I am writing this blog from 20,000 feet in the sky. I do this a lot. One day, I had a realization, and it was a gift. No doubt with some help from the universe, a thought stumbled into my mind—I know why I was put on this Earth. Do you have a calling? It’s a beautiful thing to have. I feel grateful every day, every moment when this thought is broadcast in my mind’s eye, reminding me of how lucky I am to love what I do. I fly around the country helping to inspire other dental professionals to live their dreams, to have lofty goals and to be the most impactful clinicians possible. My life is about helping others realize their potential. How beautiful is that?
But then, I also have this other side. You may have read about it in previous blogs. It is something I talk a lot about: my mommyness. I am very proud of my title of “mom.” I can wear no crown that is greater. And that balance is a challenge. It is a daily challenge, and you can read all about it here.
I have learned that I need to balance these two points of pride to give my life balance. And isn’t that what we all ultimately seek as career-driven, passionate women? Balance. A lot of balance for me looks like combination. I combine work and pleasure. I mix business and play. I fly across the country ALL THE TIME with my little ones in tow. I have two boys, and in the blink of an eye, I became an expert in the field of mommying. Flying with little ones is such a daunting experience, especially for new moms. The first time I did it, I read more blogs and did more research than many apply to their doctorakmkl thesis. And I came out of it confused, hesitant, but armed with a plan. Well, after years of perfecting this plan, I am here to share it with you.
Recently, a very good friend of mine emailed me, doused in a healthy worry about flying with her little one. I gave her my tried and true plan, starting with one key piece of advice: Do not stress. I repeat, do not stress. I am pretty sure babies can smell fear, and it makes them vomit on you for fun … kidding (but just kind of).
So for those of you who are dreading an upcoming vacation or want to take your family with you to the next conference, here is my foolproof plan on how to fly with babies:
- Timing and Flight Booking
Obviously, book direct if you can. Some airlines are super baby-friendly and others not so much. Southwest, for example, rocks with kiddos. They let you board first, don’t hassle you, you can check bags for free, etc. Believe it or not, some airlines do not have family boarding priority (insert dirty look here). Also, my boys both do a lot better if we fly early (they’ll sleep right through any flight before 9 a.m.). Know your baby’s schedule and plan according to that. It will save you some serious stress.
You want to carry the least amount possible. You will be blown away by how much stuff needs to be carried. The days of you being a light traveler are over. But there is hope.
Baby’s diaper bag goes free with all airlines. It does not count as a carry on. But before you breath a sigh of relief regarding all the luggage you will still be able to carry on, I must stop you. The key to success is checking as much of your luggage as possible. Pack one suitcase for you and baby and check it. If you can avoid it, you do not want to keep a rolling carry on with you; It will be more hassle than it’s worth. If you can consolidate your purse and baby bag into one item, all the better. Ideally you want one big purse that can also function as your baby bag, baby (with carrier) and probably a breastfeeding pillow with you … nothing else. If you must, you can carry a backpack instead of your purse but try really hard that you just have one purse/baby bag all wrapped into one. Also, keep a large plastic garbage bag (big enough to cover your carseat) in a handy location (more on this later).
Your carrier is going to save you. It will be your lifeline. You will thank God multiple times for it.
I love my BabyBjorn for traveling. It’s lightweight and sturdy. It buckles and snaps into place so I know my son is secure. It is easily washable and doesn’t really get dirty. It fits into my purse or baby bag when I am not using it. People also love their Moby or Boba (same concept … two brands). I own a Moby, and I do love it, but I use it for wearing the baby at home while cooking, going to the mall or quick trips to Costco or Target. It’s a really long piece of cloth and you have to tie it on you (no straps or clicking buckles). Mine tends to loosen over time and ain’t nobody got time to deal with that while getting through security.
The plus is that the MOBY/BOBA literally folds up and tucks away when you aren’t using it so its good for travel. I have friends who LOVE theirs. I just prefer clickable buckles when I am stressed.
- The routine.
When you get dropped off/arrive at the airport. **
- THE FIRST THING YOU SHOULD DO: Whip out your carrier, put baby in. Done.(If your child is a fan of her pacifier then I would hook her favorite pacifier onto a paci clip. I have used these ones but any will work… just make sure they securely fasten and then attach the other end to either her onesie, her carrier or your shirt collar. Let it hang unless she fusses. Then you can easily reach down and pop it in. Also keep some of these binky wipes handy (they work well for cleaning dirty bottles in a bind and for wiping fallen pacifiers).
- Also right after getting out of the car:
- Get out her stroller and get it opened and ready to go.
- Put your consolidated baby bag on the stroller.
- Put the carseat (with base ATTACHED) in on top of the stroller.
- It will not click in… don’t worry. Just make sure its stable.
- Go inside the airport and check all other bags.
- DO NOT check the stroller or the car seat even if they offer it to you. The reason behind this is that if the car seat gets dropped, the safety feature will go off as if the car seat has been in an accident and it will no longer be safe. Its better to gate check it.
- Now you should have baby strapped to you in the carrier, your stroller with your breastfeeding pillow and your babybag and your carseat (with base attached) on it.
