by Alissa Pemberton BSc (Midwifery), International Board Certified Lactation Consultant & Holistic Sleep Coach
As mum of two young children, who lives across the other side of the world from her family, I'm no stranger to travelling with young kids.
I've dealt with trains, buses and planes. Breastfed in airports, rocked babies to sleep by the sound of a plane engine. Here are some of my top tips for supporting your baby/toddler while travelling (and how to breastfeed on the go!).
Tip #1 Be over organised You just never know what might befall you while travelling long distances with babies and toddlers. The first time we travelled back to Australia with my daughter she was sick in the car before we'd even got the airport! Cue outfit change #1! I like to pack my carry on bag with complete changes of clothes and nappy set up in zip lock bags. Start with some large zip lock bags. In each one pack a vest/bodysuit, sleepsuit (or top and trousers) and nappy. That way when you have an explosion or a spillage, you don't need to go rifling through your bag to find a clean change of clothes. Just grab one of your zip lock bags to take to the bathroom - and then you've got a convenient sealable bag to put the dirty clothes back into afterwards! I would suggest taking more changes than you need. When flying with a baby <1 take a change of clothes for every 2 hours of travel time. If flying with a child over one you can reduce this. It's always worth having extras just in case your luggage get lost or delayed too.
Tip #2 If travelling with an infant under 2 - request bassinet seats early!
Most airlines require you to call after booking to request bassinet seats when travelling with an infant. This is really worth doing, especially on long haul flights so you'll want your hands free while your child is sleeping, so you can either sleep yourself or just be able to eat your meal etc. On most airlines infants can go into the bassinet up until 11kg, so check with your airline.
Tip # 3 Breastfeed during take off and landing The change in altitude can cause pain even for adults, but offering a breastfeeding during take off and landing can really help solve that problem. Your baby will need to be in a seatbelt with you, but you can strap them into this facing you, and then try sitting slightly sideways in your seat to allow room for babies legs while feeding if you've got an older baby. If your baby is at that distracted age (like my daughter was the first time we flew at 7 months) try taking a bottle of expressed milk or a cup of water/juice to give during this time. Tip # 4 Take lots of snacks (and I mean lots!) All rules about meal time go out the window while travelling, so take lots of easy mess free snacks (and a no spill lid snack cup). You can also use a plastic craft container (with little divided compartments) as an easy way to store different snacks. Tip # 5 Recreate their home sleep environment as much as possible
If your child usually sleeps with a teddy, muslin, dummy etc. make sure you've got these handy. You can also use a free white noise app on your phone and pop it on flight mode in the bassinet to help block out background noise. Using a blackout like the CosiGo is also a great option. These fit over airline bassinets and help block out light and distraction. You can also use them over your pram as well.
If you're trying to rock your baby off to sleep heading to the back of the plane is great - you can usually hang out right by the emergency doors, you get lots of engine noise and there's not too many people coming past.
Tip #6 Be flexible with routines
My best advice as a sleep coach and as a parent is don't make things overcomplicated when it comes to sleep routines, time changes etc.
Some parents try to shift their child's routine into the new time zone for the week leading up to travel, but changing by 30 minutes a day. Personally I find it easiest to pay attention to their cues, and how long they've been awake.
Be aware their wake windows may change from when they're at home, as they're distracted by the goings on in the plane. Don't stress about keeping to their schedule. One 24 hour period of letting them sleep however and whenever will not throw the whole routine out.
Tip #7 Be prepared to be the entertainer
Take a wide selection of entertainment, but just a small amount of each thing. Especially for young babies/children whose attention span is not that great! Some ideas:
- stickers (the puffy ones which you can pull on and off multiple times)
- post it notes (for the same purpose)
- a small tub of playdough and a few cutters
- plastic jar and buttons (or age appropriate sized material)
- elastic bands (you can use the cup or bottled water the airline provides and get your baby/child to stretch the elastic bands over it)
- duplo blocks/magnatiles
- lift the flap books *note: whilst those table/highchair suction toys seem like a great idea for a plane, most planes tray tables are made of a texture plastic which they don't suck on to :(
Tip #8 Master breastfeeding in a baby carrier
It's definitely worth taking a baby carrier, even if you're planning to travel with a pram or use those in the airport. When boarding the plane it's much easier to make it down the aisles with baby in a carrier rather than holding them in your arms, and it leaves hands free to get tickets/passports out, put bags in the overhead locker etc. and get yourself situated. You can also breastfeed your baby in their carrier while you're waiting in cues etc. which is an absolute game changer.
Wear specific nursing clothing for this.
It's really hard to untuck a long jumper/tshirt from
under the carrier, but if you have a nursing top with zips or an easy to lift flap at your bra line it makes it much easier! 1. Start by loosening the waist straps of your carrier to slip baby down so they're bottom is near your hips rather than your waist.
2. Loosen one shoulder strap (the one going over the opposite shoulder to the boob you're going to feed from), and twist the carrier around slightly so baby is sitting more towards one side, rather than central in front of you. 3. If need be support and lift your breast to help them latch on.
Tip #9 Take spares for you too!
We all know with babies around that if it makes a mess of their clothes, it'll make a mess of ours - I always travel with spare pair of leggings, underwear, t-shirt and cardigan (just in case!)
Tip #10 Book Direct (and a hotel the night before)
Savings might be tempting, but I've tried it both ways and it's SO much easier with children if you can take a direct flight, or have as few stops as possible. Even though a 16 hour flight sounds like hell to some people, it's so much easier than a 12 hour flight, and a 3-4 hour airport wait, boarding another plane and then another 6-7 hour flight! If your flight leaves anytime before about 3pm and you have to travel to the airport, book a hotel nearby the night before. We've had sick children, car accidents, forgotten teddies etc. on the way to the airport and it's so stressful when you've had to drag the kids out of bed early and know you might miss your flight.