For my first blog I am going back in time, four years ago in fact, to when we nervously travelled with newborn baby Charlie.
Picture this scene…. I am a few months pregnant with my first baby and my sister announces that she intends to get married in Mexico. Never having had to think like a responsible mum before, it did not cross my mind about how my baby would cope in the heat (wedding booked for mid August as my sister works in a school) or endure the long flights. No my first thoughts were ‘bloody fantastic we are off to Mexico to drink margaritas with our family and friends in the sunshine!’
Fast forward eight months and my husband Richard and I were meeting with a pediatrician to discuss how to keep our precious four-month old baby boy Charlie healthy and safe in the Mexican sun. I was a bit of an emotional wreck thinking of all the things that could possibly go wrong and I had a long list of questions to ask the doctor (ridiculous considering that I have travelled to over 80 countries and so not exactly what you would call a novice traveller!)
To say that my hubby and I were worried about our first long haul holiday with baby is a slight understatement. We were very apprehensive, mainly because our baby had not had all of his injections. We had therefore scheduled an appointment to see if his pediatrician would recommend having some of his injections early (she explained that she did not feel it was safe to do so) and to get some advice on flying with a newborn and protecting him from the heat and insects.
Thankfully she was very patient and was quite happy to give advice about avoiding mosquito bites (deet free spray) and ensuring baby did not experience ear discomfort during the flight (by nursing him on the take off and initial descent). She did also recommend using bottled water and micro-steam bags for making up the occasional bottle I intended to give baby (so that I could enjoy an occasional margarita that I had looked forward to all those many carefree months ago!)
Unfortunately, Charlie must have missed the part of the conversation when she pointed out that it was easier to travel with a newborn than it was a toddler as newborns sleep most of the day! (Charlie had one… yes just the one daytime nap in the entire two-week holiday!)
How times change eh… Before giving birth to our baby boy Charlie I was one of those people who would glare at parents as they walked up the aisle of the plane, hoping and praying the snotty, screaming, wiggling baby in their arms would not be sitting anywhere near me. Now I was about to become one of those parents!
I checked before flying to Mexico that there was a store near our hotel so that I could buy nappies, baby wipes, etc and then we just travelled with a few days supply in an effort to cut down on luggage. Please take my word for it when I recommend that you attempt to travel light as we had a nightmare with the amount of luggage we travelled with!
I made the mistake of thinking I could pack the same amount of luggage I had always travelled with pre baby in addition to all of baby’s gear. This resulted in a total of three large suitcases, two pieces of hand luggage, a laptop bag, push chair, car seat, baby sling and baby changing bag…..
I will never forget my husbands face when we arrived at Savannah airport and realised that we had to do numerous journeys to and from the taxi to the check in desk to transport all of our belongings. Security attempted to tell Richard that he could not leave our luggage unattended at the check in desk whilst he returned to the taxi to retrieve more of our belongings…. if looks could kill!
Of course my two changes of clothes per day for a 14 day holiday plus spares and 10 pairs of shoes were not used and I could have spared us the trouble (shush do not tell my hubby!)
The Dreaded Flights!
We were travelling to Mexico from our then home in Savannah, Georgia, USA. It involved two flights, a layover in Atlanta and a long taxi drive from Cancun to Playa Del Carman. Although I did spot a few fellow travellers glaring at us as we made our way down the aisle of the plane… (how dare they!) Baby Charlie was good as gold and slept for the majority of both flights (obviously conserving his energy for Mexico!)
Following the advice of his pediatrician, I kept him entertained until the flight was close to taking off and then popped him under my nursing cover and breastfed him to make sure his ears did not hurt due to the pressure changes in the cabin. I did the same for the initial descent (note that pressure change is usually more noticeable around half hour or more before landing, depending on a flight’s cruising altitude). Charlie happily slept throughout the two flights, helped I am sure with the drone of the engine noise whilst I enjoyed the peace and quiet and watched an in flight movie! (I know! I could not believe my luck, I kept on checking him to make sure he was still breathing!)
Looking back now, although Richard and I were both very apprehensive about flying with our four-month old the first few flights we took with him were definitely the easiest ones. As he started to get more mobile and independent, watching an in flight movie was definitely an impossibility!
