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Not Your Typical 10 Tips for Surviving Traveling with Children

by Jessica Martin-Weber
This post was made possible by the generous sponsorship of Mamava Lactation Stations.
who-needs-vacation

When you do both without a partner you’ll find yourself peeing in a public restroom with a baby strapped to your back and everyone’s luggage in there with you.

 

Traveling with children, I don’t understand how there isn’t a reality show based on this yet. There would be plenty of drama, melt-downs (and not just coming from the kids), arguments, ridiculous situations, questionable wardrobe opportunities, and oh-no-she-didn’t moments.

While some families go for goody bags and apologizing-in-advance notes explaining that their children may act like the juvenile members of society they are, others just hope to make it through the experience with their yoga pants and spit-up embellished shirt intact. Thank you overachiever-extra-considerate parents for making the rest of us look like loser slackers. Board an airplane with a child in tow these days and I swear you’ll see looks of horror, fear, and then annoyance if you don’t have goody bags with drink coupons, ear plugs, and candy for them. As if they could possibly need a goody bag more than the parents do. If I am buying anyone chocolate for when I travel with my children, it’s going to be me. How dare I take my child in public without compensating those who must endure her presence. Hold up, I may have a smushed piece of chocolate in the bottom of the diaper bag if you really feel you deserve a participation award for me traveling with my children.

I’ve had a lot of experience traveling with children over the years. Of course, I now consider leaving the house with children to be “traveling with children.” Over the past 16 years I’ve been forced to develop some serious survival skills for this near daily endeavor. This isn’t your typical Pinterest style tips, here, in no particular order are my 10 tips for slacker parents like myself to survive traveling with children:

1. Dress for comfort. It’s likely you’re going to find yourself lugging too much stuff (and wondering why you didn’t get a Uhaul for it), chasing after someone or something, wearing someone’s meal and probably someone’s body fluid (admit it, either one could be yours), and possibly wrestling an octopus at any given moment. If you’re breastfeeding, comfort and boob accessibility can make the difference between going crazy and just looking like you are. Road trip (all the way to the grocery store!), plane, train, or the mall carousel, comfort is of the essence, you simply can’t dash after a kid in anything more trendy than yoga pants.

2. Have extra. Of everything. Since I have 6 kids, everyone seems to think I even bring extra children. Though it may seem as though you already have brought the entire Baby’s R Us, guaranteed there is something you have forgotten or foolishly didn’t bring enough extras of and that one item is the only one you will need. Just packed 6 diapers in that diaper bag? You’ll need 7 for sure then. You have an extra outfit for baby in your right pocket and for yourself in the left, right? No? There will be a poopsplosion on the airplane and you’ll have been the terrorist with the bomb, the evidence all over you and your baby. You are traveling with a weapon of massive poopstruction, you don’t want to be underprepared. So just go ahead and rent that Uhaul, stuff the glove compartment, or pack that obnoxiously large carry-on, whatever you do, don’t come up short on the 1,239,845,123,020,934 baby “essentials.”

3. Rations. You can Pinterest the living daylights out of this point, I did. A clever little box of snacks including fruit and other healthyish munchies. It was cute and put together. In the end though, you’ll just start throwing food at them and hoping some makes it in and satisfies them for 10 minutes. They say don’t eat when you’re bored but travel is totally the exception to that rule. Why? Because snacks mean silence and if you’re lucky, maybe eventually even a nap. Eat all the goldfish, Honey, I got the big box from Costco just for this trip, you can eat them all day long.

4. Put those kids to work. Once they demonstrate some competent walking skills (with my kids that seems to kick in around 6 years old) it’s time to put them to work. Even toddlers can sort of do it if getting places with any kind of urgency isn’t on your list. Each member of your caravan can carry a backpack, don’t let them slack. You want to eat on this journey, kid? Well then you better carry that food so you don’t go hungry. Want your special blankie or plushie? I got a spot for that right on your back. Activites so you don’t get bored? If you’re ready to carry the weight, you’re going to be entertained for hours.

