Should I Fly With My Baby This Summer?
Doc Smitty answers 4 common questions from families
"Should I take my baby on an airplane?"
This question comes up fairly often in my clinic, but with Summer travel many parents are thinking about traveling with their babies.
Here are the top concerns that parents have about flying with a baby:
1. Infection - Will your baby be at risk for getting sick because of the circulated air on an airplane? The short answer is, probably not. The uncertainty of who your neighbor is and what they might be carrying is potentially more scary that someone in the back of the plane with a contagious illness. I usually get more concerned about your baby catching something from the destination. When you travel to visit family or go to a wedding, sometimes people get so wrapped up in their desire to hold the baby that they forget that lingering nasty cough they have had.
2. Injury - Is it safe to travel on a plane with a baby? Because air travel is relatively safe, the risk of injury on an airplane is low; especially if you compare it to travel by motor vehicle. However, there are particular safety concerns you should be aware of. Most airlines do not require a ticket and separate seat for children under 2 years of age; however, many organizations have lobbied for a requirement that every child be required to have their own seat and be properly restrained. Some car seats can be placed and buckled into airplane seat but you should check your manufacturer and model. Another tip is to be sure that, no matter what, you make sure that safe car seat arrangements are available at your destination.
3. Oxygen - Can babies handle the climb to altitude without dropping their oxygen saturation? This question has been studied and the evidence suggests that babies born term can easily fly without oxygen issues even in the first week of life. Preterm infants could safely fly once they reach 39 weeks corrected gestational age (about 1 week from their due date). Infants with lung disease because of prematurity should be evaluated prior to flight.
4. Sanity - Safety of flying with an infant not withstanding, can you fly with a baby and maintain any semblance of sanity? Some might think you are crazy but clearly it depends on the reason for travel. If you have a big enough reason, you can survive anything. For younger babies, I recommend trying to save a feed for time on the flight. Nursing or drinking from a bottle is a great way to comfort a baby when they get fussy in flight. Spend times times as long packing your bag as you think reasonable possible. Especially if it’s your first flight with your baby, you never know what emergencies pop up and having those supplies below your seat is way better than having them in the overhead bend (not to mention packed away). If possible, take a second helper with you. This might not always be possible but it sure is nice to have someone to hand the baby to if you need to make a trip back to the bathroom or just for extra hand to accomplish those “simple” tasks that take on a life of their own at 30,000 feet.
These are the main issues you should consider when you are thinking about flying with a baby. I do believe that you can fly safely with a baby but I also think you should really consider if the trip is worth the stress and hassle.
Before you hop on a flight, talk to your children about what to expect on the airplaine. Even for children as young as 2 or 3, explaining that their ears may feel funny can prevent a meltdown durnig the flight. Let them know they need to tell you if they start to hurt or feel bad, and that you can give them water, gum, candy or something else to make them feel better.
Natalie Roberge, M.D., an otolaryngologist at Cook Chilren's offers these tips to help your child stay as pain free as possible while flying:
1. Fly well. If possible, avoid flying while children are sick or congested - nasal drainage can block eustachian tubes and make it more difficult for the ear to pop correctly.
2. Get gummy. "If your children are old enough, give them gum to chew or hard candy to suck on," Dr. Roberge said. "'This will help them swallow more and keep ear pressure from building up."
3. Bring a bottle. For infants having a bottle to drink can make a huge difference.
4. Just relax. "Ear pressure on a plane is a minor problem that won't cause any permanent damage," Dr. Roberge said. "Sometimes getting worried about it can make the problem worse."
It can be tempting to turn on the tablet and let it entertain the kids while you travel. But just like at home, screen time needs to be approached with balance.
“While it’s all right to let children watch some kid-safe programming while you travel, it shouldn’t be the only thing they do,” said Justin Smith, M.D., pediatrician and medical advisor for Digital Health at Cook Children’s. “Screen time limits still apply, so be prepared to offer some alternatives, such as a family game."
About the author
Justin Smith is a pediatrician and the Medical Advisor for Digital Health for Cook Children's in Fort Worth, Texas. He has an active community on both Facebook and Twitter as @TheDocSmitty and writes weekly for Cook Children's checkupnewsroom.com. His interest in communications started when he realized that his parents were relying more on the internet for medical information. He believes that strategic use of social media and technology by pediatricians to connect with families can deepen their relationship and provide a new level of convenience for both of their busy lifestyles. Dr. Smith’s innovative pediatric clinic, a pediatric clinic “designed by you,” is set to open in Trophy Club in 2017.