It seems to be a law of the universe: Whenever you take your baby on a trip, she inevitably comes down with something. And dealing with a sneezing, coughing, and fussy little sickie away from home -- and your child's pediatrician -- is no fun.
We do a lot of traveling with our kids, and have seen our fair share of fevers, upset tummies, and sore throats in the air and on the road. But in our journeys, we've also found ways to keep our kids healthy more often than not. Here's what we've learned:
If you're traveling by air...
We usually tell parents to wait at least a few months before flying with their baby. It's perfectly safe for a newborn to go on a plane if air travel is absolutely necessary -- the altitude won't damage little ears (though they may feel pain) -- it's just that newborns are particularly vulnerable to illness, and even a simple cold can become life-threatening. Since airplanes are like giant petri dishes for germs, we err on the side of caution. Once you've booked your flight, though, follow these smart air-travel strategies to keep your child well:
Postpone if your baby is sick. Many parents feel obligated to get to Grandma's for holiday celebrations, but when your little one doesn't feel well, it's better to stay home for an extra day or two and visit the pediatrician. If ear infections or other problems are found early, it can save you a trip to an unfamiliar ER. You can also arm yourself with prescriptions for ear drops or antibiotics. With a doctor's note, many airlines will allow you to reschedule a flight.
Book the most baby-friendly seat. The safest way for babies to fly is in a car seat in their own plane seat, but the Federal Aviation Administration doesn't mandate this, and many people can't afford to purchase an extra ticket. If you plan on holding your child in your lap, request an aisle seat, which gives you better mobility to get up and walk around to soothe your baby and quicker access to your seat when boarding and deboarding. Tell the agent you'll be carrying your baby and request that the seat next to you be left empty, if possible. If you and your husband are traveling together, book the aisle and window seats and let the airline know you have a child, which ups the chance of the center seat being left available.
Schedule the flight during naptime. A sleeping baby is a happy baby.
Feed before you board. The lower atmospheric pressure in some aircraft can expand the air in the intestines. Since babies tend to swallow a lot of air during feeding and sucking, it's best to give him a large feeding before takeoff rather than afterward to help avoid uncomfortable gas. During the flight, stick to smaller and more frequent feedings.
Protect his nose. Tiny nostrils and dry cabin air are not a comfortable mix. A quick squirt of a nasal saline solution every 30 minutes helps keep the nasal passages open.
If you need to ask the flight attendant to heat up a bottle, try to supervise the process yourself. The crew can be very busy and might inadvertently heat the bottle for too long.
Wash your own hands as often as possible. If you catch something on the plane, it's almost guaranteed your baby will then catch it from you. Avoid germs by scrubbing up frequently and keeping your hands away from your face.
Prevent ouchy ears. Changes in altitude can lead to painful pressure in little ears, particularly during landing. During this time, have your baby suck on a paci, nurse, or drink from a bottle or sippy cup to keep the ears popping. Ear-numbing drops or a dose of pain reliever can help, too.