5. Accessorize. You know what’s hot these days? Babies. They’re like a furnace. So strap one on, ditch the stroller, and strut like the hottest fashion model as you bolt to your gate. Strollers are great for certain settings but for travel can be cumbersome and take up a lot of space. Leave it at home if you can and try babywearing instead. Of course, if you have more than one baby or a baby and a toddler or otherwise think it would be good to have a baby tank handy for your excursions, you can always turn the stroller into a bulldozer to get people out of your way.

6. Find your backbone and don’t be afraid to use it. Since you may encounter people who resent you bringing your children into a public space or may be so happy to see your baby they border on affectionate assault, you may need your spine. When we traveled to India, a culture that loves young children and a fair skinned red head was a bit of an anomaly, our introverted 2 year old learned that everything could go much smoother for her if she just automatically started yelling “go away, don’t touch!” from the moment we opened the car door anywhere. Speak up for what you need and speak up when the boundaries of you or your child(ren) aren’t being respected. I must say “go away, don’t touch” at the top of your lungs does seem to be effective.

7. Sleep. Just kidding, you’re probably not going to get any sleep when you travel with kids, silly.

8.  Have an escape plan. You’ll probably need it. An escape plan when traveling with children can look like anything, not just the exit that the little lights along the aisle lead to, which, unless there are more than just your kids screaming and hysterical, probably isn’t a good idea to utilize. The most effective escape options include a door and a lock, a containment facility for those that like to run and to block everything else out. Even better if there was a foot massage but unless you can get a kid to help you with that, it’s likely trying to have that experience with kids along for the ride will include you saying something like “stop licking the vibrating chair” or “those pretty colored bottles aren’t candy sweetie.” If you have a baby to feed, breastfeeding or otherwise, this can be the perfect built-in escape plan especially if you have an adult travel companion. If breastfeeding is going well for you, breastfeeding while traveling is super easy AND you get a shot of oxytocin each time you feed your kid. Instant stress relief. Nobody needs to hide to feed their child unless they are more comfortable doing so. Still, it’s the perfect excuse, you need to feed the baby, you have identified an escape plan facility (like the Mamava pods!), you hand the other child(ren) off to your partner, you go into escape facility, you lock door, and you revel in the comparative quiet stillness that is just one child and actually sitting down in more than 2 inches of space. And if you have to pump, you can maybe even go alone! Of course, if you’re not traveling with an adult who can wander around airport shops herding cats, I mean kids, then your escape may just mean a spot where they can’t run too far while you feed the baby. When you’re traveling with children you take what you can get. If you magically find yourself with spare time in advance, you can even plan out those spots while looking like a bad mom by daring to tear your eyes of your children (you might miss her twirl for the 4,253,649th time!) and check out this app for finding such havens.

Who is "vacationing" at Target today?

Who is “vacationing” at Target today?

9. Breathe. Impossible, right? But important. There’s a reason they tell you on flights to put your oxygen mask on first before helping someone else with their’s: if you don’t get yours on and you pass out from lack of oxygen, you’re not going to be much help. You need to make sure you’re getting air or you’re no good to anyone. Don’t rush and don’t forget to take care of yourself even if it’s just in little ways. For kids, the scent of stress is like the scent of blood for sharks, one little whiff and there will be a feeding frenzy. So breathe. Breathe deep. And for 5 minutes try to ignore the fact that every breath reminds you there’s a diaper that needs changing.

10. Plug in. We get it screens aren’t great for little kids and we miss out on so much when we’re plugged in and out of touch with the world around us. Which is why using technology to entertain kids while traveling is absolutely brilliant. We try to limit screen time at home in our family, so there’s room for many other activities that inspire creativity, physical movement, and adventure. Plus, that denial makes it a huge treat that they get to overindulge in screen time when we travel. At the start of any trip we avoid using screens but it doesn’t really take long before I’m saying “here sweetie, some headphones and digital candies you can crush for the next hour.” Survival of the techiest.