- So you, wearing baby, pushing a stroller loaded with stuff. Doable, right? You have done this before (flashback to the mall on Black Friday)
SIDE NOTE regarding your breastfeeding pillow: I send every new mom I know this link. It is a link to where you can get a carseat cover, a breastfeeding pillow and a nursing cover for FREE (well, you pay S&H but it is still relatively inexpensive). I use this inexpensive breastfeeding pillow for traveling. The reason is that if my $50 Boppy/Mombo gets dirty or, god forbid, lost, then I would be very sad so my cheapo one from this site is my traveling one… it stays in the car and goes on the plane. It also compacts easier and I can shove it in my bag. That’s its job.
- Now you will walk to security.
- The hardest part: you have to put the carseat (with base attached) on the rolling machine. Then they will just push the stroller through the gate and swab it down. (Most people are nice and will help you put the carseat on the roller machine).
- You can carry water bottles if you announce they are for baby. Also any amount of formula, breastmilk, or food is okay too as long as you say it’s for baby. Ice packs have to be frozen completely solid.
- When you get to security, take out any water, milk or ice packs you have and set them in one of those bins. Tell the first agent that you see the water, etc is for her. KEEP BABY STRAPPED ON.
- If you are wearing your baby, the airport will have you go through the metal detector (foregoing the more advanced imaging machine) and then they will swab your hands for explosive remnants. If the swab comes back clear- you’re golden to go forward.
- ONE TIME, mine came back as a “positive.” I had just come from work so I assume the dental materials set it off. This was not a pleasant experience. If this happens to you, they have to do a pat down. This pat down in intense… buy me a drink first intense. If this happens… do not panic. They’ll guide you on what to do (probably take baby off and put her in the car seat while you get patted down. The chances of this happening are SOOO SLIM TO NONE that I won’t even scare you further.
- Then when you are cleared, collect your stuff (load it all on the stroller like it was before) and KEEP HER STRAPPED ON and push all your stuff to the gate.
- Once you arrive at the gate, go to the kiosk and tell them you have to gate check your carseat and your stroller. They will tag them for you. Make sure both are tagged.
- Now, take out the handy dandy garbage bag I had you stash earlier. You will put the entire carseat (base attached and all) into the garbage bag. The garbage bag will protect the carseat from getting dirty when you gate check it, in case it is raining or snowing. Remember, baby will be sitting in said carseat, muck and all, when you arrive.
- You can also add the garbage bag when you get out of the car so it is one less thing you have to deal with at the gate, but if you have to put baby in the carseat or the bag gets ripped in x-ray, there could be a problem. I have done it both ways. You do you. Whenever you do this step, you must KEEP THE HANDLE OF THE CARSEAT IN THE DROPPED DOWN POSITION and sticking out on the open side of the garbage bag for easy tagging/ so the tag is visible.
- When you board (hopefully early because your airline believes in family boarding), leave the car seat and the stroller (FOLDED – get someone to help if needed) at the end of the walkway right outside of the plane door.
- When you sit down that is when you will need to unstrap her from you. The rule is that she cannot be strapped on when the flight takes off. BUT if she is sleeping soundly, what I do is just unhook the top latches and keep baby sleeping on my chest. Everyone is happy.
- What to wear.
- Wear flip flops if you can. Removing shoes with a baby strapped onto you is HARD.
- Wear a big oversized sweater that opens in the front with a loose T-shirt underneath. This way, if you choose to breastfeed on the plane (more on that later), you can lift the tee, pop open your breastfeeding bra/tank and cover everything with a sweater flap. Some good options are ones that look like this or this.
- Breastfeeding/ Ear popping
- When the plane is taking off or landing (ascending or descending) that is when the pressure changes and their ears can get blocked. Now, knock on wood, my kiddos have never screamed their way through a flight before. BUT I do make sure I am feeding the little one during the first 20 mins and the last 20 mins of a flight for this reason.
- Now, I just don’t have it in me to carry milk or formula, mix it, warm it, clean the bottles, store all that stuff… UGH, I am exhausted just thinking about it. So I choose to breastfeed on the plane. I know what you are thinking. It’s not that bad really. Everything is covered and honestly I can do it now without even using the cover anymore and nothing shows (that sweater helps). I know its scary to breastfeed in such close proximity to strangers in such a public place. What if your seatmate is creepy, right?! But I have done it lots (I even pumped on a flight once!) and its no biggie. BUT if you do not want to or are not breastfeeding, you have three options:
- If the flight is short enough and baby is old enough, you may not have to feed. You may be able to make due with giving a little water in a bottle to help with the pressure. Please check with your pediatrician first to make sure this is okay.
- Pump milk and carry it. This is hard. You have to bring enough. You have to keep it cooled. Then you have to heat it up. There are devices to warm milk out there. You could potentially use warm water. Either way, this is the hardest method because you must ensure the breastmilk is at optimal temperatures. Some women I know pump in a room before boarding and give that (per guidelines, breastmilk will last at room temperature for up to 8 hours so you may be able to make this work for you).
- If you have not given baby formula, this may seem a little nervewracking. But I assure you, once or twice won’t hurt your supply and baby will be okay too. Formula is easier because you just mix water with powder (water can even be brought warm in a thermos). Water from the bathroom is non-potable. If you need water, ask the flight attendant.
But at the end of the day, all of this involves bottles and I am just not that boss… so I breastfeed.
Exiting the airport is the same process, except in reverse.
I leave you with the message that although it may seem daunting at first, it is an art that gets perfected over time. I encourage you all to take the challenge, enjoy the experience, and make some memories along the way.
** I am writing this scenario from the perspective of when you are traveling without help. If your significant other is with you, this becomes all the more easier. If you have a toddler in addition with you, this becomes harder. Custom fit for your own situation.