Flying with a Baby for the First Time

And just like that, we’re back in Charlotte!

Our whirlwind weekend trip to Denver began around 4:45 a.m. on Friday morning. Our flight left the Charlotte airport bright and early and we did the best we could to avoid waking Chase up and putting him in the car until the last second. I had high hopes that he might stay sleeping in the car ride to the airport, but I think he knew something was up and he greeted me with a big smile and happy baby coos when I went into the nursery to grab him around 5:30 a.m.

Traveling with a Baby for the First Time

Chase’s First Flight

I wasn’t really sure what to expect but in the end our first flight to Denver went okay. Chase was by no means easy or an angel baby, but he didn’t scream and cry the whole time either. It was a middle-of-the-road travel experience and I suppose that’s all you can really hope for when traveling with a 6 month old.

traveling with a baby

We totally lucked out in one area though… We got an entire row of the plane to ourselves! I have not seen a plane as empty as the one we took to Denver in years. There were multiple empty rows, so we definitely took advantage of the extra space. It made nursing more comfortable though everything about flying served as the ultimate distraction to Chase. He’s VERY easily distracted right now, so every feeding session on the plane was super-short and interspersed with Chase’s desire to play and a fascination with lights, other passengers, noises and more.

chase 6 months old

When we took off, Chase fell asleep for the first 20 minutes or so and I naively thought I’d luck out and have a sleeping baby for the majority of the flight. I exhaled and started reading All The Light We Cannot See and made it about 10 pages in until my dreams of a relaxing flight were smashed and Chase woke up feeling fussy and antsy.

From then on, the 3.5-hour flight felt incredibly hands-on and I did my best to keep him quiet, calm, happy and soothed. He never napped for more than 20 minutes at a time, so I arrived in Denver with an overtired baby. Thankfully Chase crashed hard when we got to Michaela’s place and napped for a solid two hours like a champ. For the rest of the trip he acted like his normal happy, energetic self which is all I could really hope for since I know travel can seriously throw a baby off their game. (A recap of our time in Denver is coming soon!)

Chase’s Second Flight

Our return flight home to Charlotte went much smoother than our first flight. You would think that having a row of the plane to yourself would mean the ultimate amazing flying experience, but so much of the stress from our first flight centered around Chase’s refusal to nap for more than 15-20 minutes at a time. He was exhausted and fussy which obviously made me one stressed out mama. Trying to keep a baby quiet who refuses to nurse for a long time and fights sleep with all of his being is virtually impossible.

Our second flight was completely packed so I went into it fearing the worst but it went surprisingly well. I think the timing of our second flight worked much better for Chase. He was able to wake up at his normal time and get in a morning nap before we left the airport which set us up for success much better than our first flight. Note to self: Timing of a flight is a huge when it comes to traveling with a baby.

American Airlines Confirmation

The plane ended up sitting on the runway for 45 minutes before departing and during that time Chase nursed like a champ (hallelujah – already a marked improvement over our first flight) and slept almost the entire time. I was slightly annoyed that his good behavior all took place while we were still on the ground and hoped for the best once the plane took off.

Chase ended up napping almost the entire flight! It was MUCH less stressful than our first flight, despite a totally full plane. He woke up three times or so and each time he woke up screaming which threw me off (I’m wondering if it could’ve been ear pain related?) but I was able to bounce him in my arms, offer him my breast or a pacifier and get him back to sleep very quickly. HUGE sigh of relief!

Chase woke up ready for another full feeding right as the plane began its final decent which worked out perfectly. Everyone encouraged me to feed Chase upon take off and landing but my little man isn’t the kind of baby who will just feed the moment you put a boob in his face. He only seems to eat when he wants to eat so I was grateful it worked out this way. We landed and his belly was full and he was well-rested which translated to an animated, smiley and happy little boy. As the plane made its way to the gate, Chase made faces, cooed and played with me and the kind man across the aisle from us who let Chase reach out and touch his water bottle time and time again. (Water bottles are the coolest thing ever to Chase right now.)