In all seriousness though, I love traveling with children. Seeing the world (or the grocery store), friends, and family is worth the difficulties we plunge ourselves and our children into. It isn’t always easy (why do we say that when what we mean is “95% of the time this is as pleasant as a pap smear but lasts a lot longer”?) but it is always rewarding. What are your realistic tips for traveling with kids?

Happy travels!

Surviving Holiday Breastfeeding

by Star Rodriguez, IBCLC

 

Ho, ho, ho!  Merry Christmas/Chanukah/Kwanzaa/Winter Solstice, readers!  It’s the most wonderful time of the year!!!  There’s snow! (Unless you’re in a place that doesn’t have cold, snowy winters, in which case, can I spend mine with you?  Or mail you some snow, at least?  Like, maybe all of it?)  There’s cookies!  There’s a festive holiday air that we all love!

Oh, yeah, and if you’re a breastfeeding mom and baby, there’s some possible, holiday-related pitfalls.  In this article, I’ll address some of them.  Hopefully, some of these tips will help keep your holidays happy.

 

Help!  My baby is suddenly super fussy and nursing all the time!

So it’s the holidays, and you’re spending them with, well, pretty much everyone you’ve ever met.  Ladies with babies are extra popular at the holidays.  We all want to hold, kiss, snuggle, and love your babies…and then hand them back as soon as they are fussy.

With traveling, and new people, and being passed around, it is totally normal for your baby to get a little overstimulated and cry often.  When breastfed babies get upset, they enjoy nursing.  It’s comforting for them, and allows them to calm down, and settle.  And then they might fall asleep.  At the breast.  While you’re holding them.  And then they wake up the second you set them down.  And this cycle repeats for what seems like FOREVER.

This doesn’t mean you have to stay awake, half dead from sleep deprivation.  One of the easiest things to do in this case is let your baby fall asleep while nursing.  Then, keep cuddling your baby until your baby is in a nice, deep sleep.  It usually takes babies at least 10-15 minutes to get there.  After your baby is in that deep sleep, though, you can generally put them down and go sneak off for your own holiday enjoyment.  Or just go take a nap.  Whatever.

 

Help!  My baby seems to be nursing less!

Remember how we talked, up in the last few paragraphs, about everyone holding/kissing/snuggling your baby?  Well, sometimes, when babies are passed around, they get sort of distracted and stop thinking about eating.  If you’re wondering how that happens, remember the last time you were really, really busy.  Lots of stuff was going on.  Maybe you felt hungry once or twice, but as you got caught up in other things, you pushed it away and your hunger probably abated a little.

Well, that can happen with your baby, too.  Now, I’m not encouraging you to put this theory to the test by not feeding your child, but, at the holidays, it sometimes happens.  If you notice this has occurred, try to take your baby aside, somewhere quiet and less distracting, and nurse.  Be prepared for your baby to possibly cluster feed over the next night or day.  This is ok; it is your baby’s way of catching up after missed feedings.

In this particular case, the best defense is just making sure that you’re nursing your baby regularly at gatherings, though.

 

Help!  I’m nervous about breastfeeding in front of my family and friends!

Sometimes, you are the nervous one, who is worried about exposing yourself.  Sometimes you’re in a home that’s not incredibly breastfeeding-friendly.  Either way, this can make you feel very anxious about the holidays.

In this situation, there are many things you can do.  Some people just decide to not care, and nurse just the way they do at home.  Gathering up the confidence to do this often leads to a great experience for moms, and little to no negativity from the people surrounding them.  If you’re not sure that’s for you, try breastfeeding in front of a mirror and see how much really shows.  With your baby at the breast you may be more covered than you realized and after practicing in front of a mirror be ok with breastfeeding wherever you are.  However, not everyone will be comfortable with this, and that’s ok.

You can also use a cover or nurse in another room.  Covers have the advantage of not making you have to go away from where the action is.  Some babies don’t like them, though, and will pull them up so that they can see what is going on around them.  Some homes are warm, and the cover leads mom and baby to feel too hot.  Nursing in another room can reduce all of those negatives, but, again, you’re missing fraternizing with others, and that’s what the holidays are for.

I also, as with almost any nursing in public endeavor, recommend a cami under a regular shirt.  You pull the top shirt up, the bottom shirt down, and they cover pretty much everything, even your stomach.  See this video for how that can work.  Special breastfeeding tops make it easy too and and an Undercover Mama is a nice option as well.

You can also try making your holiday trips short, if possible.  Many moms can go to an event for 2-3 hours and just nurse before and afterwards.  That may allow you to get out without having to worry about nursing at all.

 

Help!  I have a sick relative insisting on handling my baby!

First of all, babies are not super delicate if they are healthy, full term newborns without any health issues.  As long as your relative washes their hands and uses sanitizer, doesn’t have something horrible like pertussis, and doesn’t get all up in your baby’s face, it will probably be fine.  Feel absolutely free to bring sanitizer with you and insist on its use if that makes you feel more comfortable.  This is your baby, and you can ask people to have good hygiene before touching.

However, not everyone is ok with letting any sick person handle their baby, or, maybe your baby is immune compromised in some way.  The best thing that I have found for this is, “I’m so sorry.  My pediatrician is concerned about me exposing (baby’s name) to germs right now.  Let me hold (baby) for you, and you can take a look at her.”

You can also wear your baby.  I’ve found that, when baby is strapped to your breasts, people are a lot less likely to get too close or to ask to hold or touch the baby.

 

Help!  I have a lot of traveling to do!

Holiday travel by car, for me, would involve ten hours of driving, so I feel your pain on driving with babies.  Air travel is usually easier; look for nonstop flights, nurse your baby during takeoff, and try to get nonstop flights when at all possible so that you can minimize your time on the plane.  Arrive early enough to get through TSA, and I highly recommend a baby carrier for traveling through the airport.  If you are bringing pumped milk, know the TSA guidelines for pumped milk.

If you are driving, think outside the box.  If it’s a long drive, can you drive most of it during the part of the day or night that your child sleeps most?  Can you bring a support person to help entertain the baby?  Can an older sibling help?  Take as many breaks as you need, and allot for them in the time that you are driving.

 

Help!  My relatives give unsolicited breastfeeding advice!

I get questions every year from people basically asking me how to tell their relatives to back off.  They hear things like, “Are you STILL nursing that baby?”  “I don’t know why you can’t give a bottle!” “We used to give babies rice cereal in a bottle and they slept much better than yours does!”

First, remember that this is your baby, and parenting decisions are up to you to make.  Other than that, people handle this very differently.  Some moms just let it go in one ear and out the other.  Remember, most of these people legitimately are about you and your baby and are probably just unfamiliar with current research.

Some people will come equipped with research showing that breastfeeding is acceptable and a good idea.  Many of my clients use snippets from the AAP or WHO – “The AAP recommends nursing until at least a year” or “The WHO recommends nursing until two years old,” can both be good.  A simple, “My pediatrician thinks this is a good idea for us,” can also be a really great way to shut down opposition.

It may make you feel better to argue, debate, or reply sarcastically (and I will admit that there have been many times that I have done just that) but it’s rarely a great solution.  Although, this particular example has always amused me.

If you can pull off sarcasm that well, absolutely do.

 

 

Help!  My relatives keep trying to sneak my baby food!

Make your expectations clear when you first get there if you think this will be an issue. “We are not doing solid foods yet.  My baby only gets breast milk.  Please do not feed our baby.”  You can also mention allergies: “We are concerned about allergic reactions in our baby, so we are starting solids gradually and in a very specific way.  Maybe instead of feeding the baby, you can change diapers/take her for a walk/rock him/et cetera.”  Giving people something else that they can do with the baby is often the easiest way to get them to stop stuffing things in his or her mouth.

 

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 Star Rodriguiz, IBCLC, began her career helping women breastfeed as a breastfeeding peer counselor for a WIC in the Midwest.  Today she is a hospital based lactation consultant who also does private practice work through Lactastic Services.  She recently moved to the northern US with her two daughters and they are learning to cope with early October snowfalls (her Facebook page is here, go “like” for great support).