By the time Piper was 6 months she had 6 flights under her belt. Before she was born we bought tickets to California — so I had quite a while to prepare for that first flight. As an already nervous flyer, the weeks leading up to that trip were full of worry, stress and anxiety and as soon as we touched down on the West Coast a huge waive of relief came over me — we did it. And it wasn’t so bad! Since, I’ve tried to travel with Piper as much as possible as I know it gets more difficult the older they get. There are tons of resources out there for tips on traveling with babies but today I thought I’d share a few of my own and what helped us when flying with our tiny baby.
Prepare, prepare, prepare. I’m a notorious last minute packer but I started over a week before we flew, making piles of clothes and lists of things not to forget. It really helped me feel at ease to know that we hadn’t left anything behind and be packed up with time to spare. I thought about what we used in our daily life with Piper from the moment she woke up until I put her down to sleep and that helped me a lot in making our packing list. If you’re baby is flying as a lap child you’ll need a copy of her birth certificate or shot record so be sure to have that on hand – we’ve been asked for it 80% of our flights.
Decide what you’ll bring and what you’ll borrow or rent. This will help you figure out how you’ll pack. Really think hard about if you need a stroller or can do without it. Most airlines will let you check carseats and strollers for free — either at baggage or the gate. There are companies like Baby’s Away that rent practically every thing you may need (I also found this giant list compiling rental companies worldwide). We have brought our carseat on all of our trips and our stroller on a few. We purchased this case for our carseat since I was worried about it getting banged up. Borrow cribs whenever you can or check a travel crib (we love our Nuna travel crib) but always be sure to pack your own crib sheet!
Organize your suitcases. Organization is key when traveling with a small baby, you need to know where things are and quickly! We’ve opted to give Piper her own suitcase for most of our trips. I use clear ziplock bags to keep small things together like socks, bloomers, shoes, headbands etc. Then I pack her outfits folded up together, sleepers and a whole bunch of “extras”. Usually a lap child gets their own diaper bag as a carry on – be sure it’s really organized with essentials only. I like to pack a fresh pack of diapers on the bottom of the suitcase along with unopened wipes (I worry about them leaking!).
Have a plan for getting through the airport. I’ll never forget the amount of luggage we had for our first trip! Not only do you have to worry about your bags but your baby!! We left one of our bags at the car rental facility on our first trip and I lost our boarding passes on another — we learned our lesson when it comes to transporting ourselves around! Pay a porter to help with your bags or rent a cart — don’t try to do it on your own! If you can, plan to be dropped off instead of driving yourself and taking a shuttle –do it at all costs as it really helps. Each time you switch locations (think from car to security, security to gate) do an assessment and make sure you have all of your bags, purse, boarding passes, IDs etc. What’s worked best for us is checking everything possible at curbside or regular check-in — all luggage and our car seat & stroller. I wear Piper through security and as long as possible in the airport with my Ergobaby carrier. It helps to have a cross-body purse you can wear over your shoulder with the carrier. I wear her onto the plane in the carrier. I have yet to fly with Piper alone so I can’t offer much advice there yet.
Carry-on essentials. Here are the items that have helped us. Not all of this will fit in our diaper bag so we keep the excess in our carry on.
Feeding: A nursing cover and a bottle with nipples (don’t forget those!). We always bring a cooler of milk on our flights for “back up” but generally I try to nurse during take-off and landing. If you use formula be sure to pack/prepare.
Pacifier: Again if you use a pacifier be sure to pack several — Piper now only uses her “pippy” to sleep but we always bring it when we fly as a reinforcement. We have lost several under seats so now we pack at least 3 to be safe!
Blankets: Not only to cuddle your baby in but to put down on the floors, seats, your lap — anywhere to create a barrier against germs. I like to bring a thick blanket for warmth and then at least 2 thinner swaddle blankets that pack easily.
Toys: Obvious but don’t forget to pack a few favorite toys and books for the plane.
Wipes & Diapers: We use Pamper’s Swaddlers for flights.
Trashbags: I keep 3-5 plastic shopping bags in our diaper bag always, especially for flights so we can easily discard diapers and soiled clothing.
Changing pad: We use the one that came with our diaper bag but swear by Munchkin’s Disposable Changing Pads — they have saved us more than once on an airplane. We’ve been really lucky with getting a middle seat between us and use that area to change Piper after covering it in both changing pads.
Extra clothes: Extra set of clothes for yourself and 2 outfit changes for baby.
Hand sanitizer, diaper rash cream, lotion for baby.
Pick your airline & seat with thought. We try to fly Southwest whenever we can — and all but one flight we had a middle seat between us. Avoid flying on weekends if you can help it. Southwest lets families board after the A group. Some airports have a section for families to wait — other’s don’t, be sure to scope it out so you can line up in the right place! We each take an aisle and window seat and hope that no one wants to join our family of 3. It’s worked every time — with the exception of our flight on December 23 when a flight attendant was on stand by and joined us.
Try not to worry about bothering people. Piper was the only child on our first 5.5 hour flight to California and I was so worried about everyone knowing it was her that was making noise if she got upset. Everyone has been SO helpful and kind to us when we’ve traveled with Piper, I was so surprised. At the end of the day you can only do so much to keep your baby happy — so try not to let it get to your head.
Dress for success. Haha! But it’s true. Since I exclusively breast feed I picked plane outfits that would make this as discreet and easy as possible — I swear by Target’s nursing tank tops and cozy cardigans for flying. I also typically wear a pashmina that I can use to cover Piper if I don’t feel like putting on my nursing cover. Footed PJs with zippers are the way to go for babies — no lost socks/shoes and ideal for quick changes.