Have Baby, Will (Sweat Profusely While You) Travel

My sister is coming to visit next week! It’s the first time she’s visited us since having her first baby in March. Naturally, as I’m an expert mom (having turned out two developmentally advanced and perfectly behaved boys), she turned to me for advice on traveling with a baby.

You know how they say women forget the pain of labor? That it’s nature’s way of ensuring we continue to procreate? Yeah, that didn’t happen for me. But for sure, my memory’s shot: I can’t tell you what we had for lunch, much less remember details of any age or stage that my child is not living TODAY. I don’t know anything about the interests and behaviors children over the age of 4 1/2; I am similarly fuzzy about anything that takes place before 16 months.

I agreed to do my best to help my sister. But don’t be mislead; the reason I’m writing this blog post is NOT because I’m an expert, but because you guys are super smart parents (many of whom gave me the advice I’m cobbling together here).

So be a friend, and share your tips in the comments section.

Here’s what I’ve got.

Packing the suitcase

  • Those tiny clothes take up more space than you’d expect. If you’re going somewhere with laundry access, try not to overdo it. That said, pack enough to get you through the worst case scenario night (e.g., a spit up at 11 PM, a diaper blowout at 3 AM).
  • Bring your own play yard sheet.
    • While you’re at it, if you’re staying at a hotel, call ahead to check if they have a play yard (e.g., Pack ‘n’ Play) or “crib.” At 9 months, Noah got a bloody lip smacking his face on cage-like metal bars of an old crib at a nice Chicago hotel. If where you’re staying doesn’t have a play yard, and you can’t bring one, search around. You may be able to rent one.
  • Bring a good supply of diapers, but remember that you can most likely buy them wherever you are going (cloth diaper mamas, I’ll need you to share your tips).

Packing the carry on
Remember when flying entailed flipping through SkyMail while enjoying a ginger ale? No longer. Flying with a baby is the longest, sweatiest hour (or three or, God forbid, more) of your life. The entire flight is spent trying to keep your baby from crying, stop your baby from crying, praying your baby falls asleep, and then developing intense muscle cramps in your calves, arms and neck trying to hold perfectly still to not wake the baby. You will curse every clackety beverage cart and friendly pilot announcement.

For me, the key to a surviving the flight is a well-packed carry on bag. Full disclosure: I only breastfed, so don’t know all the ins and outs of traveling with bottles for baby (though I have traveled with bottles; see the “pumping” section below). I spent most flights desperately shoving a boob into the baby’s mouth. Here are a few other things to bring:

  • Pacifiers. Take several. At least one is sure to be flung under the seat in front of you, never to be seen again. You can take pacifier wipes, too, but you probably won’t have time between the time one hits the floor and you need to shove it back in the kid’s mouth to stop the screams to dig out your sanitizing wipes.  Just pick off visible solids and reinsert. 
  • Snacks (for baby). Good for distracting baby and helping diffuse ear pressure, as well as addressing any hunger that the boob or bottle doesn’t. Those baby food pouches are awesome; lightweight and easy for the baby to suck on. Other standbys: puffs, Cheerios, teething cookies, etc. Again, take a lot. There is nothing worse than running through your snack supply with 30 minutes left in your flight.
  • Snacks (for you). There’s no longer a guarantee of stopping at Cinnabon before you get on that plane, or of being able to accept a drink from the flight attendant, for that matter. Pack a snack, and buy a bottle of water when you get through security. I like to take something for sustenance (e.g., peanut butter crackers) and something to stress eat (chocolate. Always chocolate).
  • Something shiny. The kid will probably be most interested in the magazines in the seat pocket (at least someone gets to enjoy them), but it never hurts to have something else new on hand: a stuffed animal, book or toy noisy enough that it entertains your child without drawing the ire of everyone sitting around you. 
  • A small blanket. You’ll probably be sweating your ass off, and will want that air blowing on you from the ceiling, but baby might need to be a little cozier to sleep. And that, of course, is the ultimate goal.
  • Diapers, wipes, change of baby clothes. You know why.

Day of flight

  • Dress in layers. If you’re breastfeeding, wear your nursing bra and tank and a nursing-friendly top. I always wear a scarf, too. Style that doubles as a Hooter Hider or blanket. Dress the kid in something easy to get on and off, too.
  • Give yourself time. Get to the airport earlier than usual. When I’m traveling by myself, I’m the queen of cutting it close; I get a thrill from sprinting through the airport and walking directly onto the plane. It is not so thrilling with a baby. You will absolutely need more time to get through security, buy that bottle of water and do any last-minute diaper changes or feedings.
  • Check your luggage. For me, it’s worth every penny to have one less thing to haul onto the plane.

If you’re pumping
My sister is bringing her pump so she can keep up her supply for daycare. I’m more familiar with traveling with the pump without the baby (for work trips), but most of these tips should apply to both.

  • Bring storage bags for your pumped milk. I prefer the Lanisoh ones. You can fit many more of these than bottles into your cooler when it’s time to schlep it home.
  • Pack a bottle brush and a small bottle of dishwashing liquid to wash your pump parts and bottles between.
  • Call ahead to make sure the hotel has a fridge in the room. If they don’t, they should be able to provide you with one (it counts as a medical need).
  • Airport security is totally inconsistent. You can look at the FAA rules yourself, but I always take out my cooler bag, and put it in the tray and “declare” it to the security person. (It can be awkward with old dudes, there’s no way around it.) Sometimes they don’t even open it. Sometimes they take out the bags and look at them, sometimes they open each individual bag of milk and test it for explosives. But there’s no limit on how much you can take through; he 4-1-1 rule doesn’t apply here. 
  • Make sure the battery for your pump is charged. You can’t always find an outlet. Great for pumping in a car as it speeds down the highway!
  • Pack a snack. Yes, again. I always keep one in my pump bag. Basically, my advice in life is to just stash snacks everywhere like you’re Claudia Kishi from the Babysitter’s Club. If you aren’t legitamitely hungry, you will be emotionally stressed and snacks fix both.

Alright, folks, I told you these tips would be incomplete at best, so remind me of what I’m forgetting (or am totally wrong about) in the comments. Thanks, and Godspeed, traveling mamas and papas!