When we got off the plane, I felt my body relax with the feeling of relief. We made it through our first big travel milestone! Phew!

Flying with a Baby for the First Time: My Takeaways

For those of you who may have traveling with a baby for the first time on your radar soon, here are a few things we did that made our experience a little easier:

  • Explain that this is your first time traveling with your baby when you arrive at your gate and ask if there are any open seats. The more room you have for you and your baby (and all of the stuff you inevitably have!), the better. On our first flight, we lucked out with a fairly empty plane and the kind man at the gate said moving us to a row with empty seats was no trouble at all.
  • If you are using your stroller, ask if there is a stroller or family lane at airport security. We lucked out and were able to go through a stroller lane in Charlotte which was really nice! The Denver airport didn’t have this option and rolling slowly through the long security line with a baby who loves fast movement was not super fun.

Airport Security Line Colorado

  • If feeding is easier for you with a boppy or some kind of support pillow or blanket, bring it! I brought an inflatable nursing pillow I found that was totally WORTHLESS (I seriously wanted to stab that thing when we got off the plane), but rolling up our stroller blanket to prop under my arms worked really well as a makeshift support pillow during our second flight.
  • Pack a change of clothes for your baby in a Ziploc bag. We had a bit of a poopy situation on our first flight and I’m so glad I had a backup onesie in my baby bag. I used the Ziploc to store the soiled onesie after I changed Chase to keep the dirty onesie separate from everything else in my baby bag.
  • If things get stressful, do your best to give your baby what they need but remind yourself that you will likely never see the people on your flight again in your life. There is only so much you can do to calm a fussy baby in the confines of an airplane and many people understand how stressful it can be to travel with a baby. I think most people just want to see that you’re making an effort to calm/soothe a crying baby and inevitably sympathize with you.
  • Pack a couple of your baby’s favorite toys. Chase in the the middle of a distracted phase of babyhood right now, so having some of his favorite toys to grab when he needed a little stimulation was key.
  • If your baby likes movement, ask if it’s okay to stand with your baby in the back of the plane for a little while. During our first flight when Chase was really fussy, it was very helpful for me to be able to stand up with him and walk to the back of the plane to bounce and sway him. The flight attendants had no problem with us doing this for a few minutes at a time since we only stood back there when they were busy giving passengers drinks and snacks.
  • Don’t be shy about breastfeeding your baby if you are nursing and they prefer you to a bottle. Initially I was going to pack a bottle for Chase but since he prefers my breast and only likes warm milk, I didn’t want to have to worry about asking a flight attendant to warm a bottle of breast milk for me. I figured that if someone has a problem with me breastfeeding my baby on a plane, that is their problem, not mine.
  • Utilize things around you for baby amusement! Chase loved looking at the airplane magazine, licking an ice cube as I held it in my hand, etc.

And here are a few things I WISH I would’ve done:

  • Consider wearing your baby. This was probably the number one tip I received from you guys but when I spoke with an airline employee about checking my stroller and car seat and putting Chase in my Baby K’tan, she really dissuaded me from doing so, saying that many times strollers are broken if you check them and the airline is not liable. As a first-time traveler this freaked me out, so we followed her advice and checked our stroller and car seat at the gate which ended up working out fine for us, but I would have preferred to check them upfront and wear Chase through security since you have to take your baby out of the car seat anyway. (FYI, checking a stroller and car seat at the gate is usually free. We flew American Airlines and were not charged for gate-checking these items.)

