Flying Solo with a Baby - How to stay sane when Traveling by Plane with a Little One
Everly and I have just landed after our 7th flight together. I’ve flown solo with her from Pietermaritzburg to Joburg 5 times (we flew together when she was 3 months, 6 months and now at 13 months), and she has also done an international flight to the UK at 7 months old…what a jet-setter! I think she should have her own card to be collecting air miles by now :)
I thought I’d write this post to offer some tips and advice for airplane travel with a little one, while everything is still fresh in my mind. I’m also currently 5 months pregnant, so the flight we have just done was a bit more difficult and took a bit more planning, but was still very manageable by myself. This post is more geared to shorter flights (all of the flights except for the one to UK were between 1 & 2 hours long).
I’ll also be doing a post on flying when pregnant (Farmboy and I went on ‘baby-moon’ to Italy in June last year when I was 6 months pregnant with Everly) and I have a whole load of tips for mommy’s-to-be when it comes to flying when pregnant…so tuned for that post to come soon.
Use a baby carrier.
This has got to be my NUMBER 1 tip for flying with a baby. You are going to need both your hands when traveling for handing over your passports, holding your tickets, unpacking your hand-luggage when being scanned at security etc and the last thing you need to be worrying about is trying to do all of that with one.
We love our Ubuntu Baba carrier, and have used it since Everly was just a week old. Baby carriers are amazing for allowing Mum (or Dad) to get stuff done, they are world renown for their sleep induing properties, and most importantly, they allow baby to feel safe and secure at all times. I would not have been able to get through the plane airport travel without one. The Ubuntu Baba Carrier comes in two sizes (Stage 1 & Stage 2). Stage 1 is a front only carrier (so baby is carried on your front) and their Stage 2 carrier allows for both front and back carry. As I’m now well into my second pregnancy, I can no longer carry Ev on my front, but I have successfully been able to carry her on my back, while still feeling comfortable at 5 months pregnant.
Farmboy really likes the back carry position as he finds front carrying to be very hot and sweaty. I loved carrying Everly on my front when she was little, and now that she’s bigger (and heavier!) the back carry position is much more comfortable for all of us. The above photos will give you a pretty good idea of all the things you can do with your carrier…it’s just the best invention!
Although for bigger toddlers, prams are really great too as most airlines will allow you to wheel baby right to the airplane door, where they will then take the pram from you for the flight and bring it out again once you land.
2. A Backpack nappy/baby bag is life changing
This tip is more of a general mommy tip and something I am SO glad I used right from the very beginning. I just don’t know how moms handle the shoulder stress of carrying a heavy baby bag on one arm. Having a back pack means you once again have your ‘hands-free’ to pick up baby, open doors, carry things…the list of goes on! And if you have your baby on your front in a carrier, this means you can still have your hands free as all the baby paraphernalia goes on your back! It’s heavy, but well balanced (especially when they are small).
I ordered my nappy bag from a UK based company before they became all the rage and now you can buy this exact style through loads of online retailers here in South Africa. Click here to order yours through one of my favourite cloth nappy online stores, Biddykins. You can fit A LOT of things in this backback…here’s some proof:
When packing your nappy bag for a flight, try to be as ruthless as possible. You really don’t want to be fiddling with 10 different dummies and toys while you are desperately looking for the extra sock you thought you packed. Farmboy was so strict with me, and I’m so glad looking back. You also don’t want to be carrying everything and the kitchen sink, not just for the sake of your back (or shoulder if you have a traditional shoulder carry nappy bag) but for the sake of being able to find what you need QUICKLY. The last thing you need is a screaming baby while you wade through all 10 of Ben’s favourite stuffed toys to find his dummy.
What to pack for a short plane ride with your baby (0 - about 6 months):
4 x nappies
2 x dummies (one clipped to baby and the other in an easy to reach pocket in your nappy bag)
1 x favourite toy
1 x receiving blanket (can be used to feed under/change baby in an emergency/mop up any spews/food/milk)
baby meds (Telement, Panado, Bum cream etc)
2 x Spare set of clothes (and socks as it can be colder on the plane)
2 x bibs…one on baby and one spare (if you’re like me and like to use different bibs for eating/drool then you might need more)
3. Baggage tips - Carry only one bag on the plane
Your hands are already full dealing with a little baby/toddler, and so I highly recommend packing just one bag for use on the plane. Most airlines (at least here in South Africa on domestic flights) are very relaxed when it comes to what you can pack for baby, and allow bottles with milk/formula as well as snacks to be brought on board.
Having one bag to deal with when flying makes your life so much easier, and this is also why I can’t recommend a back up nappy bag enough. I’ve even been able to fit all of Everly’s things in there, as well my wallet and phone AND my big and bulky DSLR camera.
