Babies: Is it safe to travel by plane with a newborn?

How soon it is safe to travel by plane with a newborn? We always spend the holidays with our family, across the country. Which precautions do we need to take to make the flight comfortable and safe?


Robert Steele

Robert W. Steele, MD, is a board certified pediatrician at St. John's Regional Health Center in Springfield, MO. He graduated from medical... Read more

Most parents who travel by plane with their newborns mention the preparation for the trip is often more difficult than the flight itself. This is primarily due to the large amount of time a newborn sleeps for the first couple of weeks of life.

Really, for newborns, a full tummy, a clean diaper, and a comfortable place to sleep goes a long way. It becomes even easier if the baby is breastfed because no additional preparation of formula is required. However, there are certainly some suggestions and safety tips that can hopefully make plane travel as stress-free as possible:

Consider using a child restraint seat

Although it is legal to carry an infant on your lap, the FAA strongly recommends that all children who fly, regardless of their age, be protected by an approved child restraint system that is appropriate to the child's size and weight. The only problem with this recommendation is that you have to then buy an extra ticket and deal with having to carry the seat on and off the plane. The expense alone can make the trip cost prohibitive, so the decision to use an approved child restraint seat needs to be made by the parent on a case by case basis. Car seats which may double as child restraint seats on airplanes are labeled as such. Therefore, before you haul your car seat on the plane, check with the airline and the label on your car seat to see if it is compatible.

Try to avoid busy flights

When taking a flight that has a lot of empty seats, the airline will often allow you to move to a place that has a seat for you as well as an empty seat for you to strap in your child's restraint seat. This will allow you to have your hands free as well as keep your child as safe as possible all at no extra charge.

Knowledge is power

Pay attention to the standard preflight emergency briefing. Although this may seem obvious, it is easy to skip over these instructions while you are trying to get you and your baby situated in the seat. However, what they tell you could save you and your baby's life. So, listen carefully and make mental note of where the nearest exit is.

It helps if the flight attendants are prepared as well

If your child has a medical condition that may become an issue during the flight, make the flight attendant aware of that possibility before the flight.

If you can, fly non-stop

Significant turbulence and accidents most often occur during take-off and landing. Reducing the number of times this occurs will decrease the chances of an untoward event happening to your infant.

Try to keep the overhead storage bin free of heavy objects

While this may not be an option on flights that are completely booked, keeping heavy pieces of luggage from being above your baby is helpful. During times of turbulence, these heavier objects may not stay in the compartment and hit adjacent passengers.

Keep Your Seat Belt On

Turbulence often occurs without warning. If you are holding your baby when this occurs and your seat belt is not on, it could cause you to drop him.

If emergency oxygen masks come down, put on your mask first

If the parent has a lack of oxygen to the brain, she will not stay conscious long enough to help the infant. Therefore, take care yourself first so that you can then effectively help your child.

Avoid drinking hot tea or coffee

Again, if turbulence occurs, spilling your drink is a distinct possibility. A hot drink could cause a burn on your baby if it happens to land on him.

Carry on enough diapers and clothes for at least two days

As most seasoned travelers will tell you, the airlines occasionally lose your luggage. You don't want to arrive at your destination without clothing and diapers for your baby. Therefore, it is a good idea to have a few days' supplies on hand in case your luggage is misplaced. This will allow time for the airlines to find your luggage without you being inconvenienced further because you have to buy more clothing and supplies for the baby.

Flight attendants are not babysitters

The attendant will be more than happy to help you in getting in and out of the plane as well as answer any questions, but asking them to hold the baby while you do something else keeps them from doing their job. Therefore, be sure and go to the bathroom before getting on the plane. And if it is going to be a long flight, be sure to bring a way to carry the baby with you to the restroom.

Airline flight is safe for a newborn regardless of the age. The main difficulty you will probably experience is balancing the timing of breastfeeding with your connecting flight. I suggest you get a seat in the bulkhead of the plane. This will allow for a little extra room for you to maneuver because there won't be a passenger seat in front of you. It also allows for a little more privacy for breastfeeding.

Good luck to you, and have a safe trip. 

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