Luggage

  • Bring a backpack as a baby bag. One of you guys recommended this to me and I wish I would’ve listened. By putting everything in a big back pack, you’re freeing up your hands/shoulders in the airport which makes a big difference if you happen to be carrying a small suitcase on the plane as well. There are also some REALLY cute baby bag backpacks out there that I think might be a decent thing to include on your registry if you’re an expectant mom. (I have my eye on this Ju-Ju-Be backpack diaper bag. Love it!)
  • Do whatever you can to replicate your typical feeding sessions. If you have an easily distracted baby like Chase, a window seat might be preferred to an aisle seat. I have to feed Chase in a fairly low-stimulation environment which made feeding him on the plane a battle. I am not sure how to eliminate distractions on an airplane (other than using a nursing cover which seriously stresses me out because Chase hates them and they’re SO awkward for me) so I had the most success when we moved to a window seat, closed the shutters and turned Chase toward the wall of the plane to breastfeed.
  • Keep your baby bag light. I totally overstuffed my baby bag and trying to pull whatever I needed out of it was stressful. Digging through an over-stuffed bag with one hand and a wiggly, fussy baby in the other is intense!
  • Consider planning your first trip early on in your baby’s life. I’ve heard many parents say that the younger they are, the easier it is to travel with a baby and I believe it! As Chase has matured, he needs more play time and stimulation than he did as a new baby when eating, sleeping and rocking in my arms probably would’ve been enough to keep him relatively happy. It would’ve been nice to have one flying experience under my belt before this new distracted phase of his life took effect.
  • If you are breastfeeding, wear clothes you’re completely comfortable nursing in. For our first flight, I wore a button-down tunic and nursing bra because I figured that would help me remain a bit more covered but I am more comfortable breastfeeding in a lightweight t-shirt and comfy (lined) bralette that I can easily push up, so I wore that for the return flight and it was much more pleasant! The stroller blanket did a decent job of keeping my lower half covered to the point that I felt totally comfortable.
  • If possible, travel with someone for your first flight. This wasn’t in the cards for us, but I have a feeling traveling with Chase and Ryan together would make me feel less stressed going into my first solo flying adventure since I’d know a bit more about what to expect.

Questions of the Day

  • For those who have traveled with a baby or a young child, what were some of your biggest takeaways?
  • What are some things you did that made your experience easier?
  • What is something you wish you would’ve done that may have saved you some stress?

Comments

  1. says

    Just curious- which seat did you pick on way back? I’m guessing window is easiest for breast feeding etc.?

    The Denver airport security is notoriously long. Next time try the pedestrian bridge TSA. You don’t have to weave through long lines and it’s usually way faster.

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  2. says

    My biggest takeaway would be to plan and do the best you can, but just remember that out people are decent human beings and will understand if your baby is a bit fussy or if you’d like them to move if there is another open seat. 🙂

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  3. says

    Congrats on getting through your first few flights! I have a 12 month old and the first time that we flew with him was when he was 7 months old and we were going all the way to England from New York. We brought our car seat onto the plane 3 out of the 4 times that was have gone on trips, and it has made all the difference. Even though he gets restless in the car seat, he is even worse on our laps and he has an easier time falling asleep in the car seat now that he is getting older. It costs more money, but is worth it to us when we can afford it.

    My son is also easily distracted while nursing and doesn’t like covers, so I bought this nursing tank to wear under a flowy top and it’s perfect: http://www.amazon.com/Boob-Organic-Maternity-Nursing-Singlet/dp/B00MVQ2MVG/ref=sr_1_1?s=apparel&ie=UTF8&qid=1454440782&sr=1-1&nodeID=7141123011&keywords=nursing+tank+boob

    I also bought the Travel Boppy pillow. It can go over your shoulder, is small and is great for nursing and also for having your baby sleep or sit on your lap. I highly recommend it!

    It sounds like you did all the right things! Thanks for sharing your story.

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  4. Sarah says

    Nursing during flights is a lifesaver with babies/toddlers!! For me, I am most comfortable in a tank with a cardigan. That way my back never hangs out or it up against dirty seats!! I always take the stroller to the gate. I need it for drinks, bags, and snacks. I’ve also never taken our car seats either. Book bags are a lifesaver!!! I hate digging through zippers, pouches, etc. I think you did pretty well on your flights!! Nice work momma!

