I don’t know about all new moms, so I’ll just speak for myself, but the day my little girl was born is the day I became a high-functioning agoraphobic. I will never forget standing up from the wheelchair after handing her up to Carl and watching him buckle her into her car seat, then clip the car seat into its base. She looked so incredibly small and fragile and I couldn’t stand to let her out of my sight, so I sat in the backseat where I could monitor every sound and breath.
Then, when we arrived home and got her settled into the house, I breathed a sigh of relief, thinking “Excellent! Now let’s never leave here again.”
Buuuuut apparently, life happens and, at some point, for instance two days later, you’ll at least have to go to a doc appointment. I was a wreck when we had to venture out that second time, even worse than coming home from the hospital. I criticized every little thing about my husband’s driving: he was going too fast, he surely couldn’t see the car braking in front of us, he was turning too sharply, etc. I sat next to her in the back and tucked two fingers under her harness so I could feel her breathe. I didn’t even recognize myself. I’ve never felt so intensely worried at a time when absolutely nothing was going wrong in my entire life.
Which is why I’m not even sure what made me think I could do it (looking back, I don’t think I thought it through at all, to be honest) but when our girl was born nearly two weeks late, we had only about two weeks together as a brand new family, complete with lots of visits and interruptions, before my husband had to take off for the east coast and start his new career. The week before he started his new job, we realized we simply had not had enough time just being together, the three of us. So we bought a plane ticket for the baby and I to follow him a week after left.
I didn’t really start to panic until a few days before we were scheduled to fly. But, just as it was hitting me like a ton of bricks, I got a phone call. It was my Identical Cousin offering to fly from where she was on business to Idaho for the sole purpose of accompanying the baby and I on our cross country trek. This brings me to the first item on my list of things to bring if you’re crazy enough to fly with a newborn.
- A Good Friend
Now, it’s important that you don’t bring just any good friend. Make sure you bring a friend who will provide more than a pair of helpful hands, good conversation, and support for whatever random situations arise. I recommend bringing a friend who can take a screaming infant in stride, find humor in just about any scenario, and not only won’t judge you for wanting a beer before you board, but will also order it, pay for it, and squeeze the lime for you because your hands are full. Bring a friend who orders you food even though when they asked if you were hungry, the baby was crying and you were heading for a bathroom and said you were fine. Bring a friend who doesn’t care when/where you need to breastfeed (if you’re breastfeeding) and who has creative ideas to help avert disaster. Bring a friend who’s in it for the long haul and doesn’t get cranky even after seven hours in the air and a four hour delay resulting in an arrival time of 4a.m. And finally, bring a friend who can take a potentially terrifying, stressful, physically demanding, insane journey and turn it into a fun, hilarious, adventure full of great memories, pictures, and lessons learned. I’m lucky to have someone who not only fits the above description to a T, she also volunteered. : )
- Car Seat/Stroller
Both of these items can be checked at the gate if you plan to use them before boarding or during your layover (you’ll want to specify at the gate if you want them for your layover or they won’t be available until you reach your final destination. I didn’t bring a stroller and had no regrets because our baby is so small, she’s relatively easy to lug around and it didn’t seem worth the trouble for me. The car seat, on the other hand, is essential because you will need it to take your baby wherever you want to go after the airport. In our case, my husband bought a separate base for his car so I just brought the car seat itself. We gate checked it on the way over, but if you have no reason to use it in between, I recommend checking it with your baggage. It doesn’t count as one of your bags and this way you don’t have to carry it any further than is absolutely necessary–they’re heavy!
- The Diaper Bag (back pack style is my preference)
I brought all the little things I always keep in there (i.e. diapers, wipes, diaper cream, thermometer, snot sucker, muslin baby blanket, burp cloth, gas relief drops, emery board extra baby clothes, a few mini garbage bags, lanolin (for me! ; ), and a little, fold up mat for changing her on random surfaces. My diaper bag came with one, but if yours didn’t, no worries, a little blanket will do or they even sell little mats that will absorb but not leak.
- Baby Carrier
This is the reason I prefer the back pack style diaper bag for traveling. I wore the baby on my front in her carrier and the diaper bag on my back. This way, I had my hands free in between flights, I could wear her into the restroom when necessary (when I flew alone), and she sleeps like a dream every time I put her in it.
- Changes of Clothing for Yourself
I don’t know about you, but after experiencing one, simultaneous vomit and blowout, situation, both of which ending up all over me, I now bring a change of clothes with me EVERYWHERE. For this trip, we put our lightest shirts and yoga pants so they would take up minimal space in the diaper bag and be as lightweight as possible. If you are nursing, you’ll want to include an extra nursing bra as well. I picked a padded, nighttime for my extra so I could just roll it up and stuff it in. : )
- Diaper Packs
The diaper packs were my cousin’s genius invention! They consist of one, mini garbage bag with a small ziplock bag containing 5 wipes, one diaper, and one large ziplock bag. We made up five and set them on top of everything else in the diaper bag so if my daughter had a situation on the plane, I could just grab a diaper pack and head to the bathroom without having to dig around. Also, once there, I could change her, put everything dirty in the garbage bag and toss it, but save her outfit in the large ziplock to seal in smell and wash when we got home. The packs are not only great for airplanes, they’re great for roadtrips, hikes, and any other situation where you may not have immediate access to facilities. For the return trip, I added two, head to toe, baby cleansing cloths so that if she did throw up on me/herself, I could wipe us down before putting on clean clothes.
