Taking Baby Overseas

by William Sears, M.d.

Taking Baby Overseas

Can our new baby fly with us?

Q  We’re planning to travel to another country by plane with our 4-month-old. Can you give us some advice? We want our daughter to have a good trip.
A You will be happy to know that most infants adjust to air travel quite well  — in fact, they do better with time zone changes than many adults! Here are some tips to help you and your infant enjoy this special time:

First, reserve the best seat for traveling with an infant. Ideally, choose one that’s far forward in the plane and, if possible, with a bassinet that pulls down from the bulkhead. (Many aircraft that fly overseas routes have these on board.) Some parents prefer the rear of the aircraft  — because the loud hum of the engines keeps Baby asleep, because there’s easier access to the bathroom, and because there are often more open seats. But I advise just the opposite; not only does the air circulation seem to be better in the front, but it is also easier to get on and off the aircraft. On most overseas airlines you’ll find easy access to bathrooms near the bulkhead, too. I also have concerns about exposing an infant’s ears to loud engine noise over the course of a long flight.

If you’re traveling with your spouse, you’ll want to arrange to have seats together  — if possible an aisle and a window seat on the side of the plane. (This applies to planes with only two seats on the side. If the airplane has three seats, ticket agents will often try to leave the middle seat vacant for you, unless the flight is full.) An aisle seat makes it easier for you to walk your baby up and down the aisle to lull her to sleep.

Next, make the flight comfortable for tiny ears. Breast or bottlefeed your baby, or give her a pacifier, at least for takeoff and landing. Takeoffs typically don’t bother a baby’s sensitive ears, but landings often do. In fact, the only time I can think of to wake a sleeping baby during a flight is when the plane is beginning its descent. Your child’s ears will not self-adjust to a change in pressure as easily when she’s sleeping.

Little noses are also affected by rapid changes in cabin pressure. The low humidity of the cabin air (approximately 10 percent) dries out nasal passages, so take along a very small bottle of saltwater nose drops, available over-the-counter as saline nasal spray, and gently spritz a few drops into your baby’s nose every hour or two when she’s awake. (You can do the same for yourself using a separate bottle of nose drops.) Breast or bottlefeed your daughter often to prevent dehydration.

An air travel tip we’ve found to be very helpful with our children is getting them used to being worn in a baby sling before traveling. The sling will help you carry her easily and efficiently as you move through busy airports, and will make it easier to nurse her discreetly and console her when she’s restless during the long flights.

Travel can be tough and tiring, but keep in mind that it’s also an opportunity to enjoy some special, uninterrupted time with your baby.