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How To Travel With Your New Baby

Going out with a baby can resemble moving day at the circus, with the new mother and father so loaded down with things that seem essential that going hardly seems worth the effort. Understandably, most new parents “over-pack” for the first few excursions with their newborns. They worry that they'll run out of something important (e.g., diapers) at a critical moment. One new mother told us that the first time she attended an evening meeting to which she brought her baby, she packed twelve diapers, three stretch suits, four bottles, as well as other assorted paraphernalia that filled two diaper bags, and, in addition, brought an infant seat, a chest carrier, and a carriage - all to a meeting that lasted only two hours! A bit of advance thought about where you are going, how long you'll be gone, how you plan to get there, what facilities will be available once you arrive, and what your baby usually needs during the time you'll be away will do a lot to help ease any anxieties you may have about what to bring.

The following is a list of items that are helpful and/or necessary for traveling. What you choose to purchase will depend on your budget and your lifestyle. Note: it is often possible to obtain these things at garage, yard, or tag sales or from other mothers who no longer need them. If you obtain any item second-hand, be sure it is in good condition. Also, be aware that there are publications such as Consumer Reports (published by Consumers Union, a nonprofit organization) that periodically rate these items (by brand name) as to convenience and durability and give information about current governmental safety standards. Be sure that any equipment you buy conforms to current safety standards. This is especially important if you buy anything second-hand. Manufacturers frequently make changes in their products and it is important to know the model of the item you are considering, to enable you to use any rating guide.

CAR SEAT. It is my opinion that no infant should travel in a car unless properly restrained in a well-constructed car seat that has been secured to the car as per the manufacturer's instructions. Be sure that the car seat you purchase is designed to protect your child in a crash.

The forces generated in a crash may in effect multiply the child's weight 10 or 20 times; the child thus tends to fly out of the adult's arms and slam into the dashboard or windshield. If the adult is unbelted (not wearing a seat belt), so much the worse. The adult's weight also multiplied 10 or 20 times, crushes the child.

A car bed is not considered safe in an accident, nor is it safe to strap the infant in the car with the adult lap belt. Don't use the excuse that you're a good driver and won't have an accident. Accidents can happen to anyone!

BABY CARRIER. This is perhaps the most useful of all items you can purchase for the very young infant. Several different styles are available - some with a hard back support for the baby, others made of soft fabric; all enable you to carry the baby, leaving your hands free. Not only is this convenient for the parents, but quite often the vibration of the mother's heartbeat and her warm closeness lull a baby to sleep. Consider using this for shopping trips, bus rides, etc., and also around the house when the baby is fretful and you want to get some work done.

DIAPER BAG. It is preferable to use the large shoulder-bag type with compartments. Buy one that is big enough to carry your wallet and the other personal items you would usually take in a separate handbag. (You can also use an old pair of jeans to make a diaper bag. Cut the legs off below the back pockets and sew a seam to close the leg holes. Sew a seam across the top to close the waist area - the zipper will serve to open and close the bag. Take one of the legs and fashion a strap to be attached at both ends of the zipper.) Include the plastic irrigation bottle (peri bottle) you received in the hospital. When you no longer need it for yourself, you can fill it with water and use it for diaper changes (after your baby is toilet-trained, you can use it for watering plants). In addition, pack cotton balls, disposable diapers, gallon-size plastic bags (save the ones you get with vegetables at the supermarket and use these for disposing of diapers and/or as a waterproof sheet under the baby's rear for changing diapers), ointment, tissues (for wiping your sticky fingers after a diaper change), a light blanket, rattles, change of clothing, and two cloth diapers (for burping). Non-nursing mothers should carry bottles of prepared formula (that come complete with the nipple attached) Which require no refrigeration. Keep a checklist on a card in the bag of all the items you include. When you return home from a short trip, check the contents of the bag against your list and replace used items immediately. This way you're ready to leave at a moment's notice and don't have to reassemble things each time you want to go out with the baby.

INFANT SEAT. The plastic kind that young babies are placed in for feeding solids can also be useful for traveling. This is great to take with you to the supermarket so you can put the baby into the shopping cart. First, place large items into the cart to form a platform so the baby will not see the world through a row of bars. Make sure this platform is not dangerously high and is level so the seat will not topple over. Also, if your infant is at the arm-waving or reaching-for-items stage, make sure there's nothing breakable within his or her reach or that can be knocked over or opened. In some areas of the country, supermarket carts have a seat section for children who can sit up unsupported. Some infant seats fit crosswise in this section. Infant seats can also be placed in a mesh umbrella stroller if your pediatrician believes your child is too young to sit against the soft back.

