Reviewed by the BabyCenter Medical Advisory Board
Last updated: June 2008
You’ll probably want to stick pretty close to home in the first few months after your baby’s born. A new baby requires almost nonstop attention, feedings, and diaper changes, and the risk of catching something while traveling is too great. Besides, you’ll probably be exhausted.
But by age 3 months or so, babies are pretty good candidates for travel, as long as the trip’s fairly mellow. Infants aren’t as fragile as parents sometimes fear. And your baby’s less likely to view travel as a disruption now than later on. He also can’t run around yet and get into trouble. So enjoy this time: Once he starts scampering about, travel becomes a far greater challenge.
Health and safety
• Prepare a first-aid kit so you’ll have the supplies you need for dealing with minor medical problems while traveling with your baby. Be sure to take along any prescription medications that your baby requires, even if only on occasion. (It’s always when you leave the inhaler at home that your little one has an asthma attack at Grandma’s.)
• Fill out an emergency sheet containing contact names and numbers and your child’s health information, including the names of any medications he takes, so it’s handy if needed.
• Take a hat for your baby to shade him from the sun in warm weather or keep his head bundled in cool weather. Sunscreen is a must, too, if you’ll be spending time outdoors — no matter what season. Use sunscreen of at least SPF 15, with both UVA and UVB protection. Apply in small amounts to the face and back of hands in babies under 6 months, or more liberally wherever skin is exposed in older babies.
• In the car, your baby should always ride in the back seat, in a rear-facing car seat — never in a front seat with (or without) a passenger air bag. Before you leave, make sure the car seat is properly installed and that the seat’s belts are correctly threaded. Make sure the harness fits your baby snugly and securely.
• Get removable shade screens for the car’s side windows — available at baby supply and discount stores — to shield your baby’s eyes from the sun and keep him from getting too hot. Peel-and-stick shades are more secure, and therefore safer, than those that attach with suction cups.
• Keep your baby as safe as possible when you take public transit (like a bus, train, or taxi) by bringing along a car seat. The car seat will provide some protection even when there are no seat belts to strap it in.
• If you’ve purchased an airplane seat for your baby, bring an FAA-approved car seat for your child to sit in (this is the safest way for babies to fly). If you haven’t bought a ticket for your baby, you’ll be able to use the car seat only if there are empty seats on board. (For more about flying with a young child, see our list of questions to ask your airline ahead of time.)
• If your baby seems to be experiencing ear pain from air pressure changes during takeoff and landing, encourage him to breastfeed or suck on a bottle, pacifier, or sippy cup. If your baby’s strapped into a car seat, it’s better to have him suck on something from there than to breastfeed, since it’s safest for both of you to be properly restrained. Keep in mind that not all babies need rescuing from ear pain — there are no firm medical guidelines on the topic, so just use your judgment. If your baby’s sleeping soundly, leave him be and he might get through the takeoff or landing without any trouble. (He’ll wake up and show his discomfort if he’s bothered.)
• If you’re crossing time zones and are worried about upsetting your baby’s schedule, take steps to fight jet lag like shifting your baby’s sleep hours for the few days leading up to your departure and exposing him to sunlight once you reach your destination. Try to avoid overscheduling the first few days of your trip, since you can’t predict how disrupted your baby’s rhythms might be.
Food and comfort
• If you’re breastfeeding, pack a water bottle or thermos filled with extra liquids to help you stay well hydrated.
• If you’re not breastfeeding, ready-to-use formula is the most convenient thing to bring for your baby. Or just make a few bottles of formula at home to bring along.
• If your baby has started on solids, bring only as much baby food as you’ll need for the journey. You can always buy more once you reach your destination. (Exception: If you’re traveling internationally or to a place where it might be tough to find what you need, it may be less of a headache to pack a full supply of food.)
• Also helpful if your baby is eating solids: A bib that’s large enough to cover most of his outfit, has a plastic or waterproof coating that allows it to be easily wiped off and reused, and can be folded or rolled for easy packing.
• Bring enough diapers for the trip (or enough to last until you reach your destination and can buy more), bags for dirty diapers, and diaper-rash lotion. Diaper covers provide added insurance against leaks.
• Pack at least one extra set of clothes for yourself and your baby that’s easily accessible (for instance, in your carry-on bag). You never know when a diaper leak, spit-up, or other mess might render an outfit unwearable.
• Travel with a blanket so that when you’re stopped in a park, a motel, or an airport, you can offer your baby a nice spot in which to lie down, crawl, roll, or otherwise stretch his little limbs.
• Bring along a goody bag containing a few of your baby’s favorite toys, plus some surprises. Possibilities include nesting toys, baby-proof mirrors, rattles, musical toys, soft animals, pop-up toys, plastic keys, and teething rings. Limit the number to a handful to make packing easier.
• Stick a travel-friendly changing pad in your diaper bag for use in public or airplane bathrooms.
• Stash some large, resealable plastic bags in your car trunk or diaper bag. They’re a simple solution for the temporary storage of messy items like dirty diapers, clothes, and bibs.
• If you need both a car seat and stroller for your trip and your baby is still small enough for an infant car seat (around 20 or 22 pounds maximum, depending on the seat), a stroller or stroller frame that will carry the car seat cuts down on the gear you have to lug, as well as the hassle of getting in and out of cars and airplanes. It also allows you to move your sleeping babe from the car to the restaurant without disturbing his slumber.
• A lightweight stroller (sometimes called an umbrella stroller) makes sense for babies who can sit up. It isn’t as cushy as a larger stroller, but is tops for travel because it can be carried easily and folded compactly — and even stowed in a plane’s overhead bin, if permitted by your airline.
• To keep your hands free, front-carriers or slings are great for carting around younger, lighter babies, while baby backpacks do the trick for heavier kids who can sit up.
• If you’ll be staying in a hotel or motel, request a crib when you make your room reservation or you may be out of luck when you arrive. Another option: Bring your own portacrib, play yard, or portable bed.
• A portable play yard makes an instant, child-safe area that you can plunk down in relatives’ homes, hotels, or other places that may not be childproofed.