Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Flying with OUR baby...

The past few weeks have been an adventure to say the least.  We made Eleanora's first big trip across the water to visit Chris' family.  Before doing so, I spent weeks preparing: buying, packing, giving little E several quiet days at home to build trust and security before a whole lot of new surroundings and people...

I also did a significant amount of reading on what to do with infants on airplanes...And by 'what to do' I really mean 'how to survive long-haul flights.'  Seriously, I thought I was supermum when we set out of the house heading for our flight.  I had two new toys, teethers, multiple changes of clothes, nappies(diapers) 'a dozen (well, 10) and all ointments, creams and hand sanitisers neatly and beautifully packed in my liquid bag WHICH was at the top of my hand luggage ready to whip out at security, thank you very much.  I had this brilliant full-proof plan and a picture in my head that looked something like this:

Two young, slick parents with a sweet, non-noisy, completely content baby acing security and putting the business travelers to shame with their super-fast strategy for detaching pram, luggage components and walking baby through in under 2 minutes flat.  Then boarding the plane with nap schedule, feeds during take-off and landing and activity time sussed.  Boom. (Sorry my husband is the only one that gets away with saying that...) 

We were going to do it.  I was even excited, yes, really. 

Needless to say practically none of the above happened smoothly. Well, we were pretty good at security lines though I will say this: We did NOT receive any preferential treatments to skip queue's despite all the lovely bloggers who claimed in their 'flying with a baby' posts that we would.Just one of several things that was nice in theory but didn't shake out.  So, I am inspired to write you a (hopefully) short and comprehensive list of things to watch out for traveling with an infant.  It is not meant as a negative slant on this... more a 'realistic' take on the topic... at least according to our baby...

 I expected little E to be overwhelmed and overstimulated.  I did not, however, expect that it would take 6 of the 7 1/2 hours on the international flight to calm her down for a nap... which then only last one sleep cycle of 45 minutes.  Here's why napping in airports and on planes is tough:
      • Lack of Darkness:  Until you are flying with a baby I don't think that you notice that flying above the clouds means there's a LOT of light.  Little E is fairly used to sleeping either in a dark nursery or occasionally on-the-go in her pram or car seat... where movement is the main factor in helping her turn off.   Therefore, this resulted in us having to put her over my shoulder looking at the navy seat cover and Chris creating a blind from blankets to give her a sense of some darkness to 'zone out' for sleep.
      • Crew and Strangers: Really people were generally very nice traveling.  However, there IS an issue of people being too nice when you have a baby you are trying to nap.  If it wasn't another passenger passing us heading to the bathroom, it was a crew member bending over towards little E and saying, "Ooooo, awww, such a cutie!" - that's lovely and all, expect she was just closing her eyes and now we are back to square one! (I honestly almost said that a few times but bit my tongue...)
      • Transitions in Travel: This is the sweet reality that just when little E was about to, or had just gone to sleep, we were on the move again: either on or off a plane, through another security line or walking through the terminal.  Again, not helpful for keeping to any kind of stable sleeping plan.What was helpful though was to carry her in my wrap and just wheel the pram around so at least we weren't buckling her in and out of that for security etc.  You can 'wear' your baby through security, they just take a swab of your hands and do a quick drug test in the machine - take 30 sec max.
To make a loooong story short, we were delayed essentially 24hrs on the way out and again 24 hrs on the way home.  And by delayed I mean we had 3 different 'technical' problems with planes, weather issues... the lot.  All whilst mid-travel, therefore we spent endless hours in airports, planes on the tarmac and had two extra hotel stays we weren't anticipating.  So, the theory that you pack extra stuff for the event of emergency travel was fine... until we were delayed THAT much.  So, here's the play by play of getting through that with the specifics about running out of diapers:

Scenario 1: One day two of travel when you haven't had access to any more diapers and your child then explodes mid-air into their last spare change of clothes and spare blanket.... seek another mum.  Yep - that happened.  In fact, first let yourself cry about it because no-one expects you to be that together and prepared when you've had about 2 hours sleep and your baby hasn't fed well or slept well in over 24 hours... just cry.  It's ok.  Then find another mum.... it doesn't matter what diaper size they have, it will do.  Anything clean and dry will... and people are very sympathetic, not judgmental as I was worried about. Accidents happen (literally) and you can't be prepared for absolutely everything so stick to the unwritten mum code: other mum's get it.  Bad things happen and it's not always our fault and babies needs are needs that we should try and cater for.  They'll give you a diaper.  I promise.

Scenario 2: Actually, you'd think we learned from our travel on the way over to avoid there being a 'scenario two' but with another 24hr delay and no access to bags or shops here's what to do:  Run out of diapers?  Ask for the customer service desk at baggage reclaim.  They have 'overnight bags' for emergencies - deoderant, laundry detergent, shampoo etc etc... AND, they stock diapers in several sizes for this exact eventuality.  United airlines helped us with that in Chicago.  What. a. relief. 


Fir those of you feeding, yes - go by the 'feed during take-off/landing' advice - it helps babies cope with the pressure in their ears and comforts them during loud new noisy experiences.  However, here's another few pointers:
  • Make sure you eat and seek the snacks you need: We were so delayed and messed around that our meal schedule was random to non-existent.  What I learned pretty quickly though was that this, combined with the following point, certainly changed if not decreased my milk for a day or two.  I wasn't eating nearly as much as a normally would at home and got so concerned with little E's feeds that I forgot to eat enough.  So I was exhausted that did not help...
  • Stress: I tried really hard not to get stressed because I knew it would affect Eleanora and my milk... but I did given all that happened and yes, I cried in JFK in front of hundreds of 'delayed people' smashed into the waiting areas, trying to feed knowing not much was happening and Eleanora was beyond frustrated.  If you are lucky to be traveling with another person ask them to encourage you.  Chris was wonderful in that moment and helped us find a quieter spot to settle Eleanora and I so we could feed in peace.
  • Scrap the covers and just feed: If anything cures you of a fear to feed in public it is travel in airports and on planes. A) because it just becomes too much of a hassle, B) you will be in pretty tight spots trying to feed (plane seats are so narrow) and so it's tough adding another element into the 'breastnastics' mix and C) when will you ever see these people again??  Let your baby feed discretely but seeing you, because there's enough other stuff going on that this will comfort them more than 'going under' the cover to feed again.  Just my thoughts really and a somewhat separate journey I've been making which happened to crash straight into this scenario and resolve itself.  I'm not really saynig 'scrap the cover' if you still like it - it's more a note to myself.... 

 This seems obvious and yes, every other blog post includes this but I wanted to stress that by 'layers' I really mean that you need to almost strip down baby when heat becomes ridiculous and wrap them into winter bunnies when it's so cold mid-air.  I had plenty of clothing options but I'd recommend really thinking through extra vests both long-sleeved and sleeveless, as well as cardigans, onesies etc. 


My favourite find of the trip and pardon me if this is a big deal in America that we just don't have here....Seriously... changing area on an actual counter not a fold-down... chairs, large bathroom area and two sinks in most.  Particularly helpful for 'Scenario 1' described earlier.  When little E exploded (and I'm really not being melodramatic) mid-air, we exited the plane and immediately found a family bathroom, stripped her and bathes her in the sink. Had plenty of room to change, feed and generally sort ourselves out without anyone else coming in... and Daddy could help.... none of this whole the changing area is only in the ladies' bathroom nonsense ;-)  We entered that room and it was perfect peace, all things considered, for 10 minutes.

So, there you have it.  Reflections, advice if you want it and a real-life look at flying with a baby.... at least flying with our baby!

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