Everything You Need to Know About Travel with a Newborn…
If travel was a big part of your life before you became a parent, chances are you fully expect to travel with your baby. This is great! But once baby actually gets here you may have doubts about how easy or fun or fulfilling it may be to travel with a baby.
Some families have no choice but to start traveling young. I know of a few instances where parents were adopting from out of state or their surrogate lived a few provinces away. In another instance, a mom friend was attending a family member’s destination wedding. And, in some sad cases, illness or a death in the family necessitates unexpected travel with a baby in tow.
But let’s pretend you’re chomping at the bit to make the most of your maternity leave, so traveling with a newborn is something you’re choosing to do straight away. As with all aspects of baby travel, you have four main considerations of Eating, Sleeping, Playing, and Getting Around.
∙ How Soon Can You Travel with a Newborn?
Unless you have a home birth, technically you travel home from the hospital with your baby. So the actual answer is: pretty much right away. Unless the travel is absolutely essential, instead of asking how soon can you travel with a newborn, the real question should be how soon should a new parent travel or how long do you need to wait to travel after giving birth.
Probably the real meaning behind this question is when can a newborn fly or how old does a baby have to be to fly. The answer truly depends on you and the airline. Most airlines have policies that require a physician’s note for infants younger than seven (7) days, and that age can vary anywhere between three days and three weeks. If you know you’ll be flying with a newborn that young, it is best to consult with the airline directly.
If you’re traveling purely for pleasure, there seems to be a lot of thinking around waiting until your baby has had their first round of vaccinations. Probably because travel exposes you to a lot of germs. If you’re breastfeeding, you are passing along a certain amount of immunity to your infant. Also, a newborn can be bundled and protected from germs much more easily than an older baby who’s always grabbing everything and sticking their hands in their mouth.
So long as you’re all feeling up to it, there’s really no reason to wait.
∙ Where to Travel with a Newborn
As with any trip with a baby, choose somewhere that’s safe, that’s clean, and has good access to healthcare. When my son was 10-weeks-old, we went to Quebec City and it was a great choice. The flight was short, the weather was mild (it was summer), and we could walk a lot but it wasn’t so big that it was overwhelming.
At 10-weeks postpartum, I wasn’t exactly keen to wear a bathing suit nor deal with sand and sunscreen, so a beach trip was out. A city trip with a newborn is pretty easy. They are usually content to be worn and they’re still small enough to not be overly heavy. They are also usually pretty content to be carted about in their infant carrier car seat.
City trips with lots of sightseeing and/or museums get harder when your babies become toddlers (ie. mobile). Keep that in mind if there’s somewhere nearby you’ve always wanted to visit. Some great options (depending on where you are located) are the aforementioned Quebec City, plus New York City, or even Raleigh, North Carolina.
Traveling with a Newborn: Eating
In terms of feeding, this is truly the easiest time to travel with a baby. Traveling with a newborn means no messy snacks or finger foods, and you can eliminate bibs and feeding implements from your packing list.
If there was every an argument for breast being best, it should be around traveling with a baby. No bottles, no formula, no mixing, and no heating. So long as baby is nursing well (and you are nursing well!) an exclusively breastfed baby is truly the easiest to travel with.
I have nursed in airports and on planes (and in restaurants and museums) and I can report that I have never been on the receiving end of stink eye or shade. I never used a cover, either. I’m the type of big mouth that would have unleashed if anyone said anything, anyway.
My biggest annoyance about nursing in public was showing off my back fat, so I came up with a good clothing system. Travel can be tiring so make sure you stay rested and well-hydrated to keep your milk production up. If you’re traveling with a newborn you’re likely not in any kind of fixed routine or schedule for feeding yet. Enjoy this flexible time, however inflexible it may feel 🙂
∙ Bottle Feeding
No judgement. Fed is best but we can all agree that bottles are a pain in the butt. You still have the flexibility of a baby on a liquid diet who is not on a set schedule yet. But you have to sort out cleaning and sterilizing bottles and nipples and traveling with formula and heating bottles while en route. Not to worry, it’s not as complicated as it sounds.
Traveling with Formula:
If you’re not certain you can purchase your brand of formula where you’re going, you need to pack as much as you think you’ll need and then some. Pre-mixed or liquid concentrate formula will be very heavy. If you’re considering switching to a powder, do so well in advance of your trip. Don’t check your formula as luggage. It is precious.
Traveling with Bottles:
For your journey, prep your bottles with pre-measured boiled or sterilized water and mix the bottles as you need. The liquid restriction rules don’t apply when you’re traveling with a baby under 24mos. Keep all of baby’s bottles and formula together to make going through airport security easier. If possible, get baby used to room temperature bottles so you don’t have to deal with heating them. If that’s not possible, there are travel bottle warmers, but that’s one more thing to pack in your carry-on bag.
