As an American mom, married to a spaniard, international travel with a child will always be a part of our family’s life. Our first international trip with Luca was when he was seven weeks old. We flew from Spain to California to celebrate the Christmas holidays with my family. We stayed in the states for five weeks and returned when Luca was 12 weeks old. Needless to say, we learned a lot!
Traveling in and of itself is often stressful and unpredictable. Air travel with an infant can intensify feelings of stress and worry. Flying internationally with an infant is a whole different ballgame. However, traveling with a baby does not need to be a traumatic experience. It requires extra preparation, a lot of patience, and quite a bit more cargo, but it can be done! Here are a few tips for flying internationally with babies.
Plan and pack ahead of time.
Give yourself a few days before your trip to be sure the laundry is finished and your bags are packed and organized. You are no longer packing just for yourself, so plan for the packing to take at least twice as long.
Leave a list of last minute items to pack in the morning if there are items that you or baby are using the night before an early flight (such as a swaddle, pacifier, or your phone charger).
Consider the weather at your destination, but also in the cities where you have a layover. During our first international travel with Luca, our flight was diverted to Paris which was almost 30 degrees colder than where we were headed. I was incredibly thankful I had packed coats in our carryons!
Lastly, as a newborn, your baby grows incredibly quickly. If you are traveling for an extended period of time, be sure to pack clothes of various sizes just in case he grows out of the current size during your trip.
Staying with, or near, family and friends? Order essentials such as diapers and wipes ahead of time from Amazon and have them shipped to your destination, allowing you to travel lighter. Depending on where you are traveling, you may also be able to buy these essentials upon arrival.
Pack your carryon strategically.
Pack enough for yourself and your baby for at least three days. Two travel days and one day for the inevitable “unexpected”. When traveling with newborns, expect the unexpected: delayed flights, missed connections, and lost baggage. Be sure your carryon has enough clothes, diapers, formula/snacks, and toiletries to last you a couple days just in case. For newborns, I would suggest packing 10-12 diapers for each day. For yourself, pack a change of clean clothes in case of a diaper leak or spit-up.
Pack items that you will definitely need during the flight such as your baby’s swaddle, diaper kits (see below), and your toiletries, in the outside pockets of your carryon for easy access during the flight.
Diaper kits: this is a tip from another American mom living in Spain. A mother of twins! Marissa suggests preparing “diaper kits” in a ziplock bag. This kit should include a diaper, a few wipes, and a change of clothes. Simply take one diaper kit with you into the bathroom on the plane instead of rummaging through your carryon for each item. If your baby has a blowout, which is likely, you are all set with a change of clean clothes and a plastic bag to store the dirty clothes during the rest of the flight.
What to wear
Wear comfortable layers. The temperature on the plane is unpredictable and if you end up needing to hold your baby for a long period of time, you will want to have light clothes on underneath. Wear a loose-fitting shirt or nursing tank top if you’re breastfeeding. I like to bring a large infinity scarf to keep me warm while traveling and to use as a cover for nursing on the plane. Bring a pair of slippers as you will probably be doing a lot of walking on the plane to soothe baby. Remember to keep a clean change of clothes in your carryon.
As for baby, dress him or her in comfortable layers as well. Consider dressing your child in clothes that will be easy to remove for diaper changes. Bring an extra muslin swaddle blanket to use to layer the bassinet, to wrap around your baby as an extra layer in case it is cold on the plane, to use to clean up messes or spit-up, or to lay on the floor for tummy time. I like Modern Burlap multi-use, organic swaddling blankets.
Carrying/transporting your baby
A sturdy baby carrier is going to be your best friend on international flights with an infant. We love traveling with the Ergobaby on international flights as it is ergonomically correct for baby, sturdy for mom or dad, and easy to take on and off. You will need to hold your baby, outside of the carrier, in your lap during takeoff and landing. Some airlines will provide an infant seatbelt attachment to be used.
Travel Tip* Although I have not tried it myself, I have heard from other moms that if you carry your baby in a baby carrier such as the Happy Baby Wrap or Solly Baby Wrap, it does not need to be removed at security since it is made completely of cloth. The last thing you want is to wake a sleeping baby (again) in order to go through the security line.
