Everything a Parent Wants to Know About Traveling with a Child!

June 17, 2016

by Dyan Hes, MD Medical Director of Gramercy Pediatrics

With summer vacation approaching I field many calls about traveling with kids, particularly babies.  For many women, maternity leave is the longest stretch of free travel time they will ever have. A frequent question I hear is, “How early can I travel on a plane?” I often remind families, “Babies can be born on a plane!” That being said, this is not ideal!

What I recommend, is that if you have non urgent travel, try to wait to have your baby receive her first round of immunizations.  Most infants received the hepatitis B vaccine at birth. After that initial vaccine, the earliest we can give the next set of shots is 45 days of life (6 weeks). I recommend that families wait 1-2 days after vaccinations to travel, thereby giving the baby a chance to respond to the vaccines.  Some babies, though not most, get fussy.  Even if they have fever it is alright to travel. This post vaccination fever is not contagious. It is a normal reaction to vaccines.

Flying with a baby is actually easier than a toddler. Babies can sit on your lap until age 2 years on most flights. I recommend that parents with small infants use a baby carrier to arrive to the airport. With all the security checks, it’s a lot easier than unloading your baby and folding up a stroller to put through the security machine. If your baby is to heavy to carry, then try to bring your lightest umbrella stroller to push to the gate and then check it under the plane. Other families choose to bring an infant in a car seat. In this case you should use something like a snap-and-go, where you can detach the stroller base at the gate and carry the car seat onto the plane. If you bring a car seat onto the plane, you must pay for a seat for the baby. Some international flights offer a bassinet to families sitting in the first row of coach seating. You can ask to reserve this seat ahead of time.

Babies are born with sinuses but they are under developed. Therefore, they really do not start feeling ear pain until 1-2 years.  Most infants do not have any ear pain with flying until the toddler years. By 9 months I recommend to have your baby sucking on a pacifier or drinking a bottle/nursing for takeoff and landing just to ensure that their ears equalize. It is also wise to carry some children’s acetaminophen or ibuprofen with you in case of pain.

Many parents inquire about using Benadryl (diphenhydramine) to make their children sleepy on a plane. Just remember that 10% of people have a hyperactivity reaction from Benadryl and do not become sleepy at all. You never want to be that family with the hyperactive child running up and down the plane! Try Benadryl at home one day on the weekend before you fly.

The hardest part of traveling with a toddler or small child is keeping them occupied on the flight. Nowadays, many flights come equipped with TV screens, but not all families use screen time. Try to bring books, crayons, crafts or other small games to keep your child entertained.

For international flights, nighttime travel is best. Parents always ask me about what to do with a child’s schedule when traveling. The truth is that there is not much you can do. For each hour of time difference, there is about one day of jet lag. By the time your baby is adjusted…you are usually on your way home. Wishing everyone safe travels!

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