Now, it is possible to sterilize baby bottles in hotel sinks, but with a newborn it’s much easier to stay somewhere with access to a kitchen, or at least a microwave, to use a microwave sterilizer or bags. Baby is too young to mix formula with bottled water, so at the very least, a compact travel kettle is a must. The bottles with pre-sterilized liners are the easiest to travel with, since you only need to pack (and clean, and sterilize) the lids, caps, and nipples.
∙ Baby Travel Gear: Eating
- Travel Nursing Pillows
- Travel Bottle Warmers
- Insulated Bottle Bags
- Travel Bottle Sterilizers
- Travel Bottle Drying Racks
Traveling with a Newborn: Sleeping
A newborn still sleeps pretty much anytime and anywhere. This is the bonus of traveling with a newborn… There is no sleeping schedule to potentially mess up. Of course, you may be in the process of trying to establish a routine, so keeping things as “normal” as possible is key to keeping that on track. When my son was a newborn, he had his days and nights mixed up for the first few weeks. It was tough to turn him around but we stuck to the routine we wanted to ultimately keep and eventually he (and we!) figured it out.
Whether you co-sleep, use a bassinet, or have them sleep in a crib in their own room, try to modify that process while you’re away. We call this our “vacation routine.”
∙ Time Changes & Baby Jet Lag
A newborn likely isn’t on a set sleep schedule yet, so will probably be the least-affected member of your family with regard to time changes and jet lag. But baby jet lag is definitely a thing and you should have some strategies in place to manage it.
Staying on “home time” is the easiest if your trip is short and the time difference not too major. Otherwise, immediately starting on your home routine but in your new time zone will have you all climatized the quickest. I’m not a fan of waking a sleeping baby but if it means getting proper rest at night I’m all for it!
∙ Travel Cribs
I don’t necessarily believe that you need to purchase a portable bassinet or travel crib. However, if you plan on doing a fair amount of travel with baby, then a travel crib may well be worth the investment. Also, once baby becomes familiar with their usual travel bed, they will likely fall asleep in it more easily! A decent travel crib is not inexpensive, but you can get more use out of it by storing at a Grandparent’s house and using it there, or even around your house for naps and quiet time.
Hotel cribs can be hit or miss. Mostly hit if you’re staying at a hotel chain with an expected level of service and amenities. However, I reluctantly admit that my children have slept in hotel cribs that would likely not pass our rigid safety standards.
If you are a co-sleeper, either by choice or by necessity, choosing to co-sleep while traveling with a newborn requires a bit of forethought. At home you’re able to create the ideal environment for safe co-sleeping. If you’re at a hotel or a guest at someone’s home or an Airbnb, you may not have such control.
Using travel bed rails and removing excess bedding can ensure baby stays safely in bed, and would be a safer choice than using extra pillows or rolled-up blankets. I read about a family who would deconstruct their hotel room bed and create a “sleeping nest” on the floor. Personally I think this sounds awful but I have a weird phobia about hotel carpets.
∙ More on Baby Sleep & Travel
Traveling with a Newborn: Playing
Here’s the biggest bonus of traveling with a newborn. They don’t really play, yet. So there’s no need to fill an iPad with games or shows and no need to scour the dollar store or internet for inexpensive travel toys. Save your money because you’ll need travel tech soon enough!
Your baby will see lots of new faces and hear lots of strange sounds on your travels. They’ll be spending lots of quality time with those who love them. That’s like the newborn baby travel version of playing.
Enjoy this time! It’s fleeting. Soon enough they’ll want to look at something other than your face 🙂
Traveling with a Newborn: Getting Around
You actually have the most options for getting around where you’re going while traveling with a newborn baby–from supportive carriers or slings, their car seat/infant carrier, to a stroller with a flat-enough recline that’s suitable for a young baby–or all of the above!
Make sure your infant carrier or sling can also be used by your travel partner (if you have one) and that it is small enough to be crushed down for easy travel. If traveling with your infant car seat carrier, make sure it can be installed without the base for use in both planes and cars.
∙ Flying with a Newborn
If you’re wondering how soon can a newborn fly, the answer varies from airline to airline but most agree that a doctor’s note is required for a newborn baby younger than seven (7) days. Of course, please also take into consideration your or the mother’s postpartum condition and/or feelings. A woman who’s just had a C-section is unlikely to want to or even be able to fly for at least several weeks.
Truthfully, flying with a newborn is more stressful on the parents than the baby or even grumpy fellow passengers. First of all, just say no to goody bags for your nearby passengers. As grown adults they are fully capable of managing their own needs. As the parent of a newborn, you may be feeling less-than-capable of managing your baby’s needs plus your own, plus your luggage, plus coping with the usual stresses and strains of air travel. Give yourself a break and focus on getting through the trip. The anticipation will likely be worse than the actual journey.
