Being a mom means that you will have to sacrifice many things. Your time, your body, your money, and more; but the one thing that I refuse to sacrifice is my love of travel. And you shouldn’t either.
Flying with a baby can be a daunting task though if you’ve never done it before. No one wants to be that person on the plane with the screaming baby that makes all of the other passengers cringe. Thankfully though, that doesn’t have to be the case.
Flying with a baby is absolutely something that you can do, and should do because having a baby doesn’t mean that you can’t live your life. It just means that now you have a traveling buddy. I started traveling with my baby when he was just 3 weeks old. Several of my trips have been cross-country, and most of them by myself.
So here are some things that I have picked up along the way that may help you too.
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Booking Your Flight
Morning or Night?
Obviously cost will be a factor, but if the prices are comparable, shoot for a morning flight rather than an evening one. I’ve tried both and I have to say that waking J up earlier in the morning is so much better than keeping him up late at night.
Every time I do a red eye and think that he’ll just sleep, he ends up staying up WAY past his normal bedtime and then he’s just miserable. Try to save yourself the hassle and just go for a day time flight.
Window or Aisle?
I am always a window seat kind of girl, until it comes to a baby, then things get tricky. The choice of what seat to grab is obviously up to you, but here’s what I’ve learned. Having the window seat will allow you a little bit of privacy.
If you are planning to nurse or pump, then having a wall next to you will be very beneficial. It can also be great if your baby is easily distracted. With so many sights and sounds on a plane, it is easy for him to get lost in it. Depending on your baby, he could either become overly stimulated and fussy, or just stimulated enough to not sleep.
The con of the window seat is you’re blocked in should you need to get out in a hurry due to a diaper situation. I am not opposed to changing a diaper in the seat, but your fellow passengers may not like getting a whiff of your little one’s stinky butt during their flight. You can always ask though.
The aisle seat does allow you a quick get away, but there is the lack of privacy. If your baby also has a tendency to get fussy when sitting still for long periods, then I would suggest the aisle. That way you can get up and walk around for a bit to soothe him.
If you happen to be flying with another person, pick the aisle seat and the window seat rather than two seats together. People are less likely to pick the middle seat when given a choice so you might get lucky and have an extra seat in your row. This is incredibly helpful with a baby since you’ll have a little more room to spread out.
Some planes (think international planes) have bassinets available for babies to use while flying. I have never used one personally, but I know that they are available if you’re on the right flight.
If you will have a really long flight and want to consider one of these, I would call the airline and see about reserving one before actually booking your flight online. You may only be able to take a certain flight in order to get a bassinet. Best to call and ask to be on the safe side.
Know the Rules
When flying with your baby, it is important to know the dos and don’ts of traveling with your tiny human. It’s also great to know what you can and cannot get away with.
You’re allowed to have your child sit in your lap until they are 2 years old. They will need an infant boarding pass so just make sure that you let the airline know when booking your flight. For all domestic flights, this is free of charge. International flights are typically 10% of the cost of the adult ticket, but check with your individual airline to be sure.
If you are approaching that 2 year mark, or if your child looks older than he is (or to just be safe), you should bring a copy of his birth certificate with you in case the ticketing agent gives you any trouble. If you don’t have proof that your child isn’t already 2, then they could force you to buy him a ticket. You don’t want that.
There is some risk to holding your child in your lap versus getting him his own seat though. the FAA recommends that all children be placed in an airline approved car seat for travel. A child sitting in your lap is more prone to injury or death in the event of an accident or severe turbulence than a child in his own seat. If having your child in his car seat makes you feel safer about your trip, then you should definitely do so.
Your child will need his own ticketed seat and you’ll need to let the airline know that it is for a child in a car seat because they will most likely require that it be a window seat so that other passengers do not have to try to get by it.
Checking Breast Milk
If you’re going to be bringing a lot of breast milk, then you can check it. The only time that I have checked milk was when it was frozen. There are some pros and cons to this.
