How To Make Flying With Your Baby Less Stressful For Everyone

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At Westchester Health Pediatrics, we’re not sure which is more stressful: being seated next to a screaming baby on an airplane or being that baby’s parent. Probably both. And yet, contrary to popular belief, many babies actually travel well in flight. It’s usually the crawlers and toddlers who get antsy and upset when confined and express themselves by screaming. To help everyone (of any age) have a more pleasant flight, we offer these pieces of advice to keep in mind next time you take to the skies with a baby.

How to try to keep your baby from crying

Maryann Buetti Sgouros 3R WEB72

Maryann Buetti-Sgouros , MD, FAAP

Babies of all ages cry for various reasons, so within the space constraints of an airplane, you’ll need to be resourceful when trying to calm your crying infant. Remember, keeping your own cool goes a long way when you’re trying to soothe your baby while remaining seated.

First, is your baby hungry, wet or dirty, cold or hot, or bored? If it’s bright outside, try closing the window shade. If your baby seems to want a view, direct his/her attention outside of the window or in the pages of the airline’s magazine.

If all else fails and your little one wails incessantly no matter what you do, try not to let other passengers’ dirty looks bother you. Most people will actually sympathize with you because they’ve been in your shoes. After all, everyone was a baby once, many have had to try to quiet one in a public place at some time or another, and most importantly, you’re most probably never going to see these people ever again.

When painful ears are the problem

Even though we’re pediatricians, the thought of a baby screaming throughout a flight because of ear pain is one of the most dreaded aspects of air travel. And of course, it’s all the more unnerving when that baby happens to be your own.

Anyone who’s flown before knows that ears can be very sensitive to changes in pressure. This is because the outer ear is separated from the middle ear by a thin membrane called the tympanic membrane, or ear drum. Experiencing a difference in pressure across this membrane causes a sensation that as many as 1 in 3 passengers (children more so than adults) experience as temporary muffled hearing, temporary discomfort, or even pain. Unfortunately, having a stuffy nose or a head cold increases a child’s chances of ear problems.

For an adult, chewing gum or yawning is often all that is needed for the middle-ear pressure to return to normal and make plugged-up ears “pop.” For babies, neither of these remedies is an option — they’re too young for gum and we have yet to meet an infant who can yawn on command.

If your baby has a cold or ear infection and absolutely needs to fly, consider giving him/her an infant pain reliever. (Decongestants are not recommended for infants.) If your baby is exhibiting significant ear discomfort from the cold and/or ear infection, it may simply be best, if possible, to postpone the flight. If your travel plans are not flexible, be aware that you may very well be dealing with ear pain and be prepared.

Try to muffle loud engine noises

Airplane cabin noise levels can range anywhere from 60-100 decibels, and tend to be louder during takeoff. Using cotton balls or small earplugs may help decrease the decibel level your baby is exposed to, and as a result, may make it easier for him/her to relax and sleep.

Sucking works wonders to keep your baby quiet

As many a parent knows, a tried and true deterrent to crying on an airplane is sucking. Try to get your baby to take a bottle, breast or pacifier during the times when the pressure changes in the cabin are likely to be greatest, namely, during takeoff and initial descent (not landing). The pressure change is typically most noticeable as much as a half hour or more before landing, depending on a flight’s cruising altitude. The higher up you are, the earlier in the flight the descent usually starts.

If you don’t tend to notice your own ears popping and the captain doesn’t announce the initial descent, you can always ask a flight attendant to let you know when would be a good time to try to get the sucking started. If sucking doesn’t keep your baby quiet, or if he/she won’t take the bottle/breast/pacifier, try rubbing the ears, rocking and singing a soothing song.

If none of these methods work to calm your baby, other than reaching solid ground (and normal air pressure), know that you’ve done everything you can. Fortunately (for you and your fellow passengers), most babies who have difficulty with ear pain on airplanes tend to outgrow it.

Anxious about flying with your baby? Come see us, we can help.

If you’re planning a trip with your baby that involves flying, please make an appointment with Westchester Health Pediatrics. One of our pediatricians will answer all your questions and offer guidance and advice for preventing crying while in the air, as well as ways to deal with it if it does happen, in spite of all your efforts. Whenever, wherever you need us, we’re here for you.

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By Maryann Buetti-Sgouros, MD, FAAP, a Westchester Health Pediatrics pediatrician, mother of three and avid musician on many days.

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About the Author: ML Ball