Raising a worldly baby: Start with the first flight

In their hearts, all parents want for their baby to experience the world around them—interacting with other children, meeting the grandparents and cousins, exploring new environments. It starts with those first tentative trips around the block, or a walk to a nearby park. But eventually you’ll want to help your baby to explore beyond the confines of your own neighborhood—even beyond your own city or state--and often that means flying.

Don’t panic yet.

The first time you fly with your baby, like many parents, you may fear that you’ll morph into “that family” – the one with the hysterical kid who disturbs everyone on the plane only to finally fall asleep as the plane is touching down at your destination. The great news is that that’s not likely to happen. Plenty of babies are soothed by the hum of the engine and the movement of the plane.

On top of that, there are some measures you can take to keep things happy in row 22. For example, try to coordinate naptime with flying time. And during takeoff and landing, try encouraging baby to suck on a bottle. Swallowing will help adjust his ears to pressure changes in the cabin and minimize the chance of a meltdown.

Here are a few other suggestions to help make the first flight as smooth as possible in all senses of the word.

-You can gate check your stroller so that you have it with you right until you step on board, then grab it at the door when you arrive.

-An infant seat will not only give you a much needed break on board, it puts baby in a familiar, comfortable seat and helps you keep him safe to and from the airport. (Just make sure you check the seat’s manual to make sure it will fit in those airplane seats.) You can reserve an extra seat for the baby at up to 50% off the full fare, or ask the airline to take mercy on you; generally they’ll block an extra seat for you as a courtesy if the plane isn’t full.

-Dress the baby in comfortable layers to account for the temperature changes in the cabin, and bring your own baby blanket, since you never know exactly when the airplane blankets were washed last.

-Keep a carry-on or large diaper bag under your seat for all the ointments, lotions and essentials you usually carry, plus your own baby food and feeding spoon, formula or milk, lots of diapers and wipes, and a portable placemat or burp cloth to set down over the tray table to keep everything clean.

-Speaking of clean, you can never have too much hand sanitizer with you.

-Don’t forget to bring two changes of clothes for the baby. Unfortunately, in the case of diaper explosions, history often repeats itself.

-Pack some new toys that the baby isn’t familiar with, along with some old toys that are sure-fire attention keepers and soothers. If you’ve got an older baby or toddler, tote some travel side games, coloring materials and board books—but you know your baby best.

-Most importantly, if you want your baby to relax and enjoy the flight, you should do your best to do the same. The baby will pick up on your own emotional cues, essentially taking your lead. Happy mommy = happy baby, as the equation often goes.

Worst case scenario? Your baby cries for a few hours and you have a story to tell on landing. It wouldn’t be the first time it’s happened on a plane and it most certainly won’t be the last. Just do your best to smile through it, and if you need to, offer to buy all the passengers around you a drink. Eventually you’ll be on the road to making a million memories with your growing new family, exploring even your own world through brand new eyes.

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