Nickita Huidrom from Manipur, a homemaker and a mother of a two-year-old baby, Leishna, recollects being nervous flying with her baby for the first time. Air travel with an infant can be a daunting prospect for many parents. Careful planning is key before traveling with a baby in flight.
“It was right after the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and my baby was only 3 months old when she made her airplane debut,” says Nickita.
The duo was flying from Thiruvananthapuram – where Leishna was born, to their home in Guwahati. “I was very reluctant about the idea of flying with my baby at first but was left with no choice,” says Nickita.
When is air travel ideal for an infant?
“Ideally a baby should be at least six months old. It is usually not advisable to fly with a baby below 3 months,” says Dr Parimala V Thirumalesh, senior consultant, neonatology and pediatrics, Aster CMI Hospital, Bangalore.
According to Dr Parimala, babies are vulnerable to the pressure differences in the airplane cabin during take-off and landing. This can cause ear pain, ear inflammation and ruptured eardrums. As they grow older than 6 months, the eardrum is thicker, thus reducing the risk.
The 3-6 months limit applies to full-term babies and shouldn’t be used as a parameter for a preterm baby. “When a baby is born preterm, the number of weeks or months they were born early should be deducted from their chronological age,” says Dr Sumit Gupta, consultant pediatrician, Manipal Hospital, Ghaziabad.
Beware of infections while flying with a baby!
Airplanes and airports can be breeding grounds for infections. “My biggest fear was that my baby or I would contract the coronavirus,” says Nickita.
Dr Gupta says that a baby’s immunity is still developing, making them prone to infections during air travel.
When is a baby not fit to fly?
According to Dr Asmita Mahajan, Consultant neonatologist and pediatrician, SL Raheja Hospital, Mahim- A Fortis Associate, Mumbai, babies with heart or lung conditions are usually advised not to travel by air.
“The baby should not have undergone ear surgery or have had any ear infections in the past two weeks. They should consult a doctor and procure a certificate that deems them fit for flying,” says Dr Mahajan.
Tips for air travel with an infant
Nickita made extensive preparations before her air travel – reading blogs, watching videos and gearing up for any mid-air mishaps. She also sought advice from a pediatrician.
Sharing some of her travel hacks she says, “I had put all the essentials like diapers, diaper changing pads, swaddle cloth, bib, wipes, mittens and extra clothing in my carryon bag which helped in avoiding any hassles while flying.”
Adding further Nickita says, “I also chose clothing that would enable me to breastfeed the baby comfortably.” She also used a sling – baby carrier, which eased her travel, especially while getting off flights of stairs.
Dr Parimala suggests breastfeeding, bottle-feeding, or giving a pacifier to the baby during take-off and landing. “Sucking and swallowing helps in easing the ear pain and discomfort.”
Seating a baby in flight
Dr Mahajan says that a seat harness can be used to secure the baby’s seat. The harness is usually attached to the parent or caretaker, in a manner that the person can wear their seat belts while seating the baby on their lap. Some car seat harnesses are also compatible with airplane seats.
How to evade infections?
According to Dr Gupta, the baby should be layered up with warm clothes, covering their head, and ears, due to the cold temperatures in the airports and flights, and also to evade infections during air travel.
Ensure that they wear full sleeves and full pants. The clothes should also enable easy diaper changes.
Dr Mahajan advises sanitizing surfaces, ensuring hand hygiene and choosing the right seat is also important.
“Avoid choosing the middle seat, as this may expose the baby to other passengers. A middle seat may also be inconvenient for catering to the baby’s needs.” It is best to avoid traveling during rush hours, she adds.
She also recommends carrying medications like paracetamol and saline drops, as prescribed by a pediatrician.
- Flying with a baby is advisable only after 3 months of birth
- The baby is not fit to fly if they have heart or lung conditions, or active infections.
- Parents should avoid the middle seat during air travel with an infant. Seat harnesses can also be used.
- Feed the baby during take-off and landing to reduce ear discomfort.