Traveling/ Vacationing with a newborn!

A mommy post on a Runday, you ask?

Just to break the pattern, I say!

Good morning, folks.

After being in hospital for almost 5 weeks, both Lil’ Z and I were in dire need of a break. We wanted to get away. Leave Qatar for a while. Rest and recuperate elsewhere.

So, once we got the go ahead from the doctor, we decided to go home for a bit. It so happened that from then on, till she turned four months old- we had 6 plane rides, several road trips, a couple of train journeys, two weddings and even a boat- stay!

Though initially hesitant and anxious, we soon learned that traveling/ holidaying with a newborn in tow can be great fun. I will not lie, it can be hard and inconvenient at times, but there is no need to sit cooped up at home just because “you have a baby”.

In the beginning, I looked up to the internet for advice and tips. I did find a lot of information- some relevant and helpful, others not so.

Most blogs/ videos showed the mamas packing an insane amount of stuff. Well, great if you do that. But Mr H likes to travel “light” and so I have learned to minimize the baby baggage and adjust and adapt to different situations and environments.

The one absolute “essential” while travelling with a newborn/ infant.

COMPOSURE.

And I know, first hand that it is easier said than done. A wailing baby, in a crowded, public place/ plane/ train/ bus is never pleasant. But knowing, that such a situation will invariably arise (at least once!) and being prepared for it mentally- helps.

And, I kid you not, I feel like the little one can sense your fear and panic. And whats more, your panic seems to disturb them further. So, losing your cool never helps.

It’s a team sport…

Having your husband/ partner with you makes things much easier. Mr H and I always “tag- teamed” while travelling.

At five weeks postpartum, with no rest; I was not at my best physically. I was still very,  sore and my back was in bad shape. Long plane and care rides were uncomfortable- to say the least. But, Mr H cut me a lot of slack. All I had to do, was nurse.

So, yes- having your partner with you is a HUGE RELIEF. That said, I have also traveled alone-  we shall come to that a little later on.

A newborn isn’t so bad – in some ways…

I use the term newborn/ infant, but in this post I talk about a baby from age 4 weeks (or thereabouts) to about 5-6 months. After about 6 months, the needs and challenges of travelling with a baby are different, in my opinion. I have my next flight scheduled in ten days’ time, and I am sure that the little one will behave vastly different from how she did at 4 months! She now, is barely able to sit still for a minute. Spends every waking minute exploring, is curious as hell and cries at random strangers (not a all strangers though…wonder what pisses her off!). Let’s see how it goes…

As a newborn, all they need are their basic needs to be met- food, warmth, cleanliness and comforting. And being exclusively breast fed, I fortunately did not have to worry about cleaning/ washing bottles and carrying water/ formula. I am therefore not in a position to give an advice/ suggestions on that.

Navigating the airport

I love airports. Always have. I can sleep there, read, eat, spends endless hours wandering at the duty-free stores, observe weary- fellow travelers go about their business- it was all great fun.

Not so much fun now though!

I now don’t bother carrying books, music etc to kill time.

I don’t obsess about charging my iPod or iPad before leaving for the airport.

My little one keeps me engaged enough.

I try to go early and get through check-in and security with minimum fuss and locate the boarding gate early. I then find a changing/ feeding/ prayer room close to it and try and get a feed in- it will either calm her or put her to sleep. Either way I’m happy.

If Mr. H is with me, we then walk around or hit the duty-free. If I am alone, I find a good spot to sit, and settle in.

I usually take a bottle of pumped milk- for emergencies. What if she cries while I’m in queue?

But as she has gotten older, she started to get fussy about when/ where she will take a bottle. Sometimes she will completely reject the bottle. So, now I don’t bother.

I also keep pacifiers handy, though she isn’t a pacifier sort of baby. She may occasionally take one, but will usually spit it out in a couple of minutes.

When travelling alone, my diaper bag is my only carry- on luggage. I like to have the stroller with me, more to lug around the bag and to have a clean place to put her down for a second, if I need to. When travelling Mr H, we don’t bother- carrying her in our arms or a baby- carrier is easier.

