Real travel experts share their advice on the best baby travel gear, the things you DON'T need and tips for flying with a baby...As a shortcut, find the Amazon best baby travel gear list here.
Baby Lab first flew with us at 3 months old and has been on over 20 flights since then, sometimes just with dad.
You can do it! And it will create treasured memories. But you do need to do a few things differently. Here's what you need and how to do it...
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Here's what I never leave home without! The right travel gear makes for a smoother trip and happier families. Ready? Let's go.
Most people put strollers or pushchairs at number one. For babies and for flying, a sling is indispensable. It frees your arms at security, while boarding the plane, while sightseeing. If your baby will only fall asleep while being rocked, you can do that in the sling and then doze yourself on the plane.
The one I'd recommend depends on the age of your baby and your personal comfort level. I'm a little on the short side and my husband is quite tall and we each had slings we preferred. Most slings seem to be designed with a woman's frame in mind, so Mr Lab preferred the fabric DIY slings. I loved the pre-assembled slings.
OK, so this is next up! Most guides will advise you to buy a separate, travel pushchair but I'd advise thinking twice before you do this.
The advantages are obvious: travel strollers are lighter, fold down smaller and fit through airport security scanners.
However, they are bumpier, an added expense, more likely to break in the hold and something else to get to grips with!
We used a beast of a pushchair for baby Lab. One that allowed the car seat to clip in, a baby bassinet in a lie-flat configuration and then fold down seat that will see her through until she's four. We've never (touchwood) had a problem at an airport. And it helps to carry the car seat on the pram, with baby in the sling when you're juggling everything at once.
It gets heavy lugging all this kit around. Plus, if your flight gets delayed, there's somewhere cosy for baby to sleep while you have your hands free. Label your kit up at the check-in desk and have all your paraphernalia organised into bags by the time you reach the plane. The pram can go in the hold (folded down) but not any of your other junk. Avoid (ahem!) scrabbling around on the floor by thinking about this in advance.
Also, double check with your airline that this is possible and that there aren’t any weight or dimension limits. Most are pretty good, though, to be fair.
Car seats are essential for babies. Your own one may not be. In fact, in some cases it won't be legal as (sigh) different countries have different rules, even when they're otherwise closely linked.
As a reminder, it's best to keep children facing backwards for as long as possible.
Don’t forget you’ll need some transport options when you emerge on the other side. Depending on where you’re going and what you’re doing, it may make sense to bring your own car seat (checking that either it will fit in using a seatbelt or iso fix.)
Increasingly, airlines allow you to bring the car seat onto the plane, which seems an altogether better way of transporting an infant than having them perched on your lap. However, you often need to have bought a dedicated seat on the plane to be able to do this.
If your car seat attaches to your buggy, happy days. Take it up to the gate as well. If the flight is nearly empty, you may be able to take it on anyway. If not, into the hold it goes. You get a tag for this in the usual way when you check in your bags .
You probably already have one, but a travel one can work wonders. There are two main designs that I love.
Many of the changing mats that come with changing bags are tiny. And when you're mainly at home or at other people's houses, that's fine. When you're perched inside an airport loo or worse, balancing in a public toilet that you deeply suspect doubles as an opiate den and crack house, well... it's kind of nice to at least have a larger changing mat for your baby!
This is a really handy piece of kit that I use all the time at home. Designed by a mum, it’s a fully breathable shade that will attach onto all buggies and cots. It has a small zipped section that allows you to peer in – plus a picture of a snoozing baby on the outside in the vain hope that people around you will leave her alone to sleep.
It's obviously useful at home on a pushchair but it's also handy during a flight to drape across a bassinet. Or over a car seat to help combat jet lag.
I've found Bundlebeans to be really useful both at home and away. It's a fleece-lined waterproof that you can put over a baby in a sling or across a pram. Quick on, quick off, easy to scrunch and attach. Perfect for travel. It even doubles as a playmat if you're not too keen on putting your baby right on the airport floor...
o the uninitiated, these are rubbery (BPA free) necklaces that babies can chew on or grip. The colours attract their attention and keep them focused on feeding and the fact that it’s a necklace means that it’s always there in the right place. Handy amid a journey of whipping things in and out of various seat pockets and different bags. And, of course, you can't drop it.
Look, I've been there. Exhausted. Utterly, utterly exhausted and more tired than I could ever know. More tired than when I was working 140 hours a week as a junior doctor and falling asleep on my feet.
