How I flew cross-country with a 4-month old baby

For the holiday season 2018, I was determined to visit my family in So Cal, even though I’d have my newborn with me. Even though it was just me and my little one, I found the whole ordeal surprisingly manageable. I made not one, but two different roundtrips between So Cal and Wisconsin. Here’s how I survived it all.

Packing for the airport

I packed my suitcase two days ahead of time. Two hours before leaving for the airport, I freaked out that I’d forgotten something, unpacked and re-packed. Sometimes the unpacking and re-packing are unavoidable, especially if it’s your first time traveling with a baby. My advice here is to give yourself like 4x the amount of time to get ready as if you were traveling by yourself.

I packed enough clothes for me for the whole trip but twice the number of baby clothes. I still needed to use a washer and dryer during my trip thanks to additional spit-ups and diaper blow-outs. You can’t save space by packing fewer clothes, but you can save space by packing fewer diapers.

I intentionally did not pack enough diapers for the whole trip because I planned on buying diapers and wipes (and caffeine) in California. Why didn’t I just bring a bigger suitcase? I opted for the smaller suitcase knowing I could more easily maneuver it around the terminal with one hand while pushing a stroller and carrying a diaper bag and a car seat bag on my back.

Make sure you bring in your carry on (diaper bag):

  • BIRTH CERTIFICATE for the baby (needed during ticketing/check-in)
  • Enough diapers, wipes and diaper rash cream for the whole day of travel – enough to last even if your flight gets delayed
  • Extra blanket, spit rag, change of baby clothes
  • Bottles or formula, breast pump, breast pump storage bags, and (if applicable) water-proof insulated lunch bag big enough for 1-2 servings of frozen breastmilk,
  • Pacifier and clip/leash

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Traveling with a Car Seat and Stroller

You can check a stroller and a car seat for free on Southwest Airlines – doing so doesn’t count against your two-checked-bags-free allowance. You can check them at ticketing with your luggage or check them at the gate, which means ditching them in the jet bridge right before stepping onto the plane. I’ve checked the car seat both ways but I couldn’t part with the stroller until the very last second before boarding.

Whether or not you check your car seat at ticketing or at the gate, I highly recommend a car seat carrier bag. It’s huge – almost as big as I am, but it can fit the base and the car seat (or the base and a whole trash bag full of Christmas presents you don’t have space for in your real luggage).

I found it easiest to put an extra car seat and car seat base in the car seat bag, then putting my little one in the stroller (without the click-in car seat) at the airport. My little one was sliding around the stroller like a half-sandwich in a gallon size bag, but it was more convenient than having to deal with both the stroller and car seat through security and while boarding. Since it was just me and the little one, I was able to pick him up out of the stroller and fold it with one hand right before boarding.

It was a lot easier getting on and off the rental car shuttle with the car seat still in its bag. When I got to the rental car pick-up, it was easy to toss the extra items I’d smuggled in the car seat bag into the trunk and get the car seat all set up while my little one slept in the stroller.

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The Flying Part

My friend told me to give my baby a bottle during takeoff and landing to help them pop their ears. I followed this advice, and my baby slept the whole flight. Thank the Lord. I should also acknowledge here that I am blessed with a baby who is not very fussy. He usually only cries when he’s hungry or wants to be held. Both are resolvable mid-flight.

It seems there’s a window where its easier to fly with children. If they’re too little, their immune system might not be ready for all the germs. If they’re old enough to crawl, they’re probably old enough to let you know they’re bored or want to be liberated from your clutches so they can move around. I’d love to hear other parents’ thoughts on this since I don’t have enough data points to make any real conclusions.

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Leaving the Airport

Pump and/or feed. Don’t make the mistake I did the first time, “Oh, he just ate 90 minutes ago so I’m sure he’ll be fine til I get to my hotel.” Wrong. That was the first time I had to cut through 4 lanes of So Cal freeway traffic with a crying baby. Not fun.

The first time I traveled with my son, I got my luggage and headed straight for the rental cars. Now I know it’s worth it to take 10-15 minutes before leaving the airport to pump. I am exclusively pumping, which means I feed my kid breastmilk but only after it’s been pumped out of me and poured into a bottle. This works better for me than traditional breastfeeding but, like other breastfeeding mothers, I get that uncomfortable tightening pain in the chest if it’s been too many hours between pumping sessions.

Ever take a long car ride and find yourself struggling through the last few miles with a bladder that’s about to burst? Since you’re so close to your destination, you focus your mental energy on making it just a bit longer. Yeah, that’s how breastfeeding moms feel when we’ve gone too long without a feeding or pumping session. It sucks (and leaks, and hurts).

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What travel advice would you give to new parents?

 

 

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