Air travel is in no doubt challenging for most adults. The limited legroom, the cramped-up cabin, and the possibility of chancing annoying passengers can get tough. And as for your newborn, the stress and risk of contracting viruses can double up. But, is it even safe to take your newborn on a flight?
Full term and healthy babies over 48 hours old are allowed for air travel according to the World Health Organization. But they also advise delaying your trip, if possible, until he is about 7 days of age. Doctors have subjective opinions on this. Mostly they would recommend waiting for a couple of months until your baby’s immune system has matured. Airlines also have varying policies when it comes to their infant passengers. So before making the trip, your pediatrician and the airline company should have the final say.
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General Guidelines When Travelling with a Newborn
A baby from birth up to two months of age is considered a newborn. And while you can take babies at this age to board a flight, it doesn’t mean that you should unless the trip is essential. Air travel with a newborn is conditional. This depends on their health, the airline carrier restriction, and your doctor’s recommendation.
Premature babies and those with underlying medical conditions are not fit for travel. If your trip is inevitable, read these important considerations.
Get Your Pediatrician’s Clearance
Doctors at the American Academy of Pediatrics generally discourage traveling due to the risk of contracting infectious diseases. Babies are yet to develop their immune systems. Re-circulated air in the plane’s cabin often harbors a lot of health issues that can put them at risk.
If you can travel for at least two to three months, it would be better. It’s because the first set of vaccinations will be given in the first six weeks of his life. You can take your child for travel before vaccination, yes. But to lower the risk of illnesses, you may need to give the newborn his important jabs. The Centers for Disease and Control Prevention (CDC) has immunization and vaccine recommendations, especially if you are traveling internationally.
Your physician will issue a written medical clearance in case you really need to board a flight. He may also advise your child on accelerated vaccinations if necessary. This permission is the airline’s primary requisite for newborn and infant passengers.
Prepare Your Newborn’s Documents
Aside from your doctor’s formal consent, there are other necessary papers that you need to comply with. The birth certificate is the most important document as his proof of identification. If you are traveling abroad, even your newborn needs to have his passport and travel visa as well. You should also prepare his immunization record.
The hospital may require you to register your child’s birth certificate within 5 to 10 days after birth. There are hospitals that may do this for you, or you need to do it yourself. Depending on where you live, it may take an average of 30 days before it is legally registered and delivered. You can check your Local Registry on Vital Records for this.
If you live in the United States, applying for a passport may take six to eight weeks. Or you can have it expedited within at least eight days for an additional fee. Check out the steps and proper way of photographing a baby for a passport to know other application requirements.
Book Your Flight
Flying with an infant varies from carrier to carrier: the rules, requirements, and fees. A lap infant or baby under age two can fly without his own plane seat and just sit on your lap the entire flight. This will save you a ticket, although some airlines would top up a 10% fee for it on international travel.
But if you can afford it, we would advise paying an extra seat for him. This will be more convenient for you and other passengers, and probably the safest. Airlines may allow a car seat on board where you can safely strap him. Other carriers will also allow you to request the use of their bassinets or sky cots. You can check this information on the company before booking.
How to Fly Strategically
The best time for flying is during off-peak seasons to save you the trouble from sifting through crowds. It will reduce the stress on you and your newborn baby. Also, make early reservations so you can choose the strategic seat.
Bulkhead seats, the one in the middle directly behind the wall dividing the aircraft cabins are the best. In most planes, the sky cot is also attached to this wall. It will give you more legroom, plus the fact that no one would be reclining their seat towards you.
Here are our important tips:
- Fly during off-peak seasons.
- Book a direct or non-stop flight. Avoid layovers if possible.
- If flying on a connection, choose the one with the longest layover.
- Look for a flight schedule that conforms to your baby’s sleep time.
- Board early. But if you have a companion, he or she can go on ahead to stow away your carry-on. Get on the plane with your baby on the last of the line.
- Make friends with the flight attendant and apologize to fellow passengers if needed.
Necessities to Pack
Your carry-on bag should contain all of you and your baby’s essentials. Diapers, baby wipes, clean bottles, and baby formula should be included in your basic baby kit. The good thing is, the TSA rule does not apply to formula and breast milk in reasonable quantities. Frozen gel packs are also allowed subject to additional screening. So if you don’t want to hassle yourself in breastfeeding, you can pump a little extra to bring on board.
Along with baby clothes, a swaddle blanket is also important for every newborn. This will keep your baby comfortable during the long haul flights. Swaddling helps tame his startle reflex and soothe him to sleep. You can also use swaddle blankets as a nursing cover when the need arises.
To keep your baby calm, keep a pacifier handy. The change in air pressure is nastier in a newborn’s sensitive ears than it is in adults. Flying will not damage his ears, but it may make him fussy, uncomfortable, and send him in bouts of crying. Help him manage his middle ear pain by sucking on a pacifier or feeding him during the takeoff and landing.
How About Taking the Train?
If you want to forgo flying until your baby is older, can you take him on a road trip instead if you have the option?
Taking your child out, even before his two-month shot, is permissible. It is even advisable to get him out for some sunshine and air. But remember to practice basic safety procedures and avoid large crowds for his safety.
Like air travel, traveling on the train needs your pediatrician’s permission. So make sure to visit his pediatrician beforehand for some important reminders. The train ride is more convenient than the plane granting its wider room. You can research your train in advance since some offer family amenities like a changing table for a quick nappy change. And, remember to also pack reasonable baby essentials for the trip.
Can you travel with a Newborn in a Car?
Traveling by car is also much preferred, although it may take you to your destination a bit longer. You don’t have to deal with other people, but it can be exhausting to be strapped on the seat. If you are driving with a newborn, you need to stop every couple of hours for feeding.
You are also advised to check on him every 30-minute intervals. Newborn and infants are susceptible to suffocation in car seats because of their developing neck muscles. So make sure to have a regular pit stop to avoid this risk.
Driving alone with your newborn is discouraged for basic safety. Aside from the risk of breathing problems, the car’s motion may push him on the car seat. Infant and newborn car seats are supposed to be strapped backward to avoid this. But if that is the case, you will not be able to see him in your rearview.
You can’t put him in the front seat either. So the best thing for car rides is to have an extra helping hand from an adult in the backseat. It will also help if you need to switch places during the trip to make it less exhaustive.
Taking your child on a long trip needs your pediatrician’s permission. If traveling by plane, you need to conform to airline policies and secure necessary documents. If you choose to take the land trip, always remember to put your baby’s safety first. But the bottom line is: If you can wait a little longer for the trip, you should.
Just because you can take your child anywhere does not mean that you should always make the trip. If the travel is necessary, make it more comfortable for both you and your baby. Keep him pacified, and always be prepared with his necessities. Being prepared will make the ride more pleasant for you and your little one.
Ann Marie is a licensed nurse in the Philippines. She had experiences in handling and assisting deliveries of newborns into the world. She also used to train in labor rooms and pediatric wards – helping soon-to-be mothers and little kids in the process. Though not a mother by nature but a mother by heart, Ann Marie loves to take care of her younger cousins as well as nephews and nieces during her free time.