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  5. says

    After using a ‘cute’ Kate Spade over the shoulder diaper bag for the first year I realized how awesome a diaper BACKPACK was instead!! I have the Ju-Ju-Be “Legacy Be Right Back’ backpack and LOVE it! Now that I have #2 coming along I need both hands, arms and shoulders free. I will always recommend a backpack diaper bag for any mom, traveling or not!

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  6. says

    Thank you so much for posting this, Julie! I recently had a baby 4 weeks ago and my husband and I are still contemplating if we should fly with him this summer. I know it can be pretty overwhelming and there are a lot of concerns that I have about airline rules and regulations. This post was very helpful and I’ll be sure to pin it and refer to it again later.

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  7. Laura says

    That is awesome you did the first flight by yourself- you can do anything!!! One piece of advice I would give is to be ready for anything. We live and Denver, and as you know from just being here, the weather changes rapidly. (Hello 60 degrees to 1 foot of snow in a day!). Anyway, 2 times traveling back to Denver our flights were diverted to other cities because of unexpected weather in Denver. For both flights we had to sit on a runway in another city for 2-3 hours to wait for weather and flight traffic to clear in Denver before then taking off and flying back making both flights that were supposed to be a few hours, 7-8 hours. I was SO thankful that we had extra diapers and snacks for our toddler. It was a nightmare, but having extra stuff definitely made it more bearable!.

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  8. Deanna says

    Sounds like your flight went pretty well! It’s always difficult flying with kiddos. You should difinetly get that diaper bag. I have one and its amazing to wear as a backpack. I got it when I was expecting my second baby because I knew I’d need both hands free and its been awesome. It is slightly on the heavy side though. And for quick trips I like my “hobo be” by ju ju be because I can wear it cross body. I’m having my third baby soon so hands free is a must on a daily basis for me :). Great travel tips!

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  9. Bethany says

    Very informative post! We are currently expecting our first in April. Where we live it’s an 13 hour flight to the States followed by another 4ish hour flight to our hometown. I am a bit nervous about our first trip home with our little!

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    • Katherine says

      In my experience traveling alone…Most airports have family restrooms with space to put baby down (or you can wear). Also, there is always a person on the plane who volunteers to hold the baby, so you can use the restroom.

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  10. says

    I will say, a haven’t flown with my babies, but a backpack diaper bag is the only way to go. When I take my twins out alone it allows me to carry both car seats and the bag all at once!
    My hat is off to you for traveling alone with him! I won’t brave that storm ever lol

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  11. Christina says

    Hey Julie!! Love this post. I was wondering how you curl your hair like that? What curling iron do you use? You look amazing!

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    • says

      Thank you Christina! I just wrap my hair around the outside of the curling iron (so I basically use it like a wand) and then hair spray the heck out of it before brushing it out!

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  12. Rachel says

    I flew with my son at exactly 6 months from Turkey to Australia- alone! It is about 20 hours or so on the plane, not to mention time spent at the airport, etc. He slept probably a total of 7 hours the whole trip, but it wasn’t so bad. I also flew return, alone. Then when he was 18 months old I did it again by myself, and I was 5 months pregnant! Crazy, right? And just because I am totally nuts, at the last minute I decided to not take a stroller. Yup, that’s right, I thought my 18 month old would hold my hand and wait close to me. Mad. For the first flight we had our own row, but on the return trip when I was 7 months pregnant he didn’t have a seat, and I had to hold him on my lap most of the flight. It was pretty awful and I swore I would never do it again.
    Your tips are all great, an I think wearing baby under 12 months is easiest.

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  13. says

    I did the baby wearing thing with my Baby KTan before security all the way to the plane. And piled our bags onto the stroller and car seat and checked it in at the gate. It totally helped as I didn’t have to lug the heavy bags on top of carrying my baby. And I went thru security easily without having to remove my baby.