In the GCC, they are usually very lenient about allowing water/ milk/ sanitizer or whatever other liquids/ medications that you would need for the baby.

Doha, Muscat, Abu Dhabi, Dubai- I have never been asked to “taste” the milk at these airports (I have heard this happens at some airports) or give any explanation for the small amount of water that I carried in my diaper bag. They asked me take the bottles out at Bangalore airport though, but the minute that saw them – they told me to put it back inside!

As far as security checks go, we find it convenient if the baby is with me along with all the baby “things” (milk/water). I have not been asked to remove my baby carrier anywhere, but this may not be the case everywhere.

When aboard..

Airlines differ on their policies about infant boarding. Some will ask you to board first and some last. I prefer to board first and settle in before all the the other passengers arrive. Saves me from all the knee- brushing and squeezing.

These are the things that I always end up using when aboard-

1. Blankets- on some flights, it is almost freezing! I sometime wear a loose, open cardigan- and keep the little one close to my body! The younger they are the less they are able to adjust to extremes in external temperatures.

2. Diapers and disposable changing mats. I place the disposable mat under my “actual” changing mat that comes with my diaper bag. I’m a bit obsessive. Changing in the aricraft toilets are a real pain- so I change her diaper just before boarding. And if I have to change mid- air- well… I have to…que sera sera…

3. Pacifiers. Just to have them- never know when they might come handy.

5. Nursing cover. Absolute must have- for me.

7. Spare baby clothes/ socks/ mittens/ caps- I mostly dressed the little one in warm, sleep-suits during travel.

6. Chocolates, protein bars, snacks- for me. When alone, I find it difficult to eat the airline food, with the tray and cramped seats and all. So , if need be, I forego the food altogether and munch on these.

7. Toys. Carry the little one’s favorite toy- especially if they are older than three months.

8. Nasal Saline Drops- have had to use it once. Baby with a stuffy nose is one cranky being!

Nurse, woman nurse! Otherwise……

I have read a lot about nursing during take-off/ landing.

It is a absolute must or the little one’s ear will pop, a kind lady once told me. She sat next to me on one of the flights, and just as take-off was announced, she vigorously woke up her calm, sleeping baby and tried to forcibly nurse. The little one ended up crying for the next half- hour. If “ears- popping” was the worry, the mum need not have. By making her baby cry, she made sure the ears wouldn’t pop!

As a Maxillofacial Surgeon, I do know a little bit about palates and middle ears and Eustachian tubes 🙂 The weird feeling that we have in our ears when we ascend or descend, is our ears trying to equalize the pressure differences.

Opening and closing our mouths, or yawning/ swallowing  (hence the candy distribution just prior to take-off) open the Eustachian tube and allows air to travel more quickly to the middle ear and equalize the pressure faster. This is  a harmless adjustment that our body does.

If your baby is fast asleep, there is not need to wake her up and nurse her during take-off/ landing. Unless the baby has a previous condition that predisposes to discomfort due to middle- ear pressure changes or has an existing middle- ear infection- it is usually not that uncomfortable to the baby. In fact, if anything, it is at the point of highest descent (before landing) that it can get a wee bit uncomfortable.

There in no documented medical research/ literature that advocates nursing during take-off or landing. Moreover, if the baby is in pain or distress, she will most likely cry; and that very act will help with the pressure changes.

All said, nursing does comfort and soothe babies and the mother is more comforatable with a happy, calm baby- SO NURSE AWAY I SAY!

Going to the loo…

This turned out to be the biggest challenge when travelling alone. Best option – wear your baby. Or wait till you board, put the baby to sleep, ask a helpful co- passenger or flight attendant to watch over your baby and then do your business in record time.

Or, you could wear adult diapers 😉

Please pack light!

Keep your carry- on/ cabin luggage to a minimum. Keep your travel documents and passport and some cash in a belt- pack or small sling- purse for easy access. With clasps/ zips which can be tackled with one- hand. Somehow, once you have a baby, your single- handed dexterity improves dramatically.

