By Ali Weatherford
The holidays are upon us, which can sometimes include traveling with babies and small children. This might feel like a REALLY intimidating thing to you, especially if you’ve never done it before. Or you might feel like, “What’s the big deal? You just do the same thing, but with a baby, right?”
If you plan on traveling this season, whether by car, bus, train, or plane, there are some things to know about managing travel with children that can make it easier and more fun.
If you have a baby and have been told that you are supposed to just be able to pick up and travel easily, I am here to offer another perspective. For most of us, if we are being completely honest, traveling with little ones is NOT MUCH FUN and can even feel unsafe! I did it when I had to, for family obligations, but I limited it as much as possible.
It’s Okay to Stay Home
It is more than OK to say no or postpone travel plans, even when people might give you a hard time about it. With newborns, there might actually be a safety issue. Many pediatricians would agree that it’s better to avoid travel with very young babies, so if you get pushback from enthusiastic family members, you can tell them your doctor recommended staying home! Traveling can mean a higher risk for illnesses which can often be more threatening to newborns. You may also still be recovering from pregnancy and birth and that can make it more complicated and unpleasant to travel.
While your kids are little, don’t feel bad if you need to stay home more for a while. It doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong with you. It doesn’t mean that you are uptight or disorganized or not brave enough. Those who love you will likely understand that it’s a temporary state that most of us go through when we have little ones. It will change.
After my first baby, it took several months before I could sit comfortably in a car. And sleep deprivation made the thought of planning and packing and traveling very intimidating. There are also logistics to think about. There was so much stuff to take, and babies are so different from the big people. The way they eat, sleep, play, and behave is unique enough to make things more complicated.
At home, we have our safety nets. We have baby-proofed rooms, we have the food they eat, their beds, their toys, strollers, soothing gadgets, car seats, special blankets/pillows/lovies…. all the things that help us find ease with little ones. When we travel, either the accessories come with us, or we have to do without. Either option requires extra work, and extra work equals less travel fun.
Or, you might be one of the rare few who actually like to travel with little ones. I have friends who fit that description, and I understand that for them, traveling is truly fun and easy, or at least worth any hassle!
Sometimes, the holidays make travel necessary, so when this happens, here are some tips to help you travel with more ease.
If you have a breastfeeding baby……
Should I bring my breast pump while traveling?
One of the many benefits of direct breastfeeding is that there is less to carry! So, if you do not have to be separated from your baby it might be okay to skip it. If you do anticipate some separation, it might be a good idea to have a breast pump on hand. If you decide to bring it, make sure you bring:
- a pump
- storage bags
- a portable cooler
- ice packs
Store your breastmilk in a freezer or refrigerator as soon as you are able to. Also consider getting an inexpensive manual breast pump. These can be a good option for travel because they are smaller and take up less space.
If you plan to travel by plane, visit the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) website before your trip. You can get a lot of detailed information about the rules of traveling with a breast pump and expressed breastmilk. Keep in mind other countries may have different rules. Finding out and planning ahead might save you some airport headaches.
Is it okay to breastfeed on an airplane?
Breastfeeding is permitted and legal in all public areas, including airplanes and trains. By law, wherever you’re allowed to be, you are also allowed to breastfeed. Breastfeeding on an airplane can also be incredibly helpful! It can help soothe babies during take-off and landing, easing ear discomfort. It can also help babies stay calm and sleep.
Wear something that makes the breast easily accessible like a nursing shirt or tank top. A comfortable cover-up of some kind can help you be discrete and can minimize light and distractions for your baby. I would also encourage you to utilize “family boarding” to get you on the plane early so that you can get yourself, your baby, and your carry-on items situated before everyone else gets on.
What if I am traveling by car?
If you are traveling by car, give yourself plenty of time so that you can take feeding breaks when necessary. You may want to stop for every feeding, or else pump in the car and bottle feed. Driving at night can sometimes make things easier, so the baby can sleep and you’ll have to make fewer stops.
What other items should I bring with me when I’m traveling?
Plenty of water and snacks for you! It’s important to take care of your own needs and keep up your energy and milk supply with good nutrition and hydration.
- A sling or baby carrier: This is especially great if you don’t want to carry a stroller around while you’re traveling. Babies tend to be happier in a carrier, and there is less stuff for you to keep up with!
- Extra clothes for baby
- An extra top for yourself
- Empty gallon-size plastic storage bag to store any dirty items if necessary
- Extra wipes and burp cloths
- Privacy nursing cover
Some General Tips for Traveling with a Baby
First, I want to say that if your baby cries on the plane, know that many people are feeling sympathetic. Many have been in the same situation and would love for you to know that they’re not annoyed with your baby. Also, remember that most people wear headphones to play music or watch movies on a plane, so they likely won’t even notice! On my flight last month, there were crying babies on all of our flights. I just wanted to hug those parents and tell them it was okay. The rest of my family didn’t even notice the crying!
- Make sure you get plenty of sleep and breaks. Traveling can be exhausting with a baby, and especially if you’re newly postpartum, your body can get depleted quickly.
- Try to keep your routines in place as much as possible. It’s very appropriate to excuse yourself to another room to feed your baby or get a nap. Tired and unhappy babies might not be great travel companions.
- A lot of hotels have some kind of sleeping arrangement for babies. Ask before you go so you don’t feel you have to travel with a large baby crib. You can also get creative! I know I made plenty of little floor beds with blankets and pillows for my older babies in a pinch. Portable bed rails can be really handy and easier to travel with.
- Bring your video baby monitor. If you’ll be in another room, especially if you’re using a makeshift bed for your baby to nap on, it can be comforting to check in regularly using the monitor.
- If you’re getting overwhelmed with packing and luggage space, remember that you can probably do a quick shopping trip when you get there and save yourself the hassle. Things like diapers, wipes, and formula can take up a lot of room but are easy to find almost everywhere. If you’re going to visit family, you may even be able to ask them to make a quick trip to the store for you, or you could order some things online and have them delivered!
- If you’re going to visit family for the holidays, remember that you may come home with a lot more than you left with. Sometimes people go overboard with gifts for the little ones and you have to figure out how to get it all back home! So pack an extra bag, or make sure you have some space in the car.
If you’re not one of these rare happy travelers, take heart, things will probably change dramatically as they age, and then traveling can be better than ever.
I just took a week-long trip to a Caribbean island with my extended family over the Thanksgiving holiday.
About 10 years ago, this trip would not have happened. I would have been too turned off by the idea of traveling like this with little ones. I’m not one who will travel at any expense, so the introduction of kids took it almost completely off my list of fun things to do……for a while. Once my kids got older, it became a very different experience. Traveling became fun again. Seeing my kids have new experiences is thrilling. I feel like I’m seeing things for the first time through the eyes of my children. Things I had been taking for granted were exciting again, and I could even look forward to more trips in the future.
Now, my 12 and 14-year-olds pack their own bags, carry their own luggage, take themselves to the bathroom, and can go more than a couple of hours without eating or sleeping. Sleeping in a strange place in normal beds or even on couches is no problem, and their bedtimes are even the same as ours! They’ll eat what we eat and when we eat. They don’t require diapers or strollers or car seats, or anything more than we do. It does get easier!
However you travel, remember that it’s a small window of time and you’ll be home soon. Try to make the most of the easier moments and enjoy what you went there for. Your baby won’t remember, but you will, and you’ll earn a little more parenting muscle by successfully making it there and back!
Our articles are not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.
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