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flying with your baby

Baby on board- flying with your baby


With the Christmas season almost upon us, many families are preparing for their annual break. In many cases these breaks involve flying. I was listening to the early morning radio station where air travel with babies and small children was the topic for the show. Of course you always get people on opposite ends of the spectrum calling in. There was the businessman who prepares for important meetings on his flights and would prefer if children were banned from flights all together. Then there were those who simply stated that the other passengers should just get over themselves and accept that there are children on the flight.

Ultimately I do believe that parents get stressed when they have to fly with young children because they are concerned about the other passengers but also worried about the possible effects flying may have on a child.

Ensuring your child causes the least possible disruption on a plane really comes down to proper planning. There are some basic tips that I will discuss in a little more detail. There are times when flying may pose a medical risk to your child and parents need to know about this in order to take the correct precautions.



Preparing for a flight


  • Time– think about your baby’s routine. If your baby is crabby at certain times avoid flying then. (obviously this only applies to short flights)
  • Travel documents-your baby will need identification. Make sure this is in order before you leave.
  • Booking your seat-Having an aisle seat for the parent is ideal. You don’t want to constantly be asking other people to move so you can get past them. It also allows you to walk around the plane if necessary to give baby a change of scenery.
  • Seating-if you can afford for your baby to have their own seat this is preferable. Using your car chair to secure the baby is ideal. It is safer and a familiar space for your baby. Please remember that babies under 10kg’s they must face backwards. Ensure that our seat has a proper safety rating and can be strapped into a plane seat.
  • Confirm your baby has been booked-make sure the airline knows you are travelling with a baby especially if you have not booked a separate seat.
  • Prepare your bag-make sure you have extra bottles and food for your baby. Take a change of clothes and extra nappies.
  • Secure items-toys and activities need to be secured to the car chair or bag. It is almost impossible to go crawling around looking for objects that fall during a flight.
  • I came across this YouTube video which is really helpful if you would like to see the travelling in action and to get some valuable parent input



From a medical perspective


There is an ever increasing number of children on board flights. Most children fly without any complications but there are certainly children who may experience problems. We understand that air pressure, oxygen levels and humidity are different in the air to that experienced on the ground. These factors may affect children in different ways

  • Changes in air pressure– children most at risk here are those who are suffering from upper respiratory tract infections or ear infections. The expansion of the air inside the ears will cause a lot of pain. Other more serious conditions like pneumothorax need to be discussed with the paediatrician.
  • Humidity– The air is very dry on a plane. Most children (an adults) need to drink more water than usual to stay hydrated.
  • Oxygen levels – premature babies are most at risk when there is a decrease in oxygen levels. This may cause the baby to have an apnoea (stops breathing). Full term babies who are well may fly after the first week of life, however premature babies (those born before 36 weeks) should not fly until they are 3 months corrected age.
  • Children with pneumonia may also experience shortness of breath due to decreased oxygen levels. These children must not fly until they are fever free and off all oxygen on the ground



Medicating children for a flight


Parents often ask about medication for babies and toddlers to keep them sedated for long haul flights. This can be a difficult one as I understand the stress of having a screaming child while the rest of the plane is trying to sleep.

However, the American Association of Paediatrics advises that no sedation should be given to children on a flight.

  1. I advise my parents to give a dose of paracetamol or ibuprofen especially if the child has had a recent ear infection or cold. It is really important to ensure you are giving the correct dose. This can be given 30 minutes before take-off. If the flight is longer than 8 hours then it may be repeated 30 minutes before landing. This will help with ear pain when the pressure changes.
  2. A nasal decongestant given 30 minutes before take-off and 30 minutes before landing (on a long haul flight) also helps reduce ear pain.
  3. Antihistamines are sometimes given to children because of the sedating effect. You need to be aware that the sedation is a side effect of the medicine rather than what it should be used for. It can have unpredictable effects on your baby and this poses a problem when you are 30 000 feet above sea level. There are children who become completely hyperactive when given antihistamines.
  4. Infections- there will be a lot of people in a confined space for a number of hours. The air conditioners do have filters on them to help prevent the spread of disease but I do advise frequent hand washing and the use of hand sanitisers. You may also want to put a little anti-bacterial nasal ointment into the nostrils. Please use a cotton-bud and be extremely careful not to push the bud up your baby’s nose. Place just a little at the entrance of each nostril.



In essence


For the most part people are very understanding when it comes to children on board a flight. Parents do need to be considerate so being prepared for the flight is essential. Remember all the proven tricks for opening up ears like chewing, yawning or drinking. For little ones this is more difficult but having a feed ready or allowing the baby to suck on the breast really helps equalize the ears. Please do not put anything like cotton-wool into your child’s ears as this will make it more difficult for the ears to equalize. For the most part your child’s ears will return to normal as soon as you have landed. In cases where the pain continues you may need to use the paracetamol and decongestant for slightly longer. Happy holidays and safe travels.

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