Thursday, August 23, 2012

First-Time Air Travel with Baby

I knew the day would come that we needed to travel with Lil’ O, but was still dreading it. Husby and I saw some brave parents traveling with their babes over the Christmas holiday when I was still pregnant – some were newborns, still fresh, cuddly and warm, others were toddlers and on the move. We knew as we watched those parents that our days of speedy travel were coming to a close and our next flight would be with our new babe in our arms.

At the end of July, the day immediately following my birthday, it was time. The annual summer trek to Minnesota is near and dear to both me and my husband, but especially to Husby, and was especially important this year since we missed participating in this week of family bonding last year. Plus, the added element of Lil’ O finally meeting some his family, including his adorable cousins, upped the ante. We had to be there. Nevermind that air travel from San Diego to the Twin Cities was daunting or that we’d need to drive another four hours to get to the lake home. The fated day of traveling with baby had come.

Now, this is one of those examples where a lot about my husband helps balance me. Before dating then marrying Husby I was super Type A and intense about everything I was involved with – not necessarily a bad thing, but not very balanced. If summer travel had been left to me, we probably wouldn’t have gone. Not because I didn’t want to be at the lake or see family, but simply because the thought of all that travel with a five-month-old baby was (and remains) scary. We did it though and have survived to tell the tale!

Despite our thorough planning, there were of course some bumps in our travels, and not just from turbulence. There were also some challenges once we were at the lake home and spending a week outside of the comfort zone we’ve created for ourselves with Lil’ O. Thankfully, much of the baby paraphernalia that help us care for Lil’ O was already at the house thanks to my wonderful MIL and amazing SIL. Here is a rundown of our top challenges and successes from our week of travel and how we managed to cope and adjust. I hope they’re helpful to others prepping to travel with baby.

Challenge: Travel with baby means travel with car seat and stroller.
Solution: I desperately wanted to leave behind these key baby items, but all the blogs and forums I read said to absolutely bring our own. Thank you collective parenting wisdom of the internet! Evidently renting a car seat with our car rental could pose numerous issues, including our lack of familiarity knowing how to install the seat, a possibly dirty and germy seat, and introducing yet one more foreign element to Lil’ O when he’s already out of his comfort zone doing something all new. So, we brought our own and besides having a bit more to carry it worked out really well! We flew through security, even with the extra items. We bought a cover for the car seat base and seat in advance and once at the gate Husby got gate check tags for those bagged-together car seat items and our stroller frame. We dropped those off as we boarded and picked them up once we landed. Easy peasy! And, since it was our own well-loved seat, base and stroller combo, we knew exactly how to use it all and quickly install it into the rental car. Score! Love when early preparation and research pays off.

Challenge: Take-off and landing on a plane is hard on baby ears.
Solution: I’d also read up on this one before we left, so we were armed with bottles and/or pacifiers at the ready for the ascent and descent both ways. Happily, we learned that the change in pressure doesn’t bother Lil’ O too much—he was too focused on his bottle.

Challenge: Lil’ O is used to sleeping in his crib and in the dark, not in my arms on an airplane with people waving at him.
Solution 1: This was the moment that we’d been dreading and it didn’t disappoint. Once Lil’ O got tired on the plane, he gave us all his normal “I’m tired” cues, but we couldn’t put him in his crib or a Pack and Play. All we had were our arms in which to hold him. As his cries got louder and I got the distinct deer-in-headlights look, my husband wisely discerned that desperate times call for desperate measures and whipped out a bottle. I was reluctant but didn’t have any better ideas, so I dutifully fed Lil’ O a small bottle that he didn’t need. Thankfully, that little bit of food calmed him (yes!) and got him so milk drunk that he started to doze (hallelujah!). Once he finished the bottle, I quickly inserted a pacifier and in his sleepy stupor Lil’ O didn’t notice the difference. He then proceeded to suck and soothe himself to sleep while laying peacefully in my arms. He stayed that way the whole flight there.
Solution 2: We tried the same thing on the return flight, which was an evening flight and we thought would work well since Lil’ O would think it was time for bed. Wrong. Though he was tired, he again didn’t understand why we wouldn’t just put him in his crib. We tried the bottle trick that worked so well on our first flight, but there was no repeat performance, just frustration from Lil’ O. Since he was at least tired, he was mostly calm in my arms and found my voice soothing. I then proceed to calmingly say “Boom, boom, boom, who is a wonder / Boom, boom, boom, you are a wonder” over and over for the next thirty minutes. I tried changing it up, but he liked the boom, boom, boom sequence better than anything else I tried, so I stuck with it. Soothing mommy voice and strategic use of the pacifier ultimately worked. I then used all of my yoga skills to cross my legs such that my lap was as big and flat as possible and he splayed out across me and slept for the remainder of the flight. Phew.

Challenge: High heat and humidity, both new for our SoCal baby, caused Lil’ O to be irritable.
Solution: Poor guy was so hot! The lake home has no AC and temperatures reached into the 90s with some strong humidity. We were hot too, but this was Lil’ O’s first real encounter with heat and humidity. He didn’t like it, especially when trying to nap. So, solution time! The basement was the coolest part of the home, so my SIL and BIL graciously let Lil’ O sleep in their quarters for his evening nap. Thankfully that didn’t interfere with our nephew’s napping and it helped Lil’ O tremendously. We spread out a blanket on the floor, moved the monitor downstairs and left him to it. He fell asleep quickly and without complaint. Yay! Fun surprise, though, is that we found without the constraint of crib walls our little guy rolled over and woke up on his tummy twice. Rolling, here we come! Other than napping, we simply tried to spend as much time as possible with Lil’ O in the cooler basement or out near the water when there was a strong breeze. Thankfully the heat broke after a couple days with a loud thunder storm in the middle of our fourth night.

Challenge: Once the heat broke, Lil’ O was still fussy.
Solution: Sigh. Well, at least now we knew his fuss wasn’t just the heat. Seems little man is teething something fierce. We came prepared with kiddo Tylenol and were forced to use it (though sparingly) for a couple days while at the lake home. It thankfully did the trick.

All in all it was certainly more stressful than previous vacations, but not too bad. Lil’ O got to meet more of his family, Husby and I got a little time to rest and relax (see previous post for those glorious moments of peace and fun), and we have now entered the corps of parents who travel with kids. Hopefully our next travel trek, which will be for Thanksgiving and amid masses of other traveling families, will go even more smoothly. Here’s hoping and praying.

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