Of course you will worry about germs and the fact that your baby has not had any vaccinations yet. At this young age you can best control what your baby touches and what (or who!) touches your baby. Keeping baby snug in their infant carrier car seat and/or a carrier or sling will keep well-meaning coochie-cooers at bay.
Flying with Car Seats
If you can afford it, consider purchasing baby a seat on the plane and bring on board your FAA-approved car seat. Most infant carrier car seats are great for travel and familiarize yourself on the rules and protocols around flying with car seats. A newborn must be rear-facing and it is not your problem if the car seat interferes with the recline of another airplane seat. It’s a good idea to print out the FAA policy and have it with you.
Flying with a Newborn as a Lap Infant
If your newborn will be a lap infant, check if your airline offers an airplane bassinet option. Usually they are no extra charge but they do require booking in advance.
If your newborn will be a lap infant, a comfortable carrier or sling will make your life easier mid-flight, but you will not be able to use it during taxi, take-off, or landing. There are horrifying YouTube videos that explain why this is. Be sure to have a good hold of your baby at all times, especially during bouts of turbulence or if the fasten seat belt sign is on.
Do not use any travel hammock or travel vest. They are actually unsafe. And a newborn is too young for a CARES Harness.
∙ Planning a Road Trip with a Newborn
A road trip is probably the most ideal method of traveling with a newborn. You can stuff your car full of everything you think you’ll need, and you’re still years away from hearing, “Are we there yet?” every 15 minutes. However, if your baby despises their car seat, a road trip with a newborn may not be in the cards just yet.
Since newborns are rear-facing in their car seats, you might consider taking turns sitting in the back seat to keep them company. If your baby tends to sleep and sleep in their car seats, keep in mind that they will be quite wakeful at night if you drive during the day.
If you are able, try to drive at night. One of the best road trip tips we received was to nap in the afternoon and head where you’re going around bedtime. While one parent drives, the other naps until it’s their turn to drive. Make a pact to stop at the first hotel if either of you feels too tired to continue.
It’s not a great idea to feed a newborn in their car seat, and you’d have to be quite the contortionist if you are nursing. Plan to be delayed for any number of baby reasons, and make sure you have lots of wipes and changes of clothes handy in case of newborn poop explosions.
∙ Rental Cars & Taxis with a Newborn
In most cities, it’s legal to ride in the back of a taxi with a baby in your arms. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? Especially because the traffic or aggressive drivers would seem to necessitate car seats even more. It all boils down to your comfort level. If you can manage a few quick taxi jaunts with your baby on your lap, you are well within your rights to do so. I am a “worst-case scenario” kind of person, so riding in a car without a car seat is not an option for me or my children.
You can book private shuttles and even Ubers or Lyfts with car seats installed. I’m not sure I’d trust that they’d be safe or comfortable enough traveling with a newborn.
Rental Cars & Car Seats
A quick Google will lead you to a number of horror stories about the expense and condition of car seats from rental car companies. If you don’t know the history of a car seat, please don’t put your child in it. If you are bringing your car seat with you, and not purchasing your baby a seat on the plane, please don’t check your car seat in the aircraft’s main baggage hold.
Some car seat manufacturers consider a checked seat to be a “crashed” seat. If you will not be installing your car seat on board for your child, please gate check it using a padded car seat travel bag to protect it.
∙ Public Transit with a Newborn
If you’re doing a city trip, don’t shy away from using public transit with a newborn. As previously mentioned, the younger the baby the easier to travel with, so being able to comfortably spend time in a carrier or sling is a bonus for travel.
Consider investing in a lower-profile stroller that folds easily both for daily use and as a travel stroller. Remember that a newborn cannot ride in most umbrella strollers.
In some cities, or on Disney transportation, you will be required to remove baby from your stroller and fold it up for storage while you’re riding. Subway steps will be easier to navigate with a smaller stroller. While you’re traveling, try to avoid rush hour if you can.
Another option is to purchase the frame with wheels that most infant car seat carriers click into and use that as a stroller for travel while your baby is still small enough to comfortably spend time in it.
Traveling with a Newborn: Extra Considerations
Be patient with yourself. If this is your first baby, you’re in uncharted waters. If this is not your first baby, you likely have other small children to manage as you go. You’ll have a greater perspective of how easy most newborns actually are, but that won’t help while chasing a toddler and lugging assorted baggage and your newborn!
As with all aspects of travel with babies and toddlers, it gets easier. It also gets harder! Planning that first trip will seem daunting and scary but getting it out of the way early will build your confidence for more trips. Surviving that first vacation with a baby will build your confidence as a parent and as a traveler. You’ll eventually feel much more comfortable combining the two as you go on.
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