as we felt he would get lost in a travel cot. We found one from Koo-di that had a mosquito net and a sun shade incorporated. We were a bit worried about whether he would be comfortable in there, given that he had only slept in his Moses basket up until that point. But actually, he loved it and slept really well in there from night one. 

2. Car seat
You can hire car seats abroad, but we decided to take our own as we were comfortable using it and knew it was a safe, quality seat. Also, since our son was small we often use this as an attachment for the buggy as it keeps him upright which is good for his reflux and he can also look around. 

We were a bit worried about it getting damaged on the flight so we bought a travel bag from EBay for around £20. With Etihad and Virgin we were allowed to carry this as an additional item for the baby without any extra cost. 

3. Travel bag for the buggy
We were really worried about our buggy getting damaged during the flight. So we bought a buggy bag to protect it (you can read about it here). When we were waiting for the oversized items to come out, we noticed lots of other parents who were looking for parts of their buggies that had come detached, but we didn't have to worry about that because it was all safe in the bag. 

In his bouncer

4. Bouncer
Our baby loves being in his bouncer and we love him being in there. It means he can sit somewhere safe without us having to worry about him rolling off anything or having to hold him. So it was a no brainer to bring ours. We have a Baby Bjorn travel bouncer which folds down really flat (although it is still quite long) but there are other cheap travel bouncers that you can buy. We would take ours to restaurants and to the pool and he could sit in the shade and watch the world go by. Always in our eyesight of course. 

5. Baby tent for the beach

My son on the beach on Christmas day

Before a baby is 6 months old, it is not recommended that you put suntan lotion on them. Therefore you need to keep them in the shade all the time. A friend gave us a little baby tent which we brought with us to the beach. It was great because he could just chill out in the shade. I think a larger beach tent would also be really useful if your luggage will allow because then you can stand up with your baby.  

6. Jungle gym

My son in the shade on his jungle gym

We brought our Lamaze travel jungle gym with us. You might think this is a bit extravangent. But it didn't take up much space and he loves being in there. It was another really useful tool for us keeping him entertained in the shade. It also meant he could keep practicing his grabbing skills while we were away.

7. Travel baby bath
Before we went on holiday, a friend tried to sell us a travel baby bath but we, stupidly, didn't think we needed it. It would, however, have been useful. Stokke do a really good folding one. 

8. A variety of clothes 
Our son really thrived in Australia. We think he liked the warmth and not having to wear lots of cumbersome clothes. And yes, the large majority of time he could just wear a shorty all in one or just a vest. But sometimes, especially in the evenings or in air conditioned buildings it was cooler. It was also pretty windy by the beach in both Perth and New South Wales. So we often put him in a jacket or an all in one play suit. 

Remember also that you can't put sun tan lotion on babies under 6 months. So if you do want to pop their toes in the sea or pool, they will need to be wearing a long sleeved and leged swim suit and a hat. 

9. Baby sleeping bags
My husband thought I was mad for bringing 2 baby sleeping bags to Australia in the height of summer. But our baby sleeps in one every night and it is what he was used to. And, actually there was only one night in 3 weeks when the temperature in our room was too warm for him to wear one. In the main, he wore the 1 tog bag, but we used the 2.5 tog bag a couple of times too. 

In the shade

10. Sun shade for the car seat and buggy
Even in the car, the sun's rays can get to a baby and our son hates the sun on his face. So while we were out, we nearly always kept his snooze shade over him. He actually seemed to quite like it, even though he couldn't see anything going on. You can get them for around £25 online. We also had a mosquito net for our maxi cosy car seat but we never actually used it. They cost around £8 online. 

I would say that, even with the snooze shade up, he still got pretty warm at the time, so it's probably best to keep it out of direct sunlight as much as possible.  

11. Rain cover for buggy
Even in hot countries and especially in New South Wales, it can rain. We were so lucky that we didn't actually use ours. But we had it there just in case meaning we wouldn't have needed to change our plans if it had rained. 

12. Baby monitor
We were staying in houses the whole time we were away so we needed our monitor. It also meant we could put him down for naps inside during the day and go outside in the garden and enjoy the sun. Even if you are staying in a hotel, I think it's a good idea to bring your monitor because it lets you know what the temperature is in the room. This can help you decide how many clothes to dress them in. We brought our Angelcare monitor which also acts as a night light. 