If it is frozen, it is easier to pack and there is less of a fear of a bag busting and spilling your precious liquid gold all over the place. You will have to make sure that it stays frozen though. Check with your airline for their specific rules, but what I have found is that most airlines (domestic at least) operate under the same regulations.
- 5.5lbs of dry ice can be used. It must be in a vented cooler (has a drain spout) that is not Styrofoam. It must also be labeled as dry ice or solid carbon dioxide. Cooler will be checked by the airline attendant as well as by TSA so it can’t be completely locked tight.
- Ice packs can be used in any amount.
- Wet ice is not allowed.
- Will have to adhere to the same weight restrictions and fees of other luggage.
So when carrying a large quantity of milk, planning will need to be made. I did a TON of research into coolers and ice packs when I moved from Oregon to New York. I needed to find a way to get my milk across the country and still keep it frozen.
Yes, I could have used FedEx and shipped it, but that was going to be pricey and someone had to be on the other end to accept the shipment. I found THIS website and it changed my world. They have so much information about different types of coolers and they do all of these great challenges of coolers and ice packs so that you can really see how they measure up against the competition.
I even emailed their customer service a few times asking for advice and they were great! I highly recommend them to help you find what you’re looking for.
That being said, I went with the Engel Ice Packs and the Engel backpack cooler. These things were worth every penny! I had a flight get delayed for 7 freaking hours! My milk was sitting in this cooler with 2 ice packs on the tarmac in the hot Florida sun for nearly 10 hours.
The time that the milk was out of the freezer came to 16 hours. My milk was still completely frozen by the time I FINALLY made it to my destination. Worth every penny!!
Booking Your Hotel
When booking your hotel, you want to check for a few things. If you’re a pumping mom, then you need to make sure that your room has a refrigerator available. It’s even better if you can stay in a suite that has a full sized fridge with a freezer. So much easier for ice packs.
If your room doesn’t have a freezer, check with the hotel about using their kitchen freezer for your ice packs. I’ve had to do this before, but most places are accommodating.
Most hotels will have a crib or pack n’ play available for you to use. Just be sure to reserve it when you book your room. They’re unlikely to have very many and you don’t want to risk them running out by the time you get there.
Make sure you bring a set or two of sheets with you. I’ve never had a hotel provide crib sheets, and I’m a little hesitant to trust them if they did. I just bring my own. They don’t take up that much space anyway.
Get Away From the Noise
Hotels are notoriously loud, especially older hotels. If the hotel isn’t full, ask if you can be placed away from the majority of the traffic. Also ask to be away from the elevator. Having less outside noise will help both you and baby get some sleep.
If you use a white noise machine for your little one, make sure you either bring it or you download a white noise app for your phone. That will also help your little one feel at home.
Keep Your Routine
Babies love routines. Traveling to a new place is the opposite of that. Trying to keep your bedtime routine as close as possible can be tough. It’ll be worth it though to help your little one sleep.
Pack any comforts that your baby is used to that will help to signal that it’s time for bed. Whether it be books for story time or a yoga ball for bouncing, if it makes your little one feel at home then it is worth it.
At the Airport
So now that you have your flight and hotel booked, it’s time to actually make it through the airport and on your flight without pulling your hair out. Stay with me, Mama. It’s totally doable.
Getting Through Security
Breast Milk and Formula
TSA rules say that you are allowed to carry breast milk, formula, or juice in reasonable quantities through security. Though I have yet to figure out what “reasonable quantities” means, I have never had an issue, so carry what you need.
These liquids also are not restricted to the 3-1-1 rule so you can have it bottled in what ever amount that you need. Know that anything above 100ml will be screened separately though. They should never open the container and you can ask that they use fresh gloves if they don’t already do so.
Just make sure to let the TSA agent know that you are carrying breast milk or formula. You can read more about the TSA guidelines on traveling with children HERE.
It is also a good idea to print out a copy of the TSA regulations and bring it with you just in case. I have heard horror stories of women that have had their milk dumped because the TSA agent didn’t know that the milk was allowed to travel. You don’t want that to happen to you.
