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Ask Dr. Sears: Traveling With a Newborn

Q. Is it okay to travel by plane with a 2-week-old baby? I have to go out of state with my newborn, and I'm concerned about any risk this might pose to her. It will be a short flight—about 1 and a half hours long. Any advice?

A. Generally, pediatricians advise mothers not to travel with a newborn during the first month. The main reasons for this precaution are that mom needs the postpartum rest and baby needs a stable environment to adjust to life after birth. However, it sounds as if you do need to travel, and your 2-week-old should certainly not be separated from you just yet. Assuming your baby is full-term and healthy, follow these tips for safe and comfortable travel:

Book the best seat.

When making reservations, request an aisle seat as close to the front of the plane as possible. Aisle seats give you better mobility in case you have to get up and walk around to soothe your baby, and quicker access to your seat when boarding and de-planing. Tell the agent that you are traveling with a newborn, and request that, if possible, the seat next to you be left empty. Unless the flight is sold out, airlines will usually accommodate this request. If you are unable to pre-book a desirable seat, upon check-in ask the agent at the gate if a more suitable seat is available. Some parents have told me they prefer seats in the back rows, especially during long flights, since they have easier access to the bathrooms in the rear of the plane. On a flight that's only an hour and a half long, however, easy bathroom access need not be a major concern. And, in my experience as a frequent flier, I have found that the noise level is highest toward the rear of some planes, a concern for sensitive little ears.

Wear your baby.

Get your daughter used to a sling-type baby carrier, the most versatile carrier for traveling with a tiny baby. Slings enable you to carry baby in a variety of comfortable positions and to nurse discreetly. Also, sling carriers allow newborns to be covered up, which discourages strangers from bending over and touching them. Just before you board the plane, put your baby in the carrier and pace a while to lull her to sleep. Newborns are often easier to travel with than older babies because they sleep a lot. Chances are your daughter will sleep through the entire flight.

Pre-feed.

Just before you board the plane, feed your baby and be sure to burp her well. In some aircraft, the lower atmospheric pressure at cruising altitudes can expand the air in the intestines. Eating and sucking can add more air to already bloated intestines, causing colicky, abdominal pain. If you do need to feed your baby during the flight, offer smaller, more frequent feedings, and burp well

Let sleeping babies lie.

You may have heard that it's best to awaken and feed your baby upon takeoff and landing in order to relax her ears. The theory behind this advice is that changes in cabin pressure can cause unequal pressure on the eardrum, producing pain. If your baby's eustachian tubes are popped open, as they are during feeding or crying (or, in adults, yawning and chewing), the pressure will be equalized and the eardrums will relax. Also, there is a belief that eustachian tubes may not normally adjust to changing pressure during sleep. In reality, ear pain is seldom a problem upon takeoff, though it may be a problem upon landing. In any case, seasoned travelers with infants have found that it's usually best to let a baby sleep during takeoff and landing rather than upsetting her by waking her.

"Hose the nose."

Tiny air passages and dry cabin air are not a comfortable mix. Take along some over-the-counter saltwater nasal spray for your baby. A couple times during the flight, gently spritz a spray into each nostril.

Enjoy your trip!

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