Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Travelling with Baby Tip 3: The Flight

The helplessness, the anxiety, the no-where-to-go. I've never been claustrophobic but I think I can respect people who feel that way when I'm praying that everything goes alright.

It's OK when the the baby acts up

Babies are going to cry. I've found that if you look suitably concerned with trying to settle the kid than people around are generally sympathetic and understanding. It's when parents ignore a screaming child that annoys fellow passengers, other mums included. A plane flight is not a place to reinforce controlled crying, Feber or anti tantrum parenting techniques. The kid will deal with this one exception... they are resilient that way.

Dealing with changes in Air Pressure

This really isn't so much of a problem anymore as the newer planes are pretty good at maintaining the in cabin pressure well enough so that you don't get the problem of needing to pop your ears when the plane climbs or descends. But if you're travelling on an older looking plane or just want to make sure your little one doesn't get distressed, a good idea is to nurse or feed the baby during takeoff and landing. The sucking motion clears their ears and the comfort from the feeding or nursing calms the baby down during all the noise and g forces.

When to put the baby to sleep

I really should have known better but this actually took a fair bit of trial and error. First of all I try to do night flights which is usually easier to get the baby to sleep. Our first flight we noticed the baby was tired and therefore I started patting him to sleep just as we were settled down only to have him awoken by the announcements by the captain and cabin crew followed by the safety announcement. The next time we waited till after the announcements and he was fast asleep only to be awoken by the crew coming by with dinner. Since the Little Man is interested in all things food related there was no way we were getting him down whilst he was surrounded by food.

These days we get him to sleep after the food has come and gone. Depending on your airline, baby food may be available. On a recent Emirates flight the steward came by with a silver try with 12 different kinds of organic baby food (savory and sweet) and asked us which one The Little Man would like to eat today. Otherwise this is a good time to give them a little bit of brought baby food followed by a bottle or a nurse to encourage a good long sleep. Excepting urgent announcements due to turbulence, there should be no announcements till you're about to land.

The Bassinet Seat

Sought after by people with children and childless travelers alike for their extra legroom. These seats are not the easiest to come by. Budget airlines shamelessly sell these seats to the highest bidder (I'm looking at you Jetstar!)

So lesson here you're paying between 10-50% in far (depending on the airline) for having a 5-15kg weight sitting on your lap for a whole flight. Don't be afraid of trying to pull a little bit of weight. But always remember politeness and niceness always wins over yelling and complaining. At the end of the day you're not going to see the service people again but who knows how much your own Little Man or Lady remembers ;-)

Just one more thing to add about the Bassinet. Those things are only about 60-70cm long. Little Man was already squished in it at 8 months. These days we use it for extra storage space (place to put the food trays and blankets) so the main reason for getting the seat is the standing up room.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Travelling with Baby Tip 2: Packing

Having traveled so often I've gotten pretty good at avoiding underpacking/overpacking problems for myself. When I first moved over to Australia 10 years ago the contents of my suitcase included my hangers, a printer and an iron. I felt pretty silly when I arrived here and realized that these items could be purchased from K-mart for less money than I would have paid to not have to lug all that stuff to and from the airport. So if I'm travelling alone I only really stress about Passport, Tickets and Money. Anything else I forgot can be purchased if necessary.

Enter the Little Man. Who's "Stuff" takes up more of our house than his size would indicate. This also applies to packing space. Here are my lessons learnt:

Anything forgotten at the destination can STILL be purchased if necessary

This was a helpful reminder from a good friend when I was packing for our first trip to the US when Little Man was 7 weeks. Most developed countries have supermarkets and nappies and baby food can be purchased with relative ease. In fact I would recommend bringing enough spares to take you to when you expect to be able to get yourself to a supermarket because I have yet to arrive in a country* where nappies are more expensive than they are in Australia. Even the premium brands like Huggies and Pampers are way cheaper than they are sold here. I generally end up bringing back more nappies than I left with because they are so much cheaper.

*Sampled countries include: USA, New Zealand, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia.

The most important thing to pack carefully is the carry on bag

The only area where the above lesson doesn't apply. The helpless hours when you're trapped in a metal tube with no room to move and surrounded by people you'd rather not annoy. Here's my packing list for on board:
  • Nappies (disposable because no one wants to carry used cloth nappies on a plane) 1 per every 2 hours flight time.
  • 2 changes of clothes for Baby
  • Light Blanket
  • 1 change of clothes for Mum *
  • If Dad is going to travel too then 1 change of shirt for Dad **
  • Baby's favorite snacks and rusks. Pack more than what you think he'll need. Little man is only allowed  2 or 3 baby bikkies a day but on a plane he gets as much as will keep him quiet.
  • Couple of small toys. Though I've found that my Little man gets more fun exploring the remote control than his own toys on board a flight.

