By Reneé Prince
Updated March 30, 2021
For new parents, the idea of traveling with a little one can feel overwhelming. Navigating unfamiliar places, inclement weather, and time changes are hard enough without a crying baby in tow. This leads many parents of babies to give up travel altogether.
Fortunately, parents don’t need to stay homebound for years. Travel can go smoothly if your baby sleeps through transport. With some planning, your little one can be a calm and comfortable travel companion.
Getting Your Baby to Sleep On-The-Go
In a perfect world, your baby will sleep through the flight, and you can relax while in the air. Of course, this isn’t realistic for all infants and on all flights, but these tips for traveling with a baby might help:
Take Advantage of the Circadian Rhythm
By the time a baby is 8 weeks old (1), their internal 24-hour clock, or circadian rhythm, starts to develop. Try to schedule flights during times when your baby naturally sleeps. If this isn’t possible, then delay or shorten your baby’s naps prior to takeoff.
Use a Sleep-Inducing Scent
Certain fragrances, such as lavender, have mild sedative effects (2). In fact, research shows that lavender may reduce levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) in both babies and parents. Try placing a small sachet of a calming scent near your baby during nap time. You can even start this practice at home prior to traveling so that your baby associates this smell with sleeping and comfort.
Mimic Bedtime Routine
Is your child used to looking at certain books or stuffed toys before nodding off at home? Bring the comfort of home with you, and use the power of association to help your little one feel safe and relaxed.
Dress Your Baby Wisely
Keeping your baby from getting too cold or hot is essential for safe sleeping (3), so dress your baby in layers. Temperatures can fluctuate significantly on planes, airports, and runways. Just make sure that layers are easy to take off or on, and provide easy diaper access.
Drown Out Noise Distractions
Chatty passengers, overhead announcements, and other children squealing can cause noise distractions which disrupt sleep (4). Fortunately, there’s no shortage of smartphone apps that provide white noise. By relying on your phone or tablet, you’ll save packing space by leaving a portable white noise machine at home. Just make sure to shield your baby from any electronic device’s blue light, which can make it harder to fall asleep.
Preparing for Ear Pain
Children carry a higher risk for in-flight ear pain caused due to their narrow inner ear tubes (5). It is important to encourage swallowing during takeoff and descent to help relieve internal air pressure, even if you must keep your child awake to do so. To encourage swallowing, give older babies water or milk. Younger babies can be given pacifiers, a bottle, or breast fed.
Sometimes parents might be tempted to give their children a nasal decongestant to prevent ear pain. However, there is little data (6) to show that these medications help, and they can have serious side effects.
Plane Seat Safety
While you may be inclined to keep your baby on your lap during flight, expert groups agree (7) this is not safe. Your strength may not be enough to secure your tot during unexpected turbulence. Instead, opt for a child restraint system (CRS). Make sure your CRS is government-approved specifically for airplanes, or risk being asked to check it as baggage. Consider investing in a CRS that is approved for planes as well as other modes of transportations to get the most use.
Should You Use Sleep-Inducing Medication?
Most medications used to improve sleep in adults are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration for children. Over-the-counter sleep aids or other drugs used “off label” for sleep have not been studied in children (8) and may carry significant health risks. These medications should not be used without the close supervision of a doctor.
Diaper Bag Essentials
Be prepared while traveling light by making sure to bring these items:
- An extra diaper or underwear, along with a bag for soiled clothing
- Your baby’s passport! Children of any age, even infants, need one for international travel
- A small, foldable blanket for changing diapers on-the-go
- Travel-size first aid kit. Few airlines (9) are equipped with supplies to handle a pediatric medical emergency, even though young travelers account for 16% of in-air medical needs.
There are many ways to make the airport family friendly. Try taking the following steps to ease the stress of travel day as much as possible:
- Ask the airline for reduced-cost tickets for your baby. Many airlines have affordable options for children.
- Avoid traveling on peak days and times.
- Book a direct flight. If this is not an option, then opt for a long layover. This will give your family a chance to relax and recover in between trip legs.
- Leave the car at home and opt for getting dropped off in order to eliminate the hassle of parking.
- Take advantage of airport commodities like rentable strollers, shuttles, and rolling luggage crates.
Above All, Stay Calm
Despite your best preparations, unforeseen events are bound to happen. Expecting the unexpected will help you ride out moments of stress. And don’t forget that babies are adaptable. With time and patience, babies can get used to many situations. So take a deep breath, and remember that traveling is part of the journey.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25245173/ Accessed on March 25, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18053656/ Accessed on March 25, 2021.
- https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/nih-alerts-caregivers-increase-sids-risk-during-cold-weather Accessed on March 25, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26483931/ Accessed on March 25, 2021.
- https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/children-s-health-issues/ear-nose-and-throat-disorders-in-children/overview-of-middle-ear-infections-in-young-children Accessed on March 25, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10323625/ Accessed on March 25, 2021.
- https://www.faa.gov/travelers/fly_children/ Accessed on March 25, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17702271/ Accessed on March 25, 2021.
- https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/news/external/2019/07/26/16/55/most-airplanes-not-equipped-with-first-aid-for-kids Accessed on March 25, 2021.