(Photo credit: Gabriel Kiener via Unsplash)
Not only is it safe to travel with most newborns, here’s some even better news: You and your family don’t have to give up on your travel dreams.
"People were telling us, ‘Your traveling days are over,’ and my husband and I were like, ‘No way!’” says Celine Brewer, who with her husband Dan created the highly popular and informative Baby Can Travel blog and Instagram site.
“So we made a promise while I was pregnant that if our baby was healthy we were going to do a trip as soon as we could.”
Their daughter was three months old when they took her from Canada to Barcelona. Since then, the Brewers have had one more baby and kept their promise to keep traveling with their kids, now five and three.
Here are three of the most popular ways to travel – car, train, and plane – and some of the best tips for safe travel with a newborn, from the Brewers and other family travel experts.
When is it safe to travel with a newborn baby by plane?
In general, doctors recommend you wait to fly until your baby’s immune system is better developed. This could be as soon as one month for full-term infants, though most doctors recommend anywhere between three months and six months.
Premature babies or babies with heart or lung problems may have difficulty breathing because of the lower air pressure in an airplane cabin. If that’s your child, talk to your pediatrician before flying.
Airlines differ in their policies on infants flying. On Delta, a baby has to be more than one week old to travel. Younger infants can travel with a doctor’s permission. JetBlue lowers the standard to three days old.
United refuses to allow a baby younger than seven days old onboard under any circumstances. United also bans infants in incubators.
No matter what, if planning to travel with baby on board, always check with your pediatrician first.
Tips for flying with a newborn
Flying with a newborn can be challenging for everyone – parents, fellow travelers, and the baby. However, with a little advance prep everyone can get through it just fine. Here are some tips to ease the stress of flying with a baby.
Don’t forget the birth certificate and passport
A birth certificate can establish that an infant is young enough to fly on your lap – or old enough to fly, period.
When traveling outside the United States, babies need their own passport, just like every other family member.
However, a passport requires a birth certificate, and you probably won’t get a birth certificate the day your baby is born.
While you’re waiting for the birth certificate to be processed, fill out the passport application and take your baby’s passport photos.
These aren’t typical passport photos. You’ll want to put your baby on a white sheet and shoot from above.
Can you shoot an acceptable photo on your phone? Probably. The passport agency is often more lenient with infant photos.
As soon as you get the birth certificate, apply in person at the nearest office that accepts passport applications. If necessary, pay extra to expedite the application.
If you live near a passport agency, make an appointment there instead. It’s the fastest way to get a passport.
Make smart reservations
Book early and/or pay extra so you’re not stuck in middle seats.
Be aware of your baby’s routines, especially bedtimes and nap times, and look for flights when your baby is more apt to sleep.
Question bringing everything
When you pack, ask yourself if you have to bring along 1,500 diapers, a gross of wipes, or even such seeming essentials as a stroller or car seat.
“Don’t overpack,” Brewer emphasizes. “You’re going to have enough to deal with with your baby without having to worry about all your stuff. Have changing and diaper stuff at the top of your bag so it’s easy to grab, but don’t bring too much stuff.”
As for not bringing a car seat or stroller, the Brewers looked for locations where they could rent these items or leave them home. When they did, Celine Brewer says, “we were like, ‘Ah! This is amazing!’”
But don’t forget the go-tos
“You can basically get through with wipes, food, and diapers,” Brewer says, “but the other thing I would always bring is one of those really big, lightweight cotton swaddle blankets. We’d use it for everything – for a nursing cover, to lay on the ground, to put the baby on, and so much more.”
Bring the fuel
Newborns can easily get dehydrated when they’re in the dry atmosphere of an airplane cabin. You know what your child wants/needs, so make sure there’s plenty of it.
If you’re breastfeeding, staying hydrated is a must; if you’re pumping, pump extra and keep it on hand. Always be prepared for the worst-case scenario.
Expert tip: The TSA’s 3-1-1 rule doesn’t apply to formula, breast milk, and juice. Just make sure you have liquids in a baby bottle. Also, freeze packs, liquid or gel teethers, and baby food are allowed in your carry-on.
Take full advantage of the early-boarding invitation for passengers, but don't actually board your baby.
If you can spare the hands, send an adult on to prep the seats, stow the diaper bags, and arrange swaps if necessary. Then board your baby at the very end of the line to avoid the stampede.