What helped us?
Most airports and airlines allow you to bring unlimited milk and baby food (although, to be safe, check in advance.)
You still have to stick to the 100 ml or under rule for other liquids, gels and pastes, however.
So look out for travel-sized:
Recent childbirth and having a weight on your lap for hours during flight does increase your risk, so consider those oh-so-sexy in-flight stockings and a low dose of aspirin before you fly (check with your own doctor first etc to be safe yadda yadda yadda)
Blocked ducts can happen at any time. If you're on a long haul flight, you need to be able to do something about this.
I'd recommend a small hand pump for travel, along with a pre-sterilised bottle and a few cartons of formula for emergencies.
From the Road
I’ve been travelling and flying for a lot of years, now, and a lot of times. So much so that airports have become second nature to me and the security line queues almost feel like home.
I was unprepared for the upheaval in my packing and planning that a new baby would bring (not to mention, my sleep, but let's forget about all that for now.)
The lists went on and on. Dithering and self-doubt crept in. It wasn’t helped, of course, by the ongoing sleep deprivation and the reality that chunks of available time were, well, less chunky than when I only had to pack for me.
With baby, everything needs to be done in a snatched few minutes here and there before the next nap, feed, and nappy cycle starts up again.
Fortunately I had help.
Friends who travelled. Readers who travelled. Twitterers who travelled. I asked for tips, they gave them.
And now that I’ve been through the flight razzamatazz the once, I was amazed at how much easier it was the second time around.
Easier in my head, easier in my actions. With more of the drudgery automatic, I was free to focus on the more important things and able to respond to lovely little Rosa more easily as we went along.
If you’re reading this and wondering whether you can manage flying with your baby, let me tell you right now that you can!
You just need to learn a few new moves.
For long haul flights, a sky cot really helps. It frees up your hands to eat, among other things, and the bulk head seats the cots attach to bring extra leg room, which really helps with all the extra gear you’ll need in-flight.
Unfortunately, each airline has their own policy about how you do this. Some airlines (currently Norwegian) don't have them at all.
Virgin Atlantic issue them on a first come, first served basis, although you don't know if you're one of the chosen ones until you're on the flight. Also, if you check in online, that automatically cancels your request.
So, phone as far ahead as possible and follow the instructions to the letter.
The Virgin Atlantic Sky Cot - attaches baby to the cot through a harness so you don't have to take them out during turbulence. This is a godsend if you've only JUST managed to get them to sleep!
If you decide not to bring your own, make sure to book this in advance.
Again, if you're not bringing your own, check that your accommodation can provide this as not everywhere does. Also, bring a cellular blanket of your own as many places provides duvets for babies, which is against current safety advice.
Inside tip: booking a sky cot
Airlines have quite bizarre processes about this. Phone early and follow the instructions to the letter.
Your lap is fine, I promise.
I don't think that anyone expects it and, personally, I think it sets the wrong tone for a flight.
We were all children once. We all have equal rights to get from A to B.
As long as everyone's trying their best rather than ignoring their responsibilities, we all need to accept that.
Don’t bring too many. Maybe none at all. Tiny babies are too young to need them. Rosa was dazzled by the people, the lights, the procedures of the airport and the flight. Barely looked at the toys we’d brought.
Babies add an extra layer of fun to the whole WHERE ARE THE PASSPORTS?!! game of panic. Consider having something that zips up and attaches to you/the pram/your baby.
I’m really happy with my black leather, zip up passport holder with a wrist strap (that can also hang on the pram.)
You know those undignified waterproof absorbent mats you bought for labour and kept for potty training? Grab a couple. Maybe put one on your lap. Consider having one on the floor if baby wants to try tummy time and wriggle around. If all else fails, throw one over your own head and try to get some sleep.
These can be handy for two reasons. One, you can offer them to other people should a crying fit emerge. Two, you can use them yourself.
The idea isn't to ignore your baby and irritate fellow passengers, of course. But just to take the volume down a little if needs be so that you can sound and be calmer, which helps translate to a calmer baby.
I’m guessing that this will become second nature as our children grow older but right now I CANNOT BELIEVE how long it can take me to complete a previously simple task.
With luggage and prams, you’ll need to use lifts and elevators instead of dashing up the stairs. You won’t be able to squeeze onto crowded transit trains and when a new security queue or check-in desk opens up, you won’t be able to move fast enough to take advantage of it.