* Lesson learnt when Little Man got a bit of a tummy upset and decided to throw up all over me. He had a change of clothes but I had to finish the flight in slightly damp baby puke washed-off-as-much-as-I-could, T-shirt and jeans.
**Lesson learnt when on a different flight, the Little Man decided to knock a drink all over Daddy during the meal time. This time Mum and Baby had changes of clothes packed but Dad didn't.

When travelling for business I've got a rolling hard case cabin bag but that is a serious pain to get stuff out of when you have to carry a baby in one arm. Also when travelling alone with baby, the rolling bag takes up one hand which I tend to need when dealing with the Little Man. For this reason, I find a shoulder strap cabin bag or duffle bag with lots of zip up side pockets very useful. Why zip up? Because you can't control how other people are going to shift your bag in the overhead compartment when they are trying to stuff their own bags in.

Additional tip: Don't overstuff your carry on. It makes things difficult to find without unpacking everything. Also extra space is useful because some airlines will give you little pressie for the Baby (Activity kits, Comfort packs, Baby Blankets) and it's useful to have some room to squish these goodies into the bag when you disembark.

Some goodies from a recent 8 hour flight on Emirates

Travelling with Baby Tip 1: The passport photo

I have had the fortune (or misfortune in some respects) to do a lot of travelling in the last 2 years. Weekly business trips interstate for work all through my pregnancy ending in my 35th week with my blood pressure sky high and bedrest for 4 days (not recommended).

Our first international trip was in November 2011 with a 7-week-old Little Man flying from Melbourne-Sydney-Dallas (yep that's Dallas USA). We didn't exactly plan to travel with a newborn the whole thing happened because earlier in the year, Qantas launched their direct flights to Dallas. And since the In-Laws live in Dallas, we thought we'd take the opportunity to fly there for Thanksgiving. This was about 3 weeks before we found out that we'd be expecting the Little Man to be born in October. This necessitated a bit of a nervous wait for his birth certificate to arrive so we could apply for his passport. Which leads me to my first tip.

How to take a newborn's passport photo

Australia has some of the strictest regulations for passport photographs that I have ever seen. These rules include:
  • show head and top of shoulders close up, so that the face measures between 32mm and 36mm from the bottom of the chin to the crown (ie top of head without hair)
  • show your shoulders square on (not looking over shoulder)
  • show your face square on (edges of face visible)
  • show you looking straight at the camera (not tilted head)
  • be taken with a neutral expression and your mouth closed (not laughing or frowning
  • show your eyes open and clearly visible, (no hair in eyes).
Additional Requirements for Children and Babies
  • show the baby or child awake, looking straight at the camera with mouth closed and no pacifier.
  • show both edges of the face clearly (no toys, blankets, chair backs or other people visible) and no hair across the eyes

First off getting a newborn to sit at a photobooth or a postshop where they take passport photos is impossible. They are just too wriggly and temperamental. 

My best tip is to lay a whiteboard or white piece of cardboard down on a bed. Lay the baby on the bed and get your digital camera ready. Take A LOT of photos. If the baby gets restless... do something else for a bit then try again. 

What Not to do

On the left one of the better ones from our early attempts. We used a sheet on the bed as suggested by many websites. The problem is that the sheet always creases and is really really annoying to have to remove on photoshop. This was about 20-30 shots in and we finally get one of him. On the right, an attempt to swaddle him so he wouldn't move and I could take the photo without having to hold him at the same time, except he wriggled out of the swaddle and had his mouth open...Mummy Fail!

After a nap, a nurse and a bath we try again with not much better results.

Finally after another 30 shots, much coaxing and some photo shopping we end up with:

Not quite the best shot but it was the best we could do on short notice which satisfied the Australian Passport requirements. We took this and several other shots which we thought might get a pass to the photo processing shop and they told us which would work the best and sized it to the requirements and printed 4 copies for about $15.

What we SHOULD have done.

When Little Man was 4 months old we took a trip to Singapore for my brother's wedding. When there we had to get passport sized photos for some official documents. Since the Little Man looks so different from his 3 week old photos. We had to take more pictures and I wasn't anywhere near my copy of photoshop. This is when my mother had a brainwave. To avoid the creasing of sheets She laid a white piece of cardboard board down on the bed and put the Little man down on it. And we ended up with a much better photo in fewer shots.