Lesson learnt from our first long haul holiday with baby
The main thing we learnt from travelling with baby Charlie is that things had to be taken at a much slower pace! My sister (bless her), tried her best to keep the wedding group together. She would regularly announce as she walked around the pool… “Have a quick change and lets meet in the bar in 30 minutes everyone” Richard and I would look at each other as if we had just been asked to run a marathon!
There were 23 of us in total, a mixed group of family and friends. Richard and I quickly realised that it took us much longer than the rest of the group to pack up from the pool/beach area; unload the push chair back in the hotel room; shower and change whilst entertaining a baby; feed and change baby (and then change again because of course he always filled his nappy the minute he had a clean one on, leaking all over his clothes and resulting in having to start over!)
Even getting out of the hotel room took time and effort with smothering baby in sun cream and mosquito repellent, covering up in a mosquito net, restocking the changing bag……. I could go on and on but you get the picture! After a couple of days of trying to keep up with the group we decided to take it at our own pace and enjoyed our holiday more as we were finally able to relax.
So would I recommend travelling with a baby?
Absolutely! You forget the sleepless nights and stress involved in packing up to go to the beach/pool everyday. I must admit though, we did find it easier having my parents in the hotel room next door to us and we had lots of willing volunteers on hand to help us with Charlie.
Family holidays since Mexico have been much more full on. As Charlie became mobile he wanted to explore the plane and we had to keeping an eye on him constantly around the pool. Now of course we have two little adventurers to keep an eye on when on holiday and so sipping margaritas and reading a novel around the pool are certainly a thing of the past! Honestly, (and you may not think it at the time) travelling with a newborn is a perfect time for a family holiday!
Image – Our last night. Baby Charlie happily asleep in his mosquito net covered pushchair
Top tips for a baby and parent meltdown free holiday…
1. Invest time and money in buying and packing the right kit. A cot bed insect net, pushchair fan, baby first aid kit and a baby sun float with canopy among other items we purchased for our holiday were absolute lifesavers. Click here for essential packing list.
Image – Charlie and his buddy enjoying the only daytime nap they had all holiday! Making good use of light weight mosquito net, push chair fans and muslin blankets.
2. Research before you travel. Is there a store nearby that sells infant essentials? If so, just pack enough nappies, etc for the first few days and cut down on your luggage. What can your hotel provide? I knew in advance that I would have access to a microwave in one of the hotel bars and so I purchased Medela micro-steam sterilisation bags which were brilliant.
3. Consider your baby’s routine when you book your flights. We booked a night-time flight for the two long flights – Atlanta to Cancun and return and this worked really well as Charlie slept the entire duration in both directions. When booking your flights request a bulkhead seat as this will provide you with a bassinet to lay your baby down and prevent you from having to hold him/her for the entire flight. Airlines generally have a policy that customers flying with an infant have a priority over bulkhead seats however depending on how many infants are onboard your flight you may not end up sitting with your entire party (plus you may end up next to somebody else’s crying child!)
4. Try to stick to your baby’s routine as much as possible but do not let it spoil your holiday i.e. returning to your hotel room every few hours for baby to nap is not much fun for you! I continued with my sons normal bedtime routine whilst in Mexico i.e. bath followed by milk but instead of putting him down to sleep in his cot we just tucked him up snug in his pushchair covered by a mosquito net and went for a walk before dinner to get him to sleep.
5. Always have extra large muslins and baby wipes to hand. Muslin blankets are great for providing sun shade and dunking in cold water and laying over baby to keep him/her cool. The heat and humidity were unbearable at times in Mexico and this trick along with the pushchair fan were lifesavers. (Please note that covering up your baby with a muslin blanket whilst in a pushchair is dangerous as the fabric will prevent air from circulating and the temperatures inside the pushchair can quickly become unbearable). Baby wipes… well I need not explain their value as they are a mums best friend! Baby sick, poo, snot marks can all be quickly erased with a wet wipe.
6. Take a car seat. A travel system (pushchair base with the option to add a car seat or pushchair seat) are perfect for when you wish to leave the resