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How to keep an infant safe while flying

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Traveling with children can be stressful, but preparation can significantly improve the situation, according to University of Alabama at Birmingham pediatrician Candice Dye, M.D.

"First and foremost, be safe and think safe," said Dye, assistant director of the UAB Department of Pediatrics Residency Program. "Plan ahead for the needs of your infant. Think ahead for how you will keep your infant safe. Go ahead and enjoy traveling with your child."

Dye suggests waiting until infants are at least 2 to 3 months old to travel. By this age, infants should have received their first set of immunizations, and thus are more protected and less likely to need extensive invasive care if they were to get a fever.

Have a conversation with a pediatrician about traveling with an infant, especially if they have a chronic medical condition such as a heart or lung condition. A pediatrician can discuss any risks of travel and help clear the child for the trip when needed.

Children with tubes in their ears are OK to travel. However, if the tubes were recently placed, consult your surgeon, as with any surgery, before resuming normal activity or travel.

Have needed medications safely stored in a carry-on bag so that they are available at proper dosing times and in case of travel delays, Dye suggests.

"If you have any questions about the safety and health of your child while flying, it is best to consult your physician," Dye said. "They are trained to recognize risk factors that might put your child in harm's way."

Dye also recommends packing your child's birth certificate in your carry-on for ID, and plan extra time for getting checked in, through security and boarding.

When traveling with infants, plan ahead, think ahead and go ahead

Take a stroller for ease of maneuvering to, from and within the airport. Strollers can be checked at the gate for quick and easy access to use pre- and post-flight.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that a child be strapped into a car seat when flying, stating, "Although the Federal Aviation Administration allows children under age 2 to be held on an adult's lap, the AAP recommends that families explore options to ensure that each child has their own seat. If it is not feasible to purchase a ticket for a small child, try to select a flight that is likely to have empty seats where your child could ride buckled in their car safety seat."

If a child is not strapped in, there is a risk of the child's slipping out of your hands while you are holding them or of your dropping them, especially during take-off, landing or turbulence.

Dye notes that you should make sure the car seat taken on the plane is compatible with air travel and is approved by the FAA. Children's of Alabama offers car seat safety checks by appointment, and most fire stations do as well.

Plan for car seat needs upon arrival as well. Most airlines allow car seats to be checked and not count toward your luggage limit. If renting a car upon arrival, remember that you will need a car seat. These can be rented, but Dye recommends bringing your own.

"Taking your own car seat can provide peace of mind, by knowing that it is safe and approved, and you're comfortable with how it works," Dye said.

Airlines allow moms to breastfeed and take breastmilk on board their flight, but this will likely take extra time when going through security. If pumping and storing milk at your destination, plan ahead on how you will travel with the breastmilk on the return flight. Make sure that you have a way to keep the breastmilk stored properly. Once breastmilk is frozen, then thawed, it cannot be refrozen; it must be used or discarded.

"If it is a shorter trip, the mom can keep the breastmilk refrigerated instead of frozen for the return trip," Dye said. "Remember all of the parts to the breast pump, and do not check these in case you get delayed and need your pump sooner than anticipated."

When boarding a flight, plan for take-off and landing and how the pressure change can affect an infant. Dye recommends breast or bottle feeding to help alleviate ear pain or popping, but make sure to have a very good hold on the infant as it can be bumpy. Sucking on a pacifier would provide similar relief to the ears.

Think about different activities and snacks to occupy your child during travel. Sort out snacks in small, easy-to-access bags or snack cups for toddlers. Have formula and bottles ready, so that water can then be added without having to scoop out formula mid-flight.

"The safety of your infant should be your number one concern," Dye said. "As long as you are thoughtful and make preparations early, traveling with an infant can be easy."

About UAB
Known for its innovative and interdisciplinary approach to education at both the graduate and undergraduate levels, the University of Alabama at Birmingham is an internationally renowned research university and academic medical center and the state of Alabama's largest employer, with some 23,000 employees and an economic impact exceeding $5 billion annually on the state. The five pillars of UAB's mission deliver knowledge that will change your world: the education of students, who are exposed to multidisciplinary learning and a new world of diversity; research, the creation of new knowledge; patient care, the outcome of 'bench-to-bedside' translational knowledge; service to the community at home and around the globe, from free clinics in local neighborhoods to the transformational experience of the arts; and the economic development of Birmingham and Alabama. Learn more at www.uab.edu.

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