13. Really good change bag

Pacapod change bag

My wonderful work colleagues bought be a Pacapod change bag when I went on maternity leave. Not only does it look great, it's also really useful. It contains two detachable bags which you can take out separate to the main bag. One of which is a cooler bag for keeping bottles and snacks in. It also comes with clips to attach the bag to the buggy. 

14 Travel steriliser
It was my birthday while we were away and I decided it was a good opportunity for me to have a few drinks for the first time in nearly a year. We used a travel bottle steriliser which worked in the microwave. If you're regularly using bottles while on holiday, I'd suggest you invest in a good one of these!

15. Calpol and baby thermometer 
Our son got his first cold while we were away. I was heartbroken! It was bound to happen with all the germs on the plane. As a mum whose baby had never been ill, I was totally paranoid and was glad I had my thermometer with me. Needless to say he survived after a few doses of Calpol

So those are the most useful things we brought. Lots of them we were given by friends so it didn't cost us that much to get everything together so I'd suggest you ask friends and family before you go if you can borrow anything for your trip. 

Oh, and of course you'll bring lots of other things like toys and bedding and nappies (the cheapest ones we found in Aldi in New South Wales) but these are the things you might not remember that really made a difference. Oh, and we also brought our own corkscrew and bottle opener!

Please note, none of this is advice and I am not a baby expert. You should always make sure that your baby is safe and that you follow safety and SIDS recommendations.

Using a sky cot on a Virgin or Etihad flight

When we booked our flights to Australia through Dial A flight, we managed to secure sky cots on all our long haul flights. They are generally available on a first come first served basis, so it is worth booking your flights early if you can. Sometimes though, they are only allocated at check-in but our contact, Robin, at Dial A Flight really went the extra mile to confirm that we definitely had bassinets on all sections of our journey. 

Although we knew we had bassinets, it was difficult for us to find out beforehand how big the cots were and how exactly they worked. So, during our flights to and from Australia, I took a few photos which hopefully someone will find useful as research before they fly.

You can generally request a sky cot if your baby is under 10 months old or weighs under 10kg. If you are lucky enough to secure sky cots, you will automatically be placed in the bulk head seats. This means that you have a bit more leg room, but it also means that you will be in a row with other parents with small children.

Our baby wearing his seat belt

The sky bassinet is only put up once the plane has taken off and the fasten seatbelt signs have been switched off. The steward then comes and clips it to the wall and you can then put your child in it. If the fasten seatbelt sign then comes on again, you have to take your child out of the bassinet whether they are awake or asleep.

During take-off, landing and turbulence, your baby has to sit on your lap and wear a little seat belt that fastens to the adult belt. On the Etihad flights, they were very insistent that the baby must face forward but on our internal and international flights with Virgin, they were less concerned.

The sky cot is made from standard seat material so it is pretty scratchy. The stewards do put a blanket in there, but it is just an adult plane blanket folded up. So we put our own sheets in there so it would be more comfortable and would smell familiar.

Our son with the flap zipped up

Once the baby is in the sky cot, there is a little flap that has to be zipped up at all times. And, on all the Etihad flights, they were pretty insistent about you placing your baby with his face heading away from the aisle. They didn't seem concerned with this on the Virgin flight.

The sky cots on the Virgin and Etihad flights were pretty much the same size and shape. The only noticeable difference was that the one on the Virgin flight was hung quite a bit lower on the wall than the one on the Etihad flight. We much preferred this because on the Etihad flight, we had to stand up to check on our baby and also, it was so high that I struggled to put our baby comfortably in there (although I am 5ft 2!)

The bassinet on the Etihad flight.
A useful place to store things
when the child is not in there!

Both were quite roomy for our 12 week old baby. But I think if you had a 9kg child, it would be a pretty tight fit.

Another difference was that nearly all the sky cots on the Etihad flights were directly below an information television screen which cast quite a lot of light onto the baby while they were in there. In fact, on all our flights, there was quite a lot of light shining into the bassinet which made it difficult for our baby to sleep. A friend had recommended we took a scarf or Muslin with us to drape over the top to give them a bit more shade. We did this and it definitely made a difference.

The sky cot on the Virgin flight,
Quite a bit lower than on Etihad

If you know your seat numbers, it's worth taking a look on Seat Guru to see where on the plane your seats are. Quite a few of the bulk head seats are by the seat preparation areas which are naturally quite noisy. If you find your seats are there, I would recommend you ask to change if you can because otherwise you'll have the noise of the stewards preparing the food and chatting to each other as well as trolleys and people bashing past all night long.