UMBRELLA STROLLER. An umbrella stroller can fold into an umbrella-like parcel and be hung over the arm. Styles vary. Some have firm backs that have one upright position. Other firm-back models also have a reclining position. There are also umbrella strollers that have seats made of mesh or canvas. Ask your pediatrician when you can begin to use a mesh or canvas stroller. Doctors have different beliefs about the necessity for firm-back support at young ages. If you live in a suburban area, consider keeping the stroller in the trunk of your car so it's easily available when you might need it. This saves you the job of carrying it to the car - not that it is heavy, but who needs additional items to carry?

CARRIAGE. There are many different types of carriages available. If you have a car, I suggest that any carriage you purchase be the type that comes apart and has a frame that can be folded or collapsed somewhat so that it can fit into the trunk and/or back seat. Never use the body of a carriage as a car bed - car beds are not safe in an accident. I have found the rain shield, handle-bar bag, and package racks to be valuable accessories. Be careful not to put heavy items in a handle-bar bag because that can cause the carriage to tip over.

PORTABLE BEDS. Styles vary from collapsible, soft-sided lightweight “carriers” to actual portable cribs (port-a-cribs) made of wood or aluminum with mesh sides. There is even one type of portable bed available that folds up to form a diaper bag complete with carrying strap - unfold it and it's a bed. I see little use for these for short visits to a friend or relative (a blanket on the floor serves as a great temporary bed) and prefer the type of port-a-crib that converts to a playpen. There are several available that have two mattress levels - chest-high and thigh-high, with legs that can be raised or lowered. This serves not only as a portable crib for overnight visits, but as a playpen in your home when the baby is older.

The best time to leave the house for any trip is right after the baby has been fed and diapered. This will maximize the amount of time you have before feeding and changing again become necessary.

Check what facilities are available at the stores and other public places you plan to visit, especially those that have more than one level. Believe it or not, not all of such places have elevators, and getting stuck with a baby carriage on the first floor when you need to go to the third can be a frustrating experience. (If it happens, ask if you can use the freight elevator.) Some stores and public places do not allow carriages at all, and many do not allow strollers - even umbrella strollers. Call, ask, and guide yourself accordingly.

Knowing in advance what the restroom facilities are like is also helpful. A table, counter, or couch for diapering and an armchair for feeding make life a lot easier, but if not available, you'll have to improvise. A cubicle in the restroom or the try-on room will give you privacy while changing and feeding the baby. Place a folded blanket on the floor with a plastic bag on top, just under the baby's bottom, and you've got an instant diapering area. Taking the things you need out of the diaper bag before you begin changing the baby makes the job easier, faster, and neater. (When changing a baby boy, it is wise to drop a diaper over his penis while you are cleaning him; this can save you a faceful of liquid aggravation.)

At times, of course, there may be no facilities available whatsoever, and you may find yourself diapering your little one on an unused check-out counter at the supermarket or feeding him in front of an exhibit at the museum. Breastfeeding mothers can easily master the art of unobtrusively nursing in public, with a bit of practice at home. Two-piece outfits work the best. Throw a blanket over your shoulder or turn toward the wall for the few seconds it takes to get nipple and nurseling together. If you lift your blouse or sweater from the bottom, it will frame the baby's head and few people will give you a second glance except to smile at the picture of a contented mother and baby. Babies have been nursed on benches, in ladies' rooms, in the park, on the beach, in cars, in restaurants - most comments heard are usually positive and often come from women who had breastfed their own children and realized what was going on. Because it can be unobtrusive, most people are not even aware that you are feeding your baby and usually pay absolutely no attention.

En Route To Your Destination

If at all possible, choose the fastest available method of getting where you're going, especially when planning longer trips. The less hassle you have getting there, the more enjoyable you'll find your trip.

Whatever mode of travel you finally select, if you are making a trip of several days, carry one day's supply of disposable diapers (and formula if you are bottle feeding) with you, not in your luggage. This will save you the trouble of searching for supplies or being without supplies if your luggage is lost.

In a plane, bus, or train, a breastfeeding mother will have more privacy if she sits next to the window.

