Surviving a First Plane Ride with a Baby

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Taking a baby on a planeHow one mom faced the terror of flying with a baby, determined not to be the Stupid Mother Whose Kid Will Not Stop Screaming.

With mere days to go before boarding a plane with my 13-month-old son for our family vacation, I was haunted by the sounds of the crying babies I had flown with (and cursed) during my younger days.

So I asked everyone I know for advice. I searched online; called the pediatrician; emailed friends who have older children; and sent out blasts via Facebook and Twitter, willing to accept advice even from people I couldn’t pick out of a lineup. Three hours didn’t sound like a long trip back in snowy January, but I knew it would be an eternity with a crabby baby.

“Buy him his own seat,” insisted my sister-in-law, a frequent flier with her own toddler. I say this was money well spent. Our first flight was late in the evening and I encouraged my son to roam the gate in his pajamas while we waited to board. His eyelids were heavy in time for take-off.

Had my son fallen asleep in my arms on the plane, his head would have hit the window while his feet kicked the passenger seated next to me.  In his own seat, everyone was comfortable.

Dad and baby on their first plane rideShould I Drug the Baby?

“Benadryl for him; wine for you,” recommended an experienced mother of two boys very close in age. “I second the Benadryl. I resisted and later regretted,” echoed a high school friend with a young son of her own. But my call to the pediatrician’s office trumped this advice. A nurse at Chicago-based Town and Country Pediatrics said that Benadryl makes many kids drowsy, but some kids hyper. The airplane was not a place for me to test my son’s tolerance.

“Cheerios!” offered the mother of the two children I babysat for when I was in high school (they’re both working professionals now). I packed lots of non-perishable, crunchy finger foods to nibble at 40,000 feet: cereal, yogurt bites, Goldfish crackers, cereal bars, the list continues. My husband doled out snacks one piece at a time for two-thirds of the flight. We also kept a plastic water bottle on hand (either in the diaper bag or under the seat, when watching Daddy contort to retrieve it became a game).

“Enough toys to switch out every five minutes,” suggested a veteran mother of three. I packed books with moving parts, like our vinyl bathtub book where the spider spins on a tack, and also a cloth book with cars that Velcro to each page. My son spent 30 seconds ripping them all out and then waited patiently for my husband to put them all back, with appropriate sound effects. They repeated this cycle a few times. Also popular on the plane were oversized plastic beads that snap together, and the zipper on the $5 cosmetic bag I bought to keep the beads in.

Play area at the airportNot so useful on the plane were the magnetic drawing board my son used as a drum, and the cars that usually cruise my kitchen floor. It turns out that our car seat hoisted my son too high to make use of the airplane’s tray table.

Packing the Diaper Bag

Make sure everything is in your diaper bag and put that one under the seat. I’ve thrown wipes in the wrong bag last minute,” confessed my college friend who has two children under 5. I packed a complete diaper bag, added some toys, and then turned my husband’s attaché case into an emergency diaper bag, with two diapers, wipes, and a couple of books. You never know.

Other things I found helpful:

  • Traveling in a heavy duty, overnight-style diaper It’s hard enough to get one adult into an airplane bathroom without a squirmy kid, changing pad, wipes, fresh diaper….
  • Traveling in pajamas If nothing else, my son didn’t need to take off his shoes at the security check.
  • Traveling light myself Acknowledge that the flight is not going to be even remotely about you, so there is no need to carry a book, knitting, crossword puzzle, or anything beyond an ID and cash in your purse. If the baby falls asleep, follow suit.

At the end of my Milwaukee-Phoenix round trip, I was pleasantly over-prepared. My son was a good little traveler, and I left many of my supplies in their tiny crevices of the diaper bag. One passenger I met on the way out even mentioned “forgetting” that the little guy was there.

I considered it the ultimate compliment.

Read these tips for traveling while breastfeeding.