On the way over, I had my cousin and she made sure that I was able to eat by grabbing us both food during our layover. On the way back, I was alone but knowing it would be an all day trip and my newborn may not want to stand in line, wait for me to order, then cooperate while I ate, I decided to pack my lunch for the return flight. My personal opinion here is to spoil yourself. I packed a BLT that was LOADED with thick cut bacon because bacon makes me happy no matter what else is going on in my life. I also packed a banana, goldfish crackers, a couple granola bars, a little bag of fresh blueberries, and a chocolate bar. Make sure it’s something of substance, not just junk, you’ll need all your energy! One other note about food, I packed it in the front of my diaper bag for easy access, but taking it one step further, when I boarded, I actually got my food out and put it in the seat back in front of me where I could reach it without disturbing my baby if she was sleeping and I could get it/open it/consume it using only one hand. : )
- Boppy Pillow/Regular Pillow
I know this seems like an annoying to carry around, useless addition. I wasn’t planning on bringing it, but my cousin suggested that I go ahead and since she was going to be with me, I figured no harm as she could carry it. That said, I ended up bringing it with me on the return flight as well despite being on my own because it was totally worth carrying it around! About thirty minutes into the flight, my arms would have fallen off if I hadn’t had that pillow to lay her in/on in such a way that she could sleep comfortably without me having to hold her up. I also used it to change her in our seat (do NOT use the tray table to change your baby, people eat off those!!!!) and I used it to safely lay her in the seat next to me when it was time to deplane so I could gather up my stuff before returning her to the carrier. SO HANDY!
- Odds and Ends
I haven’t found gas relief drops very useful when I tried them in the heat of a gas related scream-fest. However, when I gave our daughter a small dose after each feeding on the day we flew, I found that she had no gas trouble AT ALL.
In order to stay hydrated but avoid having to pee while in the air, I drank as much water as I could the day of my flight but stopped liquids altogether about two hours before take off. Then, during the flight, I got water from the flight attendants when they came around. It worked for me, I didn’t get dehydrated, but I also didn’t have to use the restroom during our 5 hour flight. It wouldn’t have been impossible while flying alone, I’ve worn my baby in the restroom before, but the dimensions of an airplane bathroom were just not something I wanted to deal with. ; )
There are nurseries in airports where you can feed your baby, but they do not include a restroom. There are handicap/family restrooms that have a large counter top-like surface with a safety bar where you can change your baby but they have nowhere to sit, other than the toilet for nursing. And then there’s always the regular restroom, but I avoided it like the plague. : )
I bought a few books on my phone to stay entertained when flying by myself. With my cousin, it was much more fun because I had someone to talk to the whole way. : )
We were not at all prepared, but when checking in for our very first flight, they required age verification. We didn’t think we would need to prove that she was under two years of age because, well, at less than four weeks, we thought it was rather obvious. However, they did, in fact, require us to provide proof of her birth date. Thankfully, Southwest was flexible and allowed us to show them a screen shot of her online medical records showing her birth date. So it might be a good idea to either bring a copy of your baby’s birth certificate or some other form of age verification.
- Take off and Landing
I nursed as we took off and began to descend which seemed to eliminate any ear pressure issues (pacifiers/bottle feeding would serve the same purpose), but I only did that when she was awake. Twice, we took off while she was sleeping and I let her sleep which did not seem to cause her any additional issues when she woke up.
- Upon Arrival
For both trips, I asked that the people meeting me park and come in to help with juggling bags, car seats, etc. Also, both trips, when we finally arrived, the baby was hungry and tired so I took her to the car and fed her while family grabbed our luggage. Lastly, prepare for a a few days to a couple weeks worth of fussy, out of sorts baby if you have a full day of flying and change time zones. Our sweet girl, who is such a happy little thing, had a terrible few days of crying, trouble sleeping, fussy eating, etc when we arrived.
Just remember it’s a grand adventure! And if things go awry, take a good look around and you’ll see that most people aren’t angry that your baby is crying or that you take a bit longer to get settled in your seat, etc. Most people have either been there or know and love someone else who has and what they’re really thinking is that they remember those days or that you’re a rock star for hanging onto your sanity through this wild trip. You’ll be amazed at how many people offer a helping hand or kind look as go about your business. So have fun and make great memories to share with your own sweet one when they grow up. : )