Saturday, August 9, 2014

7 Tips for Travelling With Your 5-month Old

E took her first plane ride from Bangalore to Cochin on August 30, 2014! We visited both sets of grandparents, one set of great-grandparents, a great-grandmother and lots of grand uncles and aunties. The trip went by smoothly as far as the baby was concerned. So much so that I'm actually quite confident about our next trip. 

Not if you plan for the plane. If all else fails, put a boob in it. (The baby. Not the plane.)
Here are my learnings from travelling with E at the age of 5 months. 

#1 - Match Nap Time with Flight Time

Our flight took off from Bangalore at 9 AM, which is when E goes down for her first nap. Although we had to leave at 6:30 AM to make sure we got to the airport on time, I was counting on the car ride putting her to sleep for at least half an hour. Refreshed from a car nap, E was indoor sunshine all through check-in and security check. We even managed to grab breakfast!

By the time we were in the plane, E was quite tired and dozed off just as we took off, and napped till we were about 10 minutes from landing.

#2 - Change Diapers Just Before Boarding

You never know what's going to set your baby off in a flight. So it makes sense to cross off things you know will upset your baby. If baby has a clean diaper while boarding, you'll know that the crying is either due to changes in cabin pressure or hunger or the big scary man giving baby the stink-eye.  

#3 - Feed Baby During Take-Off and Landing

Changes in cabin pressure affect the ears of even the most seasoned of air travellers. Just ask my husband who spent a week in Cambodia trying to make his ears pop after he slept through two sets of landing and take-off.

I nursed E during take-off from Bangalore but because the flight is short (just 45 minutes to Cochin), she wasn't particularly hungry during descent. She decided to use this time to explore our nursing cover, yanking it down in the process and exposing my boob to two startled male!!! flight attendants sitting across the aisle. 

As a corollary, if baby gets hungry before boarding - feed her but avoid filling her up. I gave her a short feed right after security-check giving her a good hour to get nice and hungry for take-off.

I should really start drawing my own cartoons for Headbath

#4 - Pick Your Seats Before Departure

The best seat for a nursing mother is a window seat somewhere in the middle of the plane. This provides the requisite privacy needed to discreetly feed baby during take-off and landing. I learned this the hard way. 

We flew Air Asia to Cochin and like an idiot, I didn't call ahead to reserve seats. I also didn't think to ask for special seats at check-in so we ended up with two aisle seats in the second row. After some in-flight requesting, we got window seats that were unfortunately located right at the front of the aircraft. Wardrobe malfunctions are to be expected and planned for when travelling with grabby five-month old nurslings. 

Determined to avoid embarrassment on our journey home, we called Indigo the day before and reserved good seats. I find that airlines are quite willing to bend rules (like no reservation of special seats) if you mention that you're travelling with an infant.

#5 - Try to Stay On Routine

Don't throw out baby's routine just because you're on holiday. Your baby doesn't know what a holiday is and with all the change she's experiencing, her routine is the only thing that will give her (and you) some predictability.

So if bath time is at 11 AM, stick to it; put her down for all her naps at the right time; and most importantly, make sure you stick to bedtime. If your schedule is so packed that you can't stick to the routine, make sure baby manages to get some sleep every 90 minutes or so but stick to bedtime like honey on a keyboard. Otherwise, you will have a cranky, overtired baby who will wake up multiple times at night.

E was unable to fall asleep on her own due to all the excitement so I had to nurse her to sleep for all her naps and at bedtime. Since we were in different houses or worse, on the road, her naps never lasted more than 45 minutes at a stretch. Still, I was happy because some sleep is better than no sleep. 

I felt the impact of missed naps at bedtime, when she would cry non-stop for ten minutes before I went back in and nursed her to sleep. Only to have her waking up every hour or so till she woke up for good in the morning. As with the sleep training, I refused to pick her up and shush or rock her so it was just pretty much non-stop comfort nursing while lying down.

#6 - Take The Car Seat With You

If your journey involves any car travel, be sure to carry baby's car seat. If you don't have a car seat, get one. At best, Indian roads are non-existent and as such, you should not be holding your baby while the car navigates traffic and bumpy terrain.

The other reason to take the car seat is for baby to catch some z's while you're in transit especially if you plan your road trip to coincide with nap time. We managed to get E to sleep for a full hour and a half in her car seat as we made our way from Aluva to Cochin. She stayed asleep even as we stopped for lunch at a busy roadside restaurant.



Both Air Asia and Indigo allowed us to carry the car seat right up to the aircraft at which point, they stowed it in the cargo hold. Upon landing, Indigo let us go back to the cargo hold to pick it up while Air Asia sent it with our other luggage. Either way, the car seat didn't get damaged and the cover itself is removable and therefore, washable so everything looks just as good if not cleaner as it did before we left.

#7 - Pack Everything

My parents thought me mad for bringing everything Eka owns for a short five-day holiday. I assumed wardrobe changes three times a day plus two extra sets of clothes for each day. What I didn't assume was being gifted four sets of frocks with the most adorable bloomers so we were probably over-packed on the clothing front. 

I packed extra Quick Dry cloths, rough cloths (for mopping up pee during massage time), wash cloths, bibs, socks and ended up using everything. Although you could probably buy diapers at your destination, make sure you take an unopened pack just in case you're unable to get to a supermarket as soon as you arrive.

Instead of packing the baby wash and shampoo she uses at home, I decided to take one of the many Johnson's gift packs she got as a newborn. The tiny bottles are perfectly travel-sized and won't leak if kept in their original packaging. 

Baby's First Travel Toiletry Set
Don't forget to take a bottle of Baby Crocin and a dropper because you never know if baby will need it and if she does, you don't want to be searching for a 24-hour pharmacy that may or may not have it in stock. Equally important is baby's nasal aspirator. Plane rides have been known to cause many a stuffy nose.

Finally, pack a few toys - we took her favourite jittery lion (?) that she's loved since she was a newborn - plus a few extra ones packed into her diaper bag to keep her occupied when we were out of the house. The diaper bag toys came in handy one evening when we were stuck in traffic with an increasingly irritable baby.

#8 - Top Picks

Of Air Asia and Indigo, the latter is the most baby-friendly. They have special safety instructions for mothers plus a diaper-changing table located at the back of the plane. Also, their ground staff are kind enough to produce umbrellas for mother and baby while other passengers get drenched. I was moved to tears.

If you're travelling by road, avoid hiring a Mahindra Xylo as the seat belt loops aren't long enough to go around a car seat. To my knowledge, even the Hyundai i10 has seat belt loops long enough to secure a car seat so why a Xylo doesn't is beyond me. If the car you're travelling in is unable to restrain a car seat, your baby is safer in your arms so hold on tight.

In Summation

Travelling with a baby doesn't have to be hard. As long as you plan well in advance and minimise unpredictability, your baby should be in good enough humour to impress the relatives. "OMG your baby is so friendly," and "OMG your baby is so calm," are wonderful things to hear.

It turned out to be a great idea to visit family on our first holiday with her because I would have had more than an extra pair of arms should things go pear-shaped. Fortunately, they didn't and I now have the confidence to go on a real holiday with her.

Somewhere with a beach. And a cottage right on it.

This. So much this.

Coming soon - airport feeding room reviews.

N.B. I read somewhere that it's important to address readers when writing blog posts. Having re-read this post, I sound like some sort of jet-setting mother of three. Did this post seem preachy to you? Let me know in the comments.

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