Air travel with an infant can be challenging, but it's so worth it if you want to take a family vacation. Use this flight plan to board with confidence.

Baby's First Trip
Credit: Thayer Allison Gowdy

1. Time it right

When booking a flight, "think about what you would be doing with your baby at that time at home," notes Brianna Meighan, author of How to Fly With a Baby. "If your flight will be boarding at the exact time you would normally feed your baby, give him his meal a few minutes before getting on the plane," Meighan says. "If you are behind schedule, that's when you will start to see the meltdowns." Consider his personality too. "If he usually falls asleep when you're out running errands, it may not matter what time he flies," says Jennifer Shu, M.D., pediatrician and coauthor of Heading Home With Your Newborn. "But if any little disruption sets him off, book late evening when he is more likely to sleep through the trip."

2. Please be seated

Sitting in the front of coach might cost a bit more, but it can make shuffling on and off with Baby less of a pain, Meighan says. If you use a car seat, it must be installed in a window seat to avoid blocking passengers, and some airlines don't allow them near exit rows or in first class.

3. Take the safe route

Though many airlines allow children younger than 2 to fly in an adult's lap for free or at minimal cost, Dr. Shu and most safety experts advise purchasing a separate seat and bringing an FAA-approved car safety seat. Seats that meet FAA standards will carry the stamp, "This restraint is certified for use in motor vehicles and aircraft." If yours does not, you will be asked to check it. And even if your car seat is FAA-approved, you should measure it before your trip and confirm with your airline that it will fit.

4. Pack smart

Fill your carry-on tote with essentials, including extra diapers, wipes, and a change of clothes (for Baby and you). Also bring a rolling trolley bag for the overhead bin. Use this bag to hold backups of everything already stowed in your checked luggage—you'll be glad for them if you have a delay. Formula and breast milk aren't held to TSA limits on liquids, but it's still wise to secure them in plastic bags for easy inspection and to prevent messy leaks. As for entertainment, just take two or three simple toys and board books, Meighan says. Forget toys that have multiple pieces or make sounds.

5. Get through security

Many airports offer a special security line for families, so you don't have to feel as rushed. Roll up with Baby in a lightweight stroller. Once you reach security, take her out and hold her. As the agents examine your stroller and other items, you can walk through the scanner with Baby. When you're done, plop her back in the stroller and then check your stroller at the gate before boarding.

6. Don't sweat ear pain

Though many moms worry that Baby will experience ear issues, most infants have no problems at all, Dr. Shu says. The exception: If your child currently has a cold or ear infection. Air pressure is equalized by the eustachian tube, the passageway leading from the middle ear to the back of the throat, but inflammation and mucus can throw things off balance. If this happens to your baby while in the air, have him suck on a pacifier, bottle, or breast to help open up his passages, Dr. Shu advises. Be sure to check with your physician before flying if your baby is ill.

7. Have a feeding plan

When it comes to nursing, a shawl or blanket can help keep things discrete. With formula, Dr. Shu suggests, you should prep before you leave home. Measure servings of powdered formula inside a few bottles. Once on board, all you'll have to do is take them from your carry-on and add water. If your tot is old enough to eat solids, pack baby-food pouches for neater meals, Meighan recommends.

8. Diaper deftly

Most airlines should have at least one lavatory with a changing table. Just take your changing pad along with you. No designated spot? No problem! Change him in your lap, says Meighan. Sit down on the closed toilet seat. Lay your baby on your lap facing you, and swap the old diaper for a new one. Or, if he's old enough to stand on his own, use one hand to hold him upright in front of you and the other to wipe and change.

Originally published in American Baby magazine in July 2014.

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American Baby