All in all, our baby didn't really sleep that much in the bassinet. For the most part, it was just too noisy and there was too much going on. On the flight to Australia, we could only get him to settle for any long period in our arms. However, I'm really glad that we had one because it meant that we could at least put him down giving our arms a rest and it was also a useful place to store things when he wasn't in there!

Flying with a Bugaboo

Whilst doing some essential OK magazine reading prior to my holiday to Australia, I read that one celebrity who had a baby at the same time as me wasn't taking her Bugaboo on holiday because it is not possible to fly with it.
This isn't the case and we decided to take our Bugaboo to Australia with us. And, although it was a bit of a hassle, it was worth it for us as, we were away for three weeks, and wanted something in which our son was comfortable and which was reliable.

If you do decide to take your Bugaboo or any other buggy on a plane with you, here is what I think you need to know:
  • Try to keep your buggy with you as long as you can
If you have a pretty long international flight ahead of you like we had, the last thing you want is to start the journey by lugging your child around an airport for three hours. So try and take the buggy to the gate rather than checking it in with the rest of your luggage. At check-in, the steward will put a baggage label on your buggy and then when you get to the gate, the airport staff will then just take it from you and put it into the hold.

Going through Heathrow with our buggy

  • Buy some sort of bag to put your buggy in
Whatever type of buggy you are taking with you, I suggest you buy some sort of travel bag to put it in. This way, all the items related to your buggy can go in one bag and you don't run the risk of parts being damaged or lost in transit. When we landed back at Heathrow, there was one couple desperately looking for one of the attachments to their buggy and when you have been flying for 24 hours, this is the last thing you need.

At the Etihad gate at Heathrow, they did have large, polythene bags for passengers to put their buggies in. However, I wouldn't assume this to be the case with all airports/airlines because they didn't have these at Perth or Sydney.

If you are flying with a Bugaboo, it is especially important because it doesn't lie flat and it breaks into two pieces. We bought a Bugaboo Transport Bag second hand from Ebay, but they cost around £100 new from Bugaboo directly or other retailers.

  • If you do buy a transport bag, you may not be able to take it to the gate
The official Bugaboo Transport bag is actually quite large and doesn't easily fold or roll away. Some versions of the bag have wheels but ours just had an over the folder strap. We used our Transport Bag at a couple of airports and there seemed to be different rules regarding whether you could take it through security. At Perth and Sydney airports we carried it through without a problem, which meant that, when we got to the gate, we just collapsed down the buggy and the stewards put it into the hold.

However, at Heathrow, we were not permitted to take it through security as they deemed it to be too large to go through the scanners (they must have smaller scanners in London than in Australia). This meant that we had to give the bag to the stewards at the check-in desk. They then labelled it up as air plane baggage and they then took it to the gate for us. Although this did work, we had to spend quite a long time waiting for it so we had to rush a bit to break it down and then get on the plane. And I had a bit of a panic in the meantime!
  • Practice breaking the Bugaboo down

Bugaboo Transport Bag

OK, so it isn't as easy as just folding the Bugaboo down and putting it into the transport bag. You have to completely dismantle it! And, when I say dismantle, you literally have to take the wheels off! So if you do get one of these, I would suggest you practice using it a few times before you fly. My husband got really good at breaking it down and putting it in the bag, but you want to be reasonably confident in doing it if you are in a rush and everyone watches you! 

If you've lost the instructions for your bugaboo, you can download them from the website
  • If you have to change planes, you won't get your buggy back while in transit 
This might seem obvious, but if you are flying with one airline but have to change planes en route, you won't get your buggy back at the transit airport. Once, they have put it in the hold, you won't see it again until your final destination. So if you have a bit of a wait or a delay, you might need to think about how you are going to cart around a very tired baby or child. We used our sling.

Interestingly, you can hire strollers at Abu Dhabi airport but our 12 week old baby was too small for them. 
  • Be prepared to take your child out of the buggy

On holiday with our Bugaboo

Again, this might seem fairly obvious, but if you are going through security with your child, you might have to take them out of the buggy, even if they are asleep. At Heathrow, they just felt around our baby and he didn't even wake up! But at both Perth and Sydney airports, they insisted we take him out while going through the scanners.

Hope this was useful, let me know if you think I've missed anything and I will update. 

Please note, we flew in November 2014 and it is possible that airlines will change their rules. It might be best to check with your airline before you fly. Happy travelling!