Depending on your layover and connecting flights, you may want to bring a small stroller. Check with the airline and airport for policies regarding strollers. Gate check the stroller when possible so you have it while you wait in the airport. We love traveling with our Doona carseat stroller as it allows us to move around the airport quickly, gives us a break from carrying Luca, and is an automatic carseat when hiring a taxi at our destination.
On the plane
If you are planning on reserving your flights before your baby is born, you can make your own reservation and add your baby’s information (name, passport number, birthdate, etc.) onto your reservation at a later date. Keep in mind, on international flights, there is sometimes a small fee (i.e 10% of the price of the adult ticket) for your infant to fly.
When booking your flight, be sure to call the airline to request the bulkhead, which is the row towards the front of the plane. This row has a space for a hanging baby bassinet on the wall in front of your seat. The bassinet is a game changer! It provides baby a comfortable place to sleep and you can keep your essentials or diaper kits in the bassinet during the flight instead of having to continuously access your carryons in the overhead bins. When traveling with babies and children, consider taking the redeye or flying overnight as opposed to during the day so your baby will be able to sleep the majority of the flight.
Travel tip* Use a blanket or a Covered Goods multi-use nursing cover around the top of the bassinet. This helps to eliminate unwanted light while baby is sleeping and limits distractions as well.
Plan on nursing or giving your baby a bottle during take-off and landing to help equalize their ears. Wait until the captain asks the flight attendants to take their seats, or until the plane begins to accelerate, before beginning the feeding. If you are using a bottle, ask the flight attendant to warm the bottle for you before takeoff. If you are breastfeeding, be sure to drink extra fluids during the flight to stay hydrated.
Airplane bathrooms are always a challenge. Adding a baby to the mix makes things a little more complicated. Try changing wet diapers in the baby bassinet to avoid an extra trip the bathroom. Ask if there is a handicap restroom on the flight. Not only are the rooms more spacious, but the changing tables are often larger as well. If you are traveling alone and need to use the restroom, don’t be afraid to ask the flight attendant to hold your baby for you.
Just for fun
Ask to take a photo with the captain! Some airlines will even give your baby a certificate or pair of wings for her first flight.
Immigration, boarding, customs, security, etc.
Newborn priority! Don’t be afraid to ask for special accommodations when traveling with an infant. We have generally been able to skip the long immigration and customs lines, check in through priority during security, and board our flights early. All you have to do is ask.
The most important aspect of facing jet lag with an infant is patience. Expect that it is going to happen (yes, even for newborns!) It took Luca about one full week to recover from jet lag, each direction.
Sleep as much as possible on the plane. Don’t try to keep your baby awake in order to adjust more easily to the time difference. The last thing you want is an overtired baby.
Expose yourself and your baby to natural light at your destination, in order to balance your circadian rhythms. If necessary, wake your baby up a little early the following day to expose him to enough hours of daylight. In addition, turn down lights in the house for an earlier nighttime if needed. Keep active during the day and play barefoot in the grass or on beach to help to become grounded and accustomed to the time difference of your destination city. To learn more about grounding and jet leg, click here.
Keep the rhythm of your day such as a pattern of eat, play, sleep. Try to keep your baby from napping more than three or three and a half hours in a row. Wake your baby gently, feed him, and then encourage some active play time before the next nap. Awake and sleep times will be a little unpredictable at first, so it is more important to remain consistent with the routine as opposed to watching the clock. Stay consistent with your bedtime routine as well to help your baby associate his routine with night versus day times. Ours always includes bath time, baby massage, and nursing to sleep.
I’m not going to lie to you… traveling internationally with babies is exhausting. It challenges you in ways you may not be initially prepared for and it will take some time to adjust and relax on your vacation. However, the time spent with friends and family and the memories you make are worth it. Your baby is resilient and the more you travel, the easier and more enjoyable it will become. For all of you!
You may also be interested in my Tips for Flying Internationally with a Toddler.