The night before I embarked on a 14 hour journey with my 6 month old, I did not sleep a wink. I stayed awake preparing and over preparing. What would I need? What would she need? What do you give a 6 month old if they are bored? Will she throw up? What happens if she doesn’t throw up? How much formula should I take? How much sterilised water should I take? Questions! Questions! Questions! But no answers. No answers until I had actually made the 14 hour journey with my 6 month old.
As it turns out, I actually did not need half the stuff I carried with me. And funnier still, Maheera was less of a bother than all the bags and equipment I had to hand carry. Kingsford Airport staff were absolutely wonderful. Mothers with babies were treated like royalty! Everyone helped! Even a fellow male passenger whom I reminded him of the first time he traveled with this wife and three kids. “What a mess it was!” he exclaimed as he helped me load off the stroller from the security belt. Indeed, it was a mess! Taking all liquid out and putting it all back in. All mothers are extremely protective of the baby bag. Not because it contains my baby’s food but because it is organised to my liking and disarraying that organization would mean you just got on my last nerve!
Changi Airport was not so welcoming to mothers with infants. First of all, unless you had access to luxury lounges, there were no proper parents’ room. All toilets were absolutely spotless but most were fitted with a plastic change tables. Airport staff were not very friendly either. At the security post before the waiting lounge, security officers expected me to carry Maheera, collapse the stroller, place it on the belt, place all bags on the belt as well as take out my laptop and then rebuild the whole thing at the other end of the scanning machine. I asked them one question, “How do I do this with one hand? I need help.” Help did eventually come but these little things are so stressful for a mother travelling alone.
Whilst I was absolutely relived when I saw my mother’s face at the end of the journey, I do confess that I did learn a lot and it was an experience altogether. Maheera made no fuss at all. She ate when hungry, slept with sleepy. She only whined at the end of the Sydney to Singapore 7 hour leg because she was confined to that tiny space for such a long time. Luckily for me, I got empty seats on both legs of the journey. So I set up shop and had a ball of a time. I was even able to fit in 3 movies!
Here are some tips I think that might be useful if you are travelling with an infant:
- Invest in a lightweight stroller.
We purchased the Bebe Mira Lite stroller from David Jones. It was reasonably priced, light-weighed and easily collapsible with one hand and one foot. It had 3 inclinations so I could even lay Maheera asleep while I was in transit. The seating is soft and easily wipe-able. I added a pram liner to give the stroller some colour and provide more cushioning for Maheera. It did not have a good basket so I ended up carrying most of my things.
A lot of mothers opt to wear their baby. This is OK if you are travelling with another adult or your spouse. I looked into the option of using a baby carrier but I realized – baby bag plus my carry-ons plus my bag plus carrying a 9kg baby would do tremendous harm to my back bone. I needed to off-load and pushing heavy weight would be much easier. Of course, Maheera could not stand or sit and carrying her did sound lucrative. However, I could not risk further damage to my back-bone. Fell off a horse and went through pregnancy and labour – that’s enough for me in this life time, thank you!
- Infants DO NOT do solids on trips
Maheera refused any form of solid food I gave her. She took 2 spoonfuls of khichri and then began fussing. Of course, it would have been wrong for me to expect her to eat solid food. Most 6 month olds just begin eating solid foods at that age and Maheera was (and I don’t think) will ever be a fantastic eater. So milk it was. Milk and rice (Cerelac) mixed with warm water. Every 3 hours like clockwork. She was sustained on milk, rice cereal and water the entire journey and she seemed quite content with that. I did not force feed for fear she might throw up and that would have been quite embarrassing!
- Ear pressure during take-off and landing
I am of the strong opinion that most modern aircrafts are able to balance air pressure in the cabin reducing pressure on your ears. A child’s ear is a thousand times more sensitive to an adults so of course it will hurt more. Some mothers let babies suck on a pacifier. I let Maheera suck on her water bottle. The water hydrated her and her constant chewing on the teat stabilised the pressure on her ears.
However, when we landed at Changi Airport and when we took-off and landed on the Bangladesh trip, Maheera was absolutely fine. No crying because of the air pressure. I did not even have to give her the bottle.
- Dress your infant down
You and most importantly, your baby need to be as comfortable as possible. Time will come for you to dress your baby up again but for now, your baby needs to be as relaxed as possibly. Maheera wore no massive headbands or sparkly shoes or pretty frocks. Just plain cotton t-shirts and slacks from Target. Rompers are a good option. One piece of clothing. Easy to wear and easy to remove. Airports and planes and usually quite cold so I kept her in full sleeves and full-length pants throughout the journey.
- Carry your baby’s pillow and blanket
This is probably the best thing I did and I patted myself on the back repeatedly for doing this. I carried Maheera’s pillow and her original newborn cotton wraps which I use as light blankets now. One to put inside the bassinet and one to use as a blanket. In that way I could trick Maheera into thinking she was in her crib at home. The smell and feeling of her own things might help her sleep a little longer and give her a good sound sleep.
- Keep your baby fresh, clean and moisturised
Give your baby a wipe with a damp cloth once in a while. This keeps them fresh and clean. I changed Maheera’s clothes and diapers even when I did not need to. That way I ensured she felt fresh. I gave her a good wipe all over and applied moisturizer when possible. It is the only alternative to giving them a bath.
- Keep an infant nasal spray, infant Nurofen and gripe water handy in your travel baby bag
Babies often get stuffed nose or a headache during journeys. It is absolutely essential that they not experience any form of discomfort.
Aside from the above, there is of course the usual tips:
- Carry sufficient diapers
- Carry extra clothing for your baby and YOU – of course YOU! What happens if that baby decides to show everyone the contents of his or her stomach and most of it is on your clothes?
- Talk to cabin crew. Do not be afraid to ask them any questions you may have about using infant belts and bassinets. What would happen if you needed to use the loo and your baby is asleep? Get them to do things for you. Heat water for your baby. Get you a snack. Anything! Hello, airlines tickets are not exactly inexpensive! Singapore Airlines crew were simply marvelous and extremely helpful.
- Take a few toys and don’t give them all at once to your baby. Babies get bored very easily. Distract them with everything around and give them their toys at long intervals. Maheera was more entertained by different faces around her than her toys.
Flying with children, toddlers and infants is definitely not easy. Actually, flying with some adults is not easy too! But it is important to keep yourself as organised as possible! If you are travelling with your spouse or another adult, it is definitely much easier because the stress is equally divided. But if you are travelling by yourself, keep organised and prioritise! Remember, do not compromise with your baby’s comfort. A happy baby is of utmost importance for a stress-free journey.
- Keep your passports and travel documents in a safe but easily accessible place
- Fill out immigration and customs form as early as possible and preferably when your baby is asleep
- Keep yourself hydrated. Take a drink of water when possible. Also, keep Panadol and nasal spray with you.
- Take a Kindle. More often than not, you might not get the chance to read. But if you are in transit and that baby has fallen asleep (by the grace and mercy of God!), get away from it all for a bit. Get your mind into some good fiction and come out rejuvenated!
I wish all travelling parents the very best of luck with all your travels. I hope my post has been helpful and has provided some insight into travelling with babies. No doubt, the longer the journey, the more impatient you and your child will get. But keep your cool. Take the time to refresh yourself as often as possible.