Suck at takeoff
Babies do well with nursing or taking a bottle at takeoff, so the closer you can synchronize takeoff time and feeding time, the better. A pacifier is also an option for baby during takeoff.
Make friends with the flight attendants …
“… because guess who can help you along the way?” Brewer says. “I’ll even make friends with the people who are waiting at the gate. Get your baby smiling and happy, so all the people will go, ‘Aw – sweet thing!’”
The more allies you can have on your side the better, in other words.
Let someone (or something) else handle your bags
Curbside check-in and/or a skycap will make luggage handling much less of a chore. Tip accordingly ($1/bag is standard).
If you’re bringing a stroller, buy an umbrella stroller you won't mind losing. If you're traveling with your child on your lap, call the airline ahead of time to confirm rules about strollers, car seats, and carry-on luggage.
You’ll quickly learn that strollers can double as luggage carriers. Check yours at the gate and grab it when you head to your next destination, and fill it with stuff along the way, if you’re not using it to tote Junior.
You may be pleasantly surprised by the baggage allotments provided to children flying in-lap, since a child is not counted as your own carry-on.
Keep lots of wipes on hand
Is there anything that baby wipes can’t do, other than actually change the diaper for you?
“Bring along wipes for a good cleanup if you’re in an airport or on an airplane – they’re some of the filthiest places you’ll find,” says award-winning travel advisor and blogger Cat Zuniga. In addition, baby wipes let you make a quick wipe-down on a messy baby.
Baby wipes also work on grownups, who sometimes feel like they could use a hose-down after an encounter with a baby’s diaper.
“You can’t stop your baby from crying on a plane any more than you can at home,” Brewer says. “Babies and toddlers cry; that’s what they do. And sometimes we have to accept that people around us are going to be unhappy about that. But if you’re doing your best to soothe your baby, what more can people ask for?”
Not much more than a simple apology. When you sincerely apologize in these situations, you're more likely to get sympathetic nods instead of hostility.
When can a baby safely travel by train?
What goes for flying with a baby applies to taking a newborn on a train. First and foremost, always check with your pediatrician.
HCA Healthcare notes, “The doctor may recommend that your baby avoids crowds if he or she is younger than three months old. This is because a newborn’s immune system is not fully developed yet, so colds and other infections are more likely to occur. Before you plan your baby’s first trip, it is a good idea to talk to the doctor to be sure that it is safe.”
Tips for train travel with a newborn
Wear your baby
Especially on a train, where walking-around time is a big part of the experience, a soft carrier (from brands like Ergo, Baby K’Tan, and LILLEBaby) is a must. You can move around more naturally and easily, and your baby loves it!
Your movement plus the train’s movement is a sure-fire sleep-inducer – one more reason why train travel is a great idea for the youngest travelers.
Some people don’t like the feel of a sling and prefer a harness that lets your baby face front. If you’re a first-time parent, try both before you buy.
Store your luggage – just don’t forget about it
One of the great things about a train is there’s plenty of room to store things like umbrella strollers and backpacks. One of the problems is there’s so many different places to store things that you could forget.
It may sound like overkill, but if you have items tucked away here and there on a train, take pictures and refer to them when it’s nearly time to deboard.
Research your train ahead of time
“Do your research in advance, because some train cars can be specifically designated as a family car, with things like changing tables in the bathroom,” Brewer says. “We took a train from Oslo to Bergen, and the family car had a play area in it. It was amazing!”
Lean on the staff
Long-haul trains are fully staffed with extremely helpful people. Let them remove some of the stress of train travel.
If you have formula or breastmilk that needs to be refrigerated, let them know as soon as you get on. Similarly, let them know if you need a bottle heated.
Redcaps are also invaluable when it comes to getting all your bags and seats and strollers on and off the train.
Finally, tips of a couple dollars here and there go a long ways toward ensuring that the staff will be at your beck and call.
Get on and off promptly
The most stressful part of train travel with a newborn is getting on and off the train.
Know where and when you’re getting off, and prepare early. Gather together all your items and be ready to jump off when the doors open.
If you’re traveling with a full load, enlist the staff’s help. Put one person in charge of baby and all her immediate needs, and another in charge of the collateral stuff.
After you’re out, take a quick inventory. If something’s missing, alert the conductor immediately. They have the power to hold the train until everyone – and everything – is off.
When can a baby safely travel by car?
