10 Travel Tips for First Year with Baby
As I entered motherhood, I was determined to continue travelling and adventuring. During Lewis's first year I made several trips both with and without Lewis and with and without my husband, Jimmy. I learned the following things along the way:
1. Babies Under 3 Months can Definitely Be Aware of their Surroundings:
Our pediatrician told us that babies don't really become aware of their surroundings until at least three months, but we did not find that to be the case with Lewis. I took Lewis on his first road trip when he was 6 weeks old. We only went to Southwest Virginia which was about a 3.5 hour drive away. His first night away from home he howled. The second night was better. At 2 months old, we took him to visit friends in Virginia Beach. Again the first night was a disaster, and then as he got accustomed to the new place he was fine. Actually he was much better being away from home after three months - probably just because by that time he was accustomed to traveling and adventuring.
2. Pumping while driving is very efficient:
I ended up exclusively pumping for many reasons which are beyond the scope of this blog. But basically I was attached to my breast pump for most of Lewis's first year and so a lot of the traveling challenges I had revolved around pumping. Getting a car adapter for my breast pump was the most liberating moment. It meant that I could travel for more than two hours at a time and pump in the car. If I was travelling with Jimmy, I would let him drive and pump in the backseat. But more often than not, It was just me and Lewis. This meant that when it was time to pump, I would just pull over, hook up the pump, then get back on the road until I had the amount of milk that I wanted. Then I would pull over to put the milk in a cooler and return to driving. I generally wore a nursing cover while doing this, and I don't think anyone else on the road noticed what I was up to.
I did have one pumping while driving disaster though. I had an extra silicone diaphragm in my pumping bag and somehow it ended up in the pumping bottle. So once the diaphragm was full, it began overflowing out of the bottle. Because it was a very slow leak, I somehow didn't notice until I had about 3 ounces of breast milk all over my pants. But certainly all nursing and pumping mamas out there have their own stories of leaking breast milk and soaked clothes.
3. Use the Airport Breastfeeding Pods:
I used the Mamava pumping pods in Miami and West Palm Beach airports. They are basically tiny trailers inside the terminal. They are small, but large enough for you to have a private place to sit and pump. There's just enough room to fit a stroller and a suitcase in there too. All the ones I visited had several outlets, so I always took advantage of that time to charge my cell phone as well. They even have an app so you can easily locate the pods.
4. Frozen Breast Milk Stays Remarkably Frozen in Checked Bags:
There were a couple times that I wanted to fly with frozen breast milk. The first time was when I traveled with Lewis at 5 months to West Palm Beach to visit family. Pretty much the whole time I pumped, I produced more than Lewis could drink. Sometimes I was pumping 60 oz a day and Lewis couldn't even drink half of that. I was pretty obsessive about building up a frozen stash so I could quit pumping before a year was up and still have enough milk for him for the first year. So that meant that even though Lewis was with me, I had to travel home with about 100 oz of breast milk. I froze the milk at my Grandmother's house in breastmilk bags and then put those bags in gallon ziplock bags (about 60 oz will fit in a gallon ziplock bag).
Then I rolled them up in foil (yes it looked like I was smuggling yeyo) and put them in an insulated lunch bag in my checked bag. My thought was that it would be cooler under the plane. And despite this milk being in my suitcase for about 9 hours, all but two bags were still frozen solid by the time I got home. So I used that milk within 24 hours and no milk was ever lost. The couple other times I flew with frozen milk, I had similar results.
5. Baby Tents are better for Travel than Pack n' Plays:
I do have a Pack n' Play and have gotten plenty of use out of it in Lewis's first year. He actually slept in it exclusively until he was 6 months old, and it has served as a great spot for him to play or nap while I get house work done. I did also take it on a couple of road trips. It's easy enough to set up and take down but it's still rather bulky and we drive a Prius. When we started flying, I knew I definitely didn't want to fly with the Pack n' Play so I bought a Peapod Tent.
It fits in a carry-on suitcase just fine and is easier to set up and take down than the Pack n' Play. I also think it is more comfortable. We have always requested a crib when staying in a hotel that offered it, but what we have gotten has always been old and wonky. We end up just setting up Lewis's tent and he sleeps just fine in there.
6. Strollers are not Necessary Most of the Time:
I rarely use a stroller and I often feel guilty for registering for such an expensive one. They take up so much room and they limit where you can go, so I mainly use my Beco Gemini for baby toting. It's small enough to take anywhere, sturdy enough for hiking, and it was an essential baby soothing tool for me in the early months.
However, strollers are pretty essential in the airport if you don't have another adult with you. We have always traveled with our Graco Travel System, so that way we could gate check both the stroller and car seat. When I flew with Lewis alone, I had a checked roller bag, a backpack for the plane, the beco gemini, and the car seat/stroller combo. With this setup I could push Lewis in the stroller while wearing the backpack or wear Lewis while pushing our stuff. I did have to put the stroller and car seat through the x-ray which is challenging when carrying a baby. However, I have always found other passengers to be very helpful even if the TSA agents aren't.
We did have an issue one time when we picked up our stroller and the wheel was bent and unusable. I was told that since the stroller was gate checked, the airline would not be held accountable for any damage. Luckily, I have a handy husband who was able to fix it.
Honestly, I think if you have a convertible car seat and someone else traveling with you, a stroller is not necessary when flying or any other time. I may change my mind when we have a second child.
7. Apps can Help you Pack Lighter:
I have quite a few baby apps on my phone. The ones that I have found most useful while travelling are the following:
Baby Hush Hush: turns your phone into a sound machine.
Cloud Baby Monitor: when installed on two devices you can use it as a baby monitor
Fisher Price has a huge assortment of free story book apps. I haven't used them much in the first year, but I could see them coming in handy in the future.
8. You Never Need to Bring Toys:
Everything is a toy. Water bottle, keys, paper to tear up. I will go so far as to say that toys are not necessary at all in the first year. Lewis has a ton of toys, but he would choose a spatula or a cup any day over an actual toy made for an actual baby. Put the spatula and cup in a box and he will be entertained for hours.
Same goes for books when travelling - just read the baby whatever you are reading. When we went to Banff I picked up a brochure on a wolf sanctuary at the visitors center. I read to Lewis all about wolves and then he had a blast looking at the pictures, playing wolf peek-a-boo, and then crumpling it up.
9. Dr. Brown's Bottles Explode on Airplanes:
Well not like Samsung phones. The pressurized cabin just makes the milk go up the tube and slowly ooze out the sides. You can take out the tube or loosen the cap before take off and you shouldn't have any problems. It took two flights of leaking bottles before I figured this out
10. Take Advantage of this Time
There are several things that you can get away with in the first year that will at least be more challenging as baby gets older.
Maybe this isn't true of all babies, but Lewis was capable of napping anywhere in his first year. He would nap on a hike, in the car, in a restaurant, and in our arms at a party with a ton of noise around. Since younger babies take more frequent shorter naps, it is easy to fit naps in throughout the day. Now that Lewis is starting to consolidate his naps into one longer nap, I have to plan a lot better to be in one spot during his nap time. So take advantage of this time when you won't have to adjust your schedule to fit to a napping schedule.
Babies under one generally aren't walking, and they are happy to stay close by your side. Lewis loved being in a baby carrier throughout the first year which meant that as long as our planned activity involved carrying Lewis in the carrier, he was a happy baby. He still likes being in the carrier, but really needs some time to walk on his own and squirm around after a couple of hours. So I think next year, we will need to add in extra walking and squirming time to our day.
Babies under two fly for free. I am trying to be strategic about this and visit some places that are relatively expensive to fly during Lewis's first two years.