Airplane

Airline personnel can be very helpful to parents traveling with children. However, facilities vary, so it's wise to call all airlines which fly to your destination and ask what facilities they have available for you and your family. Be sure to ask if there are nonstop direct flights to your destination. A “direct” flight means that you will not have to change planes, but the plane you are on may make one or more stops; each stop means more time spent traveling. A “non-stop” direct flight removes this problem. When you make your reservation, be sure to tell the booking agent that you're traveling with a baby and that you'd like to reserve the bulkhead seats near a window. These are the seats at the very front of each compartment and they have more leg room than other seats - therefore more room to stow your diaper bag during the flight. (For take-off and landing, all carry-on baggage must be under the seat or in special storage compartments.) Note: the first row of seats of the middle section of each compartment on a wide-bodied plane may also be referred to as a bulkhead, but it is less convenient because there is less privacy and, if a movie is shown, the light flickering in the baby's face can keep him or her awake. Be sure to request your seats near a window. Request a bassinet, If available, so the baby will be able to lie down for at least part of the flight. (During take-off and landing, regulations state that you must hold your child. The cabin personnel will show you the required position.)

When you check in at the airport, remind the staff of your seating needs and that you requested a bassinet. If, for some reason, reservations got mixed up, they can be corrected while you're on the ground. Do not wait until. you're on the plane to discover someone else where you wanted to sit. As you are being seated, tell the cabin personnel you'd like the bassinet (another way of insuring it's really there while the plane's still on the ground). When you reconfirm your return reservations, be sure to request the bulkhead seats near a window and the bassinet once again.

Anyone who has flown has experienced the ear-popping sensation caused by the change in cabin pressure as the airplane takes off and lands. Chewing gum or swallowing hard can alleviate this uncomfortable feeling, but this does not help your baby. Have your mate give the baby a bottle of water or milk while you hold the infant (take-off and landing regulations require that you hold him with both hands) or have your mate use a plastic medicine dropper to squirt some water into the baby's mouth. This forces the baby to swallow and relieves some of the discomfort. Ideally, breastfeeding mothers should be allowed to nurse their infants at this time.

If there are no facilities for diapering your child, you can do so across your mate's lap or on your seat. (Spread the blanket and the plastic bag. The toilet compartment is generally too small.)

If you will be traveling abroad, try to anticipate what baby supplies you will need while out of the country and check that they're not only available, but reasonably priced. Disposable diapers can cost as much as $10 a box in other parts of the world.

Bus/Train

A baby carrier is invaluable for short bus and train rides. It frees your arms for fare paying, package carrying, or just holding on. It also positions the baby close to your body and insures that he or she won't fall if you don't. If you're on a train or bus that is lurching every few moments, starting and stopping frequently, try to avoid diapering the baby no matter how many of your fellow passengers wrinkle their noses in your direction or point out a growing dark stain. You may feel that the whole world thinks you're neglecting your child, but it's hard to manipulate diaper changing supplies on a moving vehicle while insuring that the baby doesn't go flying. Wait until you reach your destination.

For longer trips, check what facilities are available. Will you have to hold your child for the entire trip? (With a newborn who sleeps most of the time, that might not be a disadvantage, depending on the length of the trip.) What provisions, if any, are made for mothers to breastfeed? Diaper their babies? If you plan an overnight trip - where will you sleep? How will you eat while holding the child? As on a plane, if there are no diaper changing facilities, use your mate's lap or a seat. (Spread the blanket and plastic bag.)

Car

It is unwise to diaper or breastfeed a child in a moving car because this necessitates taking the child out of the restraint. It is wiser to pull off the road for the time involved.

Some pediatricians object to keeping a young infant in a restraint for any extended period of time, so check with your doctor before planning any lengthy car trips.

Tying rattles across the car seat or along the side (depending on the style of the seat) for the baby to play with will help keep your child amused. For additional distraction, someone other than the driver can wave some brightly colored objects for the baby to reach for - making sure that they are not in the driver's line of sight, blocking the view of the road. Also, your car radio turned to a music station - some babies prefer classical, others “pop” - can do wonders to help keep your baby happy.

Final Notes

It's important to book hotel/motel reservations in advance, for as much of your trip as possible. You will have enough to think about when you arrive in town without having to find a place to stay every night. Before you make reservations, find out what facilities are available (sound familiar?). Some hotels provide cribs at no extra charge. Some, especially in resort areas, have babysitters on staff.

If you are planning to visit a home where there are no babies or young children, inquire into the possibility of renting or borrowing a crib. If none are available and your child is small enough, line a laundry basket with blankets, or if a firm couch or armchair is available, tuck a sheet over the cushions, turn it so the seat part is up against the wall, and pretend it's a crib.

Wherever you're going, if you plan ahead you can relax and enjoy.

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