Plus, you may well need to stop for a feed or a nappy change at any point which can slow you down all the more.
Relaxed, unhurried parents and well rested, well fed babies seem to make for a happier flying combination. Do all you can to make sure that this is you!
Some airports and airlines have dedicated check-in desks and security queues for people travelling with children. Make the most of them!
This was the one piece of advice everyone gave me, and I do mean everyone. Friends, cabin crew, waiters, colleagues, passers-by…
The idea is that feeding brings about swallowing, which helps babies to equalise the pressure in their ears, thus avoiding pain of changing air pressure.
Win-win all round.
The only thing I would add is not to start too early. Taxi times to the runway can be long – and you have time after the plane starts to take off before you’re high enough for the ear popping to be an issue. Take your time. Stay calm.
Bottles or dummies can also work for this.
Flights can be cold. They can also be hot. Prepare clothes for both.
For baby – and for you. Bodily fluids spill. Enough said.
Around children, mess just seems to multiply. Bring plastic bags for any wet clothes and also for rubbish.
When counting up nappies for the flight, don’t forget the airport time, transfer at the other end and a reasonable amount of delays. Overpacking is better than underpacking here.
Most airlines will reheat milk. Apparently none will sterilise anything in the air.
So, sterilise anything you think you’ll need before you head to the airport and keep it in zipped up plastic bags.
We packed a handheld breast pump and a few bottles of ready made formula, one bottle and a few teats just in case. So far, so good.
And in case you were wondering, milk doesn't count in your limit to go in the clear plastic bag.
At this age, a cellular one is safer than the static plane ones. If they do accidentally pull it across their face, they can still breathe.
Who cares if the baby is too young to eat? This is about you!
So far we’ve been lucky and managed to have our meals. But if all hell kicks off, you may not be so lucky. If you don’t have a sky cot and the baby’s asleep on your lap it’s going to be difficult to get the tray out to eat. Bring a few sandwiches, nuts or things like that – especially if you’re still breastfeeding. Having your supply run out on a long haul flight would be particularly tedious.
Oh, and eat, eat whenever you can! And sleep, too, whenever the going gets good. You never know when your next chance will be ;-)
Same as above, really. And a bottle is way safer than the plastic glasses they give you when a baby’s thrashing around. Obviously, you can’t take bottles of water through security so you’ll need to remember to pick one up on the other side.
Just before security. Just before boarding. Removes one risk, at least
This has become a catchphrase among the new mum friends I met in the bleary early weeks.
If you expect to be pacing up and down for the whole flight with never a minute to yourself, then anything else is a bonus.
Socks fall off. Trousers can be tricky. Basically, choose the easiest outfits imaginable as you’ll be changing on the road/toilet/in the dark etc Also, don’t dress anyone in anything you couldn’t bear to throw away if it came to it…
Don't forget that sometimes you'll have to walk across the tarmac and queue on the stairs. This can be quite long enough, sometimes, for everyone to get cold, wet and fed up or hot, burnt and fed up, depending on your flavour of flight. Bear this in mind and cater for it in your hand luggage. A floppy hat for the heat and a snowsuit or mac for the cold. And, my favoured Bundlebean!
I never really understood why families with children were invited to board first. Now I do.
While it may be handy to have older children run around as much as possible before they’re cooped up, there is another reason to get tiny tots on first: other people.
Passengers often get a bit frantic while trying to get on a plane and with all those heavy suitcases being flung in and out of the lockers, it’s not hard to imagine a hefty wallop on the head for a baby or a stampede for a toddler.
Plus, as you’re going to need to get to your bags several times during the flight, it’s best to have them close to you. This is easier to set up if you board early.
But to do that you need to be at the gate early. See above.
One of the best things about being on a plane is that you have nowhere else you need to be. Nowhere else you can be. Now is the time to give your undivided attention to your child (or even yourself, if they're asleep.)
And hey, at least someone else brings the food and clears it all away again.
So, book those flights, pack those bags and go and enjoy the world of travel again.
What have I missed? Do you have any tips for flying with a baby? What do you think is the best travel gear for babies?
Hi, I'm Abi, a doctor turned writer who's worked with Lonely Planet, the BBC, UNESCO and more. Let's travel more and think more. Find out more.
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