Your newborn probably arrived home by car, so there are no real restrictions on road trips, other than the general reminder about immune-system development.
However, everyone will probably need a break every hour or so for feedings, changings, and cuddling.
Tips for driving with a newborn
Drive in comfort
If there’s such a thing as a sleep schedule, try to plan car travel to coincide with sleep time.
“We’d get up at 4 or 4:30, wake up our baby, put her in the car, and get a big chunk of our driving down first thing in the morning,” Brewer says. “She didn’t always go back to sleep, but she was always very quiet and content. Then we’d stop for lunch, and finish up the drive during her nap.”
Dress infants comfortably – loose clothing or pajamas, and blankets – and use removable window shades to keep off the sun.
Keep in mind that ideal car-sleeping temperature is cooler than you might expect; adjust the climate control accordingly.
Take practice trips
To get an idea for what works for your little one when on the road, take several short day trips or weekend getaways in advance of a big trip.
Zuniga says these trial runs are important “because they’re going to tell you what supplies you should pack, how long your newborn can last in a car seat, and what’s going to drive you nuts.”
Music should be plentiful and dependable. You can have a playlist on your phone with kids' favorites, but that can burn data and/or suck battery life.
If you’re driving and your car stereo supports it, load MP3s onto data CDs. That will get you 100 to 150 tracks per disc –more than enough for any road trip. You can gingerly retake control of the playlist once baby has nodded off.
General tips for traveling with newborns
Be prepared to wash some clothes
A baby needs far fewer outfits than you, but they need to be clean. Also, the collateral damage from mega-blowouts should be dealt with promptly.
Doing baby laundry on the road is easy. If you’re staying in one place for more than several days, ask about laundry facilities; otherwise, pack some concentrated detergent and a clothesline and DIY.
Look into babysitter services and/or apps
In places where you have friends, you may want to ask them to connect you with a sitter. You can also ask your Airbnb host or the hotel concierge for recommendations.
Whatever you choose, make sure you’re comfortable with the process and the person watching your child. Remember: it’s your baby!
Choose an easy destination
Select a relaxing destination that’s used to the very youngest travelers. Skipping the loud, crowded, overstimulating, touristy destinations will make things more bearable for everyone.
Consider a beach retreat or a resort with larger rooms or family suites, ideally one that offers infant care sufficient for you to have some alone time.
Eventually the crowded, overstimulated, plenty-of-activity kind of resorts will be just what the family needs. But for now, just keep it simple and make the adjustment period more enjoyable for everyone.
Simplify your schedule
If you limit yourself to one activity a day, you’ll find it much easier to make last-minute adjustments.
Also, “end your day early, so everyone has time to unwind,” Zuniga says. “Even when you’re on vacation, you have to catch up on rest whenever and wherever you can!”
Similarly, if an activity or meal is a fail, don’t try to push through it. Go back to your lodgings and give something else a shot later on.
Take care of yourself
You’ll have more energy and stamina – and enjoy the trip more – if you take care of yourself when you travel.
Resist loading up on sugary snacks, and falling into “I’m on vacation so I’ll eat anything I want” mode. Reenergize with exercise; for instance, do some easy foot lifts while you’re seated.
Make an agreement with your significant other to give each other vacation days during the vacation, where one will watch the kids while the other does something fun.
“Babies can really feed off your energy,” Brewer says. “But as a parent you know the best ways to calm and soothe your baby. You just have to trust yourself.”
If you feel the situation getting out of hand, close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. You’ve got this.
If you haven’t already figured it out, so often the best advice is to relax and stay flexible.
“We’ve had some bad trips where we were up at night with a screaming baby in a hotel, and you know what? We just changed our style,” Brewer says. “We slowed down, we experimented, we talked about what worked and what didn’t, we went back to our Airbnb for naps, and it was wonderful.
“Just don’t give up.”
The rewards of traveling with a newborn
Ultimately, traveling with an infant lets you view the journey from a new perspective, to align yourself to a less frantic pace.
Plus, as Brewer says, “When you do it young, it helps build your confidence as a parent. You know if you can handle all that baby stuff when you’re traveling, it doesn’t seem like such a big hill to climb when all of a sudden they’re teenagers and you want to take them on a trip.”
“You’ll never regret it,” Brewer concludes – and the knowledge that you can travel safely with a newborn makes it that much more rewarding.
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