Whether you'll be away from home for an afternoon or a week, the key to a successful trip with a baby is to be prepared for anything. For the first few months, you'll probably want to keep trips short and stay close to home: Take your baby with you to run an errand or make a social call. Newborns are more susceptible to infection than the rest of us, but this doesn't mean you should go into quarantine -- simply ask family and friends to wash their hands before touching the baby.
Once you're ready to embark on a full-fledged family vacation, plan it with your baby's schedules and moods in mind. Instead of settling your sights on a romantic poolside getaway, select a location near a park or children's museum where you and your baby can explore (but don't be too ambitious -- a rigid itinerary can be stressful). Ideally, choose a site where you can settle into a routine: Rent a house, or visit family or friends. A family-friendly resort is also a good choice, as you won't have to worry about your baby creating a disruption when he cries, and amenities such as babysitting services will be available.
Did You Know?
If you're traveling outside the country, your baby will need a passport, too. Check with your pediatrician to find out about any necessary immunizations.
By U.S. law, children must be buckled up whenever you're driving, so be sure to invest in an age- and weight-appropriate car seat. We've provided some basics about car seats below, but we recommend that you read the 2007 Family Shopping Guide to Car Seats, available free from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
A new car seat is best, but if you have a used one, make sure it was made after January 1981, has no visible damage, and comes with all necessary attachments and an instruction booklet. If any parts or instructions are missing, contact the manufacturer for replacements. Try not to use a hand-me-down unless you're sure it has never been in an accident, since structural damage may not be apparent. Send in the seat's registration card, or call the manufacturer to find out about any product recalls. Read the instruction booklet carefully, and practice positioning the seat and strapping your child in. Always place the car seat in your backseat: It's the safest place in the event of a head-on collision, and the force of an air bag can break a car seat and kill an infant or small child.
Until your baby is 1 year old and weighs 20 pounds, he'll need a rear-facing car seat, which provides maximum support for an infant's neck and back. Some seats convert from rear facing to front facing, but these don't fit newborns as well as infant-only seats; wait until your baby is older to switch to a convertible car seat, and keep it in the rear-facing position until he reaches the recommended age and weight. Many seats double as carriers or strollers, but you must install them correctly each time you put them back in the car. Babies older than 1 year who weigh more than 20 pounds should graduate to front-facing car seats.
Once your child outgrows this seat (usually at 40 pounds or when his ears reach the top of the seat), he should switch to a booster seat that works with the lap and shoulder belts of your car until an adult seat belt fits correctly. Always keep emergency supplies in your trunk for both your car and your baby, including a flashlight, bottled water, powdered formula, a heavy blanket, warm clothes, and extra diapers. Carry a cellular phone, too, but by no means use it while driving. On long car trips, stop every few hours to stretch your legs and give your baby a change of scenery.
Did You Know?
Buy a rear-facing car seat well in advance of your baby's birth -- many hospitals won't even let you take your newborn home without one.
Most pediatricians agree that as long as your baby is in good health, it is safe to fly with him as soon as he is ready to be taken out of the house. Of course, every child is different, so you should consult your pediatrician before your first trip. And let common sense dictate when you should use extra caution: During flu season, for example, avoid exposing a newborn to lots of strangers in enclosed spaces.
On most international flights, your baby will need a ticket (which is greatly discounted), even if he or she doesn't occupy a seat. On most domestic flights, a child younger than 2 can ride on your lap for free. But since it can be difficult to hold onto a baby during turbulence, the Federal Aviation Administration recommends that babies under 2 sit in air travel-approved car seats (labeled as such by the manufacturer) buckled into their own airline seats. The airline will charge for the extra seat, but often at a 50 percent discount. The peace of mind is worth the money for many parents, and it's more comfortable -- you'll be able to flip your tray down and have a drink or read a book.
More Tips for Flying with Baby Request bulkhead seats, which have more legroom and sometimes even bassinets. Reserve seats in advance whenever possible, and show up early so that you don't have to rush. Travel during off-peak times to increase the likelihood that you'll have an empty seat next to you. Choose nonstop flights whenever you can.
In addition to your everyday diaper bag, bring a cozy blanket for a chilly flight and an extra outfit for your baby. Traveling can make babies nervous and more likely to spit up, so you may want to include an extra shirt for yourself, too.To ease the ear pain caused by pressure changes, babies need to be sucking during takeoff and landing. Try to schedule feedings accordingly, or offer a pacifier or snack.
Did You Know?
It's a good idea to pack a carry-on with a few essentials, including medication and a first-aid kit, in case your luggage takes a wrong turn.
The Diaper Bag
Wherever you go, keep little surprises from turning into big problems by bringing a diaper bag packed with diapers, wipes, ointment, tissues, a changing pad, a blanket, burp cloths, a pacifier, and a change of clothes. Bottles stay warm in insulated holders; older babies will need food and bibs. Sunscreen is essential for babies older than 6 months (younger babies shouldn't be in the sun). Infants' acetaminophen is indispensable; ask your doctor about dosage. Use pouches and resealable plastic bags to organize small items; the latter can be used for dirty diapers or wet clothes. And don't forget Mom: Pack bottled water, pads if you're nursing, and a laminated phone list.
More Travel Tips
Find out in advance if the hotel has a crib, or pack a portable one. In some cities, you can rent baby furniture and other necessities (check the Yellow Pages) -- a good solution for an extended stay with family. Take a baby carrier or umbrella stroller, and arrange for a rental car with a car seat if you're not bringing yours.
Travel during off-peak times to increase the likelihood that you'll have an empty seat next to you. For babies who eat solid food, snacks are essential. Pack something you know your baby likes -- perhaps a special treat he's not usually allowed to have. Unfamiliar surroundings and a different schedule can disrupt your child's sleep patterns, so bring your baby's own sheets to help him feel more at ease.Do some basic baby proofing upon your arrival; put safety plugs in outlets, and move dangerous cords and breakables out of reach.