The photo above shows my luggage for the first few domestic flights I did with Evs…the backpack was my hand luggage/baby bag for on the plane, and the big hard case was the bag I checked in. I managed to fit all of my clothes and Everly’s as well as her cloth nappies for a weeks stay. What you take with you (ie. pram/camp cot etc) will also depend on where you are going and who you are going to be staying with. I’ve always flown and stayed with family who have had spare camp cots/prams etc or have borrowed from friends for my stay. Most of the time if you bring your cart seat with you, it will be checked in under the plane (make sure to get it wrapped to prevent any damage). Prams are allowed all the way to the airline door, where staff will then pack them up and put it away for you, and bring it out again once you land.
At the time of writing this blog post, here are the checked in baggage allowances for Mango & SAA:
SAA: Infants are permitted 1 piece of checked baggage up to 23kg plus 1 collapsible pram or buggy and car seat, free of charge.
Mango: Infants have a Baggage allowance of 10 kg’s. Parents may bring on board an approved child safety seat, similar to that used in a car, but this seat will form part of your on-board baggage allowance.
4. Breastfeed/Bottle/Dummy on Take off and Landing to prevent sore ears
The first time we flew, I had the Panado at the ready, and even debated whether or not I should dose Everly before we had even boarded the plane. But once I realised the sore ears are caused by the altitude, and that if baby is sucking on something this stops their ears from popping, life gets a lot less stressful. As adults, we are able to pop our ears easily (and you probably even do it unconsciously) but little babies haven’t learned this skill yet and so need a little help.
If you’re breastfeeding your baby, life gets a whole lot easier, as you can simply pop then on the boob for take off and landing. Not only does this help them to ‘pop’ their ears, but it gives them a little extra comfort during what will probably be a bit of a stressful time. You can do the same with a bottle, and a dummy works just as well too. I have only just weaned Everly (I had planned to feed her till she self weaned) but being pregnant put a bit of a spanner in the works for us. On another note, you can definitely breastfeed while pregnant, it all just depends on you and how your body feels. I had no problems with my supply, it was more a case of things being so much more sensitive, and I decided I wanted to have a little break before becoming the resident dairy cow for our family (I made it to just under 13 months).
I breastfed Everly on all the flights up until this last one, when she just had her dummy. She had no problems with her ears.
If you are concerned that your baby’s ears might still be sore at some point, then to ease your mind just keep some Panado handy in your nappy bag.
5. Pack more nappies and spare clothes for the plane than you think you will need
One our first flight together, Everly went through about 4 more nappies than I had planned. I also chose to use disposable nappies for the flight to make my life a little easier, but have since then just carried on using cloth nappies (click here if you’d like to find out more about cloth nappies).
Being a first time mom, first time flying and really having very little idea of what to expect, I wish I had packed at least 2 sets of extra vests and leggings, as the two nappies I had to deal with on the plane wrecked havoc with her clothes! I’ll spare you the details, but let’s just say it wasn’t just her onesie that had lots of suspect green 'stains’ but my clothing too.
Also bare in mind just how teeny tiny the airplane bathroom changing tables are! Here is a photo of Everly at 3 months, only just fitting.
6. Snacks for Older babies
Snacks are a GREAT distraction and source of entertainment for little ones. I only really needed to worry about this on this last flight, as before Everly was small enough to not be needing solids on the plane journey as I was still breastfeeding her. This time around, she was just over a year, and as my child eats me out of house and home, I knew I needed to be REALLY prepared food wise.
What snacks you pack will depend on what your little one eats and what sort of food you feed them. Everly is a Banting baby (no sugar or processed carbs…just real food) so my life is made a little harder when it comes to snacks as she doesn’t get biscuits or crackers etc. I also try not to feed her too many of those pouch meals (you never know exactly what’s in them) but I did have a Woolies pouch packed in there for emergencies. She LOVES those pouches though, and it’s what she ate a lot of when we were un the UK and traveling a lot. So they definitely have their place and are a good distraction for many babies. I have a set of re-useable pouches from PouchLove which are awesome when traveling. I filled one with frozen yoghurt (literally put yoghurt in it and popped it in the freezer over night) and filled the other with a spinach, apple & raisin puree which Everly loves. Handy to give to busy little hands.
The BEST snack (although a little on the messy side) turned out to be rice cakes! Everly pulled each and every grain of rice apart and played with it for a good 15 - 20 minutes. Oh, and also sun-dried tomatoes and drywors/biltong are good, relatively non-messy, sugar free snack ideas too.
If all else fails and your little one does have a melt down, just remember to take a few deep breaths and remind yourself that it will all be over soon.
I’m certain that your baby/toddler one will undoubtedly surprise you, and it all will all be over before you know it. On that note, make sure to snap a few photos to document the trip. This will either make wonderful memories, or remind you never to take them on a plane again ;)