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  14. Kelly says

    I wore my 18 month old son in the airport, and didn’t bring the stroller. It was way more convienent. Of course we were going to Disney and were able to rent a stroller that was waiting for us at our resort.

    I think the biggest thing to remember is that almost EVERYONE has had kids. The majority of people don’t care if a baby gets fussy. They understand. Even for those who haven’t had kids, as long as you’re doing your best, people see that, and don’t mind. I think there’s nothing that’s hated more than one of those parents who just keeps yelling stop stop stop, but doesn’t actually take action to make a child stop.

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  15. Suzanne says

    I travelled with twins so my experience is a bit different, but some of the tips are similar.
    We went to California from Philly when they were 15 months old. I decided to do later flights and red eyes thinking they would sleep well. The baby I put in a car seat slept very well (I switched who was in the car seat going out and coming back). The baby not in a car seat was too excited to calm down. Feeding didn’t help much. Toys were nearly propelled into the seat in front of us. It wasn’t great, but they weren’t horrible babies by any stretch. It wasn’t comfortable for us once they did fall asleep on us.

    I was pleasantly surprised by how friendly the other fliers were and the smiles we got coming down the aisle. I expected jeers. So that was quite a relief.

    We used the Brica Roll n’ Go and brought our car seats through the airport with the kids strapped in. We didn’t do the stroller through the airport because the car seats didn’t fit in it. I love that thing and it’s a worthwhile purchase if you travel a lot and decide to go that route. There is also a much cheaper option that is a simple strap that ties the car seat to a roller bag, which I also recommend.

    Also, there are lots of baby rental companies in major cities. We were able to borrow the equipment we needed from friends of the friends we were staying with, but renting a PNP and strollers wasn’t too terribly pricey, IMO.

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  16. says

    I work for both United and Delta, and neither they nor American will charge you to check baby items (car seat, stroller, pack and play) all the way through at the ticket counter. They’re NOT covered if they break, but I don’t see that a lot. Don’t feel like you have to tote everything to the gate to save $50 🙂

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  17. carrie says

    Picking the right time of day is key to traveling! I’ve ended up paying more money for the more convenient flight time, but it’s totally worth it. I’ve also noticed that these more expensive flights at convenient flight times are never packed and I’ve always gotten a row to myself with my baby, now 19 month old. Oh, and after my first flight with a baby, I knew a back pack was my only option. I’m totally considering your Ju-Ju-Be suggestion, as I’ve currently just been using an Under Armor back pack. Great post!

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  18. Heather says

    Such fun memories. I flew with all three of my boys when they were little. We flew to Germany, Colorado, Texas, Florida, Hawaii and a few other places. Sometimes they slept, sometimes they screamed. Each flight and child was different. It was especially fun when I had my third and had to keep the other two also occupied on a flight to Hawaii (12 hours from where I live) by myself (meet my husband in Hawaii who was working there for 6 months each year) Oh and did I mention that our flight was delayed in Los Angeles in route and our 2 hour lay-over became an 8 hour lay-over?

    The Ziploc bag idea was always a life saver for me!!!! Plus everything else you said – getting up if you can. Doing what is best for your baby and trying not to worry about others around you giving you dirty looks for nursing and things like that. I found the flight attendants to be quite helpful and when I was traveling with the other boys they would even offer to walk the baby for me a few times which worked out well.

    It was easier for me since we didn’t have airport security and all the rules prior to 911. I feel for you younger Moms. Except entertaining them when they are older while be easier for yo with access to cell phones, iPads, and what not. I had to relay on a walk man with taped train stories, wrapped gifts, travel games, and easy crafts to keep little hands busy.

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  19. says

    I only just discovered this post (and your blog in general!) today soon after hitting “publish” on my account of our first transatlantic flights with our 8 month old. 🙂

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