Also make sure that you give yourself extra time to get through security. Having to wait for your milk to be checked separately will take extra time and you don’t want to risk missing your flight if the line is backed up.
General rule of thumb these days is 2 hours before your flight departs. If you will be traveling with a lot of milk that will need to be checked, or if your airport is notoriously busy or slow, then I would give yourself some extra time on top of that. Better to be sitting around at Starbucks inside security than having to do the mad dash through the airport trying to catch your flight. Especially with a baby.
Anything needed to cool your milk is also allowed. I would strongly suggest ice packs over wet ice because it is so much easier to deal with. They will scan it separately, so be prepared for that, but you won’t have any trouble getting through security with it.
Personally, I like using the cooler and ice pack set from Medela. It’s the perfect size to fit in my pump bag and it holds 4 of the 5oz bottles (though you can definitely fit around 7oz in them).
If you are traveling with larger amounts, I personally love the Engel Backpack Coolerr and the Engel Ice Packs. They have saved me more times than I care to count and I have never had an issue. The backpack is also carry on sized so you can just take it on the plane.
If you have a small regional plane that you have to take, you may have to gate check it, but it’s still a really easy option for carrying extra milk without paying the extra baggage fees. Also make sure to have some extra ziploc bags just in case you need to get some ice somewhere if your ice pack melts. Bring extras too because the first might have a leak. (Been there, done that)
Pumpers rejoice! Your breast pump is considered a medical device, and as such is not counted against your carry on allowance. I carry all of my pumping supplies in a completely separate bag so that I don’t waste any of my precious room in my carry-on bag.
When deciding between your electric pump or a manual pump, if you have the room then I like to carry both, but if you have to choose pick which ever is most portable. I usually take my manual for flights because then I’m not stuck trying to find a plug.
I use the Medela Harmony and a Haakaa silicone breast pump and I’ve never had any issues when flying. I bring every single empty bottle that I have that I can fit in my bag. I’d rather have extra empty bottles than run the risk of having to dump my milk because I don’t have anywhere to store it.
Related: Best Items to Carry in Your Pump Bag
Stroller and/or Car Seat
Most airlines (domestic at least) will allow you to check a stroller and a car seat for free as long as you are traveling with your baby. (Yes, I did ask about that last part one time).
If you’re going to check your stroller or car seat, I would suggest getting a protective bag for it. It’ll help protect the seat from the dirt and grime of being on the airplane. You can also get one that’s padded to help protect it from bouncing around too, but I never saw the point in the added expense. If you will be doing a lot of traveling with your baby and his car seat, then you may want to consider it.
Just make sure you check the dimensions of your car seat. Some of those things are HUGE and you want to make sure that the bag will be big enough. You can also gate check these items as well if you are wanting to take them with you through the airport. I never do. More on that later.
If you don’t want to deal with the hassle of taking a car seat with you (I don’t blame you), most rental car companies will let you rent one. If you’re a AAA member, you can rent one from Hertz for free with your car rental. It might not be a very fancy seat, but it’ll work for a few days while you’re on vacation.
Wear Your Baby
Like I said, you can gate check your stroller or car seat, but I’ve never done it. I don’t like dealing with more stuff than I absolutely have to. I always wear J in the airport, and here’s why.
When you wear your baby, you don’t have to take them off going through security. You just get to walk through the metal detector rather than the big scanner and you’re all good. Wearing him also seems to keep him calmer than being in the stroller.
I have the Ergobaby 360 carrier and it works great! I would suggest using anything that is easy to get on and off. The Moby wrap might look cool, but trying to wrap that thing on a crowded airplane is going to be a nightmare.
Wearing your baby is also the easiest way that I’ve found to go to the bathroom when you’re traveling with a baby by yourself. It takes a little practice, but I can totally go to the bathroom and do everything that I need to do all while wearing J. I know it sounds weird, but a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.
It never fails, the moment that you don’t need a diaper explosion to happen is when it will happen. Be prepared with extra clothing. Not just that, but be prepared with something you don’t mind throwing away.