Road trips.

Long car rides and road trips can sometimes be harder than plane rides. Your baby gets bored or cranky and you cannot walk around and calm her!

I survived most roads trips by nursing as often as I possibly could. It was easier when she was very young (less than 8 weeks), as she would sleep most of the time. Older babies, need more stimulation- so stock up on the toys and rattles!

If possible, take breaks, get her our of the seat and get some fresh air.

Train journey

My only grouse with train journeys are the hygiene issues. Otherwise, they are by far the most comfortable way to travel. I carried sheets of my own and loads of hand sanitizer.

Staying at hotels…

This was surprisingly easy for us. But I guess, staying in a hospital for as long as we did prepared us.

The main challenge here, is giving your baby a bath. Especially a floppy, un- coordinated newborn.

A robe- clad, Mr H and his extra large arms made for a very safe, comfortable baby- bath :-).

Traveling alone.

Is hard. No doubt. I don’t like to, but there times when I have to.

I have now learned to enjoy traveling with Lil Z, but only with Mr H around. I still detest traveling alone. It is just not fun!

But I have learned a few tricks to make my trips alone easier:

1. Pack light but smart. Don’t skip any “essentials” but keep your hand- luggage as light as possible.

2. Board/ travel at night- babies end up sleeping most of the time.

3. Use a baby- carrier. Life- saver.

4. Carry a separate, small, sling bag for IDs, passports, documents, cash and other essentials. They should be easy to grab.

5. Most important- Do not HESITATE to ask for HELP! I am particularly bad at this and the Mister berates me for it! I am very reluctant to ask for any sort of assistance. So, I’m yet to master this art.

6. I use the bassinet seats while traveling alone, but if MR H is traveling along, we prefer to sit together.

7. Board early and settle- in if possible.

Weddings and family shindigs!

Lil Z was barely two months old when she attended her first wedding. And if you have not been to an Indian wedding before, you have no ideas how NOISY and boisterous it can get.

And the downside of being a cute-little baby is- EVERYBODY WANTS TO CARRY YOU!

Poor Zoe was passed from hand to hand.

Also, we would have loads of relatives over. People coming to see the new entrant, congratulate the parents.

All bearing gifts.

All well- meaning.

All wanting to carry and coddle the baby!

But tiny babies are very sensitive to the external environments. Poor Zoe, from having only two people around her, she was now surrounded by dozens and sometimes hundreds!

All this did take a toll.

On her. And us.

Also, when on  holiday- your baby’s schedule goes haywire. You might also be in a new time- zone. Maybe a different climate. Your little one will most likely have a super time during the day.

Come darkness and she will unleash the full wrath of her crankiness upon her tired parents!

So be prepared some some fussiness and crying.

Epilogue…

I’m sure, just like us adults; some babies are better travelers than others. But babies are far more accommodating and resilient than we give them credit for.

So, go on.

Take that holiday that you have been craving for.

You deserve it more than you think!

And take the little one along for the ride, I assure you it will be fun!

Just make sure you take care of yourself (as a parent) first.

Breastfeeding Mamas, remember you a re your baby’s source of nutrition and comfort. Eat well and stay hydrated.

And all the cool Papas out there, you are Super Man- the packer, luggage/ baby carrier, the fall-back guy, the guide, the cleaner, the money handler, the ticket guy, the driver, the bathtub (!), the diaper changing station, the vent- toy, the shoulder to cry on, the human baby-swing/ rocker, the masseuse, the nurse, purse- holder, the bouncer, the dress- zipper/ saree- wrap-er, the punching- bag, the whine- recorder, the white- noise maker – all rolled into one.  So, do not forget to pack some pain- killers and ear- buds!

Have wonderful trips, folks! And bring me the stories….

IMG_1016
Papa and Lil One admiring the view from their “house-boat” window- at the back-waters, Allepy- Kerala.

Till next time…

Dr J.

2 Comments

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  1. thanks for the tips as we look forward to travelling back to Doha with a 6 week old and so far, our planning strategies are alike..

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