27 January 2015

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. 

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