Get yourself a set of cheap, white onesies, and when the diaper explosion happen you can just throw it away. So much better than trying to keep the poop/pee covered clothes off of everything else.
Also make sure you pack more than what you think you’ll need. Trust me, you will need it. In addition to changes of clothes for your little one, make sure you pack at least one extra shirt for you. You just never know.
Dress in layers for both you and your little one. The first time I flew with J, I had him in a set of footie pajamas. That poor kid was sweating so bad I had to strip him on the plane. Not fun.
Now I dress him in a onesie and add layers to him as needed. Even then I never put on anything too heavy. J tends to run a little hot anyway, but even more so being pressed up against me in the carrier. It’s better that he be wearing fewer clothes. I can always pull out a blanket to cover him with if need be.
If your baby is old enough for solids, or if you’re breastfeeding, or just because, I would suggest packing some snacks. Airport food is always ridiculously expensive, and to have a few go-to items on hand can save you and baby from hitting the hangry stage. Just remember to pack baby a bib or you might end up with a few too many food stains to deal with.
I always bring a water bottle when I’m traveling with or without a baby. Being on a plane can just dry you out. Add to that the fact that I’m still breastfeeding and I pretty much feel like I’ve spent a month in the desert.
Just carry a refillable bottle with you. I personally love my Hydro Flask Water Bottle. It’s basically indestructible and my water stays at the same temperature for hours. Most airports even have bottle filling stations too which are so much easier than trying to use the water fountain.
Just remember to have it empty when going through security. Otherwise you’ll end up having to chug it in line.
It is perfect for on the go because it has a suction cup to stick to tray tables or restaurant tables, it also has 3 tethers that you can attach different toys too, and the whole thing is a teether which is awesome since J is at the stage were EVERYTHING has to go in his mouth. Love, love, LOVE this thing!
Other than that, bring any toys that your child has grown fond of. I suggest just a few since space will be limited in your bag. J has always been more than happy to just sit around playing with my water bottle or my cell phone case. So definitely pack sparingly on your toys and get creative.
So this one might be a little bit controversial in ways, but hear me out. I always carry a couple of receiving blanket sized cloths in my diaper bag, that is a given. When I travel though, if I have the room, I also like to travel with a slightly larger one.
Now this blanket can obviously be used for normal blanket type things, but I use it for something else. I use it as a place to lay my baby in the airport. I know, I know, you’re probably pulling out your pitchfork as we speak, but please try to relax.
Sometimes you will need to put your baby down. Your baby will want to stretch and move around. And even if you have a stroller or a car seat available, that isn’t really enough room to do that. So I bring a blanket, I find a quiet corner in our terminal, and I let him stretch out for a bit while we wait to board.
It gives both of us a little break from each other, as well as lets him work out some energy. Trust me, you want that energy gone by the time you get on the plane. My goal is always to get J to sleep on the plane, so anything that I can do to help make that happen is what I’m going to do.
Now the blanket trick really only works for younger babies. Once your kid is crawling then getting them to stay on the nice clean blanket will be much harder to do. So you’ll need to improvise based on your child’s development. I’m normally the mom walking her kid around in circles. Hey, it helps him practice walking while helping him burn some extra energy. Win-win.
On the Plane
When you’re getting ready to board, the agent will announce that anyone traveling with young children can board first. Whether you choose to do this is completely up to you. I have done that and here is what I’ve learned.
Boarding first means that you get more time to get situated and organized with your baby. If you are nursing or are planning to pump, then having this extra time could be beneficial. If you are going to board first, make sure you have a window seat. Getting on early to get situated does you no good if you have to get up five minutes later to let someone in the row.
The other option to getting on first, is to get on last. I am actually a fan of this. Like I said, I don’t travel with much stuff. Just the baby, the diaper bag, and my pump bag. So I don’t really need to have the extra overhead space to store my things. I am also not a fan of sitting in a tiny airline seat any longer than absolutely necessary. I swear those things are getting smaller every year. And it will seem even smaller when you have a tiny human in your lap.
So I like to wait. Oh, and always, always, always make sure that your baby has a clean diaper when you board the plane. It will definitely leak otherwise. They just know. I swear they just know.
Some babies have an issue with the altitude change during takeoff and landing. I would suggest preparing to feed your baby during these times to help with the discomfort. At least until you know how he will handle it.
I got lucky with J. He doesn’t seem to be fazed by the altitude change, but I still always have a bottle handy just in case. If you are nursing, then you should practice latching under a cover before getting on your first plane together. That is, unless you are brave enough to just whip it out in front of strangers. If that’s the case then YOU GO MAMA!
For bottle feeding, I always carry the portable bottle warmer by Tommee Tippee. I love this thing! I just get it filled at one of the thousands of coffee shops located in the airport (since they obviously have hot water) and I’m good to go for the flight.
If you need more water, you can always get some from the flight attendants. I used that until J learned to take cold milk. Now I don’t bother anymore. It saves me some room in my diaper bag and a little extra time during feedings. Some babies are fine with cold milk right off the bat, but others either don’t like it or can have tummy trouble, so just watch your little one for signs.
While pumping both in the airport and on the plane can be a bit tricky, it isn’t impossible. It’s a good idea before you leave to take a look at the map of your airports. Most airports these days have a mother’s room. There generally aren’t many of them, so knowing where they are ahead of time will keep you from having to ask for directions.
If you can use one of these, then definitely do so. In a pinch though, a family restroom can work. They’re larger and private. I’ve even found some on occasion that have outlets. I normally put J on the changing table and pump standing next to it. A short pump is better than no pump. I also respond pretty well to my manual, so I’ll use that for a few minutes to do what I need to do.
When you’re on the plane, you can either pump at your seat, (but that requires some juggling) or you can use the restroom. I like a little privacy when I pump so I head to the restroom. Just make sure you pick the one with the changing table. They don’t all have one so be sure to ask where it is.
Again, I’ll put J on the changing table and pull out my manual. Now, this is all assuming that you are traveling by yourself with the baby. If you’re not, then by all means let whomever is with you watch your baby and pump in peace!
Having a baby on a plane near all of those strangers can be a bit overwhelming when you think about all of the germs and bacteria floating around. Just take a deep breath and relax. Remember that it is good for your baby to be exposed to bacteria because it is good for his immune system. That being said, if you have a young baby, I wouldn’t get too close to anyone.
Keep your hands clean either by washing often or using hand sanitizer. You should do the same for your little one. I’d rather J get a mouth full of hand sanitizer than something gross that he picked up from who knows where.
I also like to keep a small pack of antibacterial wipes with me for those just-in-case kind of moments. This is another reason why I like wearing J when traveling. There is something about babies that makes people just want to come up and touch them. If he’s in a stroller then people are more inclined to do so. If they have to reach into my own bubble to touch my baby then there’s less of a chance.
It is also completely fine for you to ask a stranger not to touch your baby. It’s your baby, don’t worry about hurting that person’s feelings. Besides, you’ll probably never see that person ever again anyway.
Remember that 7 hour flight delay I was talking about earlier? That flight was only supposed to be two and a half hours. No layovers, no connectors, nothing. Just 2.5 hours from start to finish. Needless to say, I ran out of clean bottles very quickly. Thankfully though, I was prepared.
When traveling, I like to keep a set of the Medela Quick Clean wipes and I also had a travel bottle cleaner. That thing saved me. I keep that and a small bottle of soap in my bag just in case of emergencies. Well I had a crying baby and no clean bottles, I’d call that an emergency.
Though I had to wash my bottles in the sink in the bathroom, it was better than nothing. At least I had a brush to clean them with, some good soap (not just the bathroom hand soap), and a clean place to put them when they were finished. I got some funny looks doing that, but I don’t care. I had clean bottles.
I know that flying with a baby can seem like a daunting task, but it is absolutely doable. Don’t let your fear of the trip keep you from experiencing life. Besides, it’s good for your baby to travel the world too.
Do you have any questions or concerns about your first flight with your baby? Leave me a comment below or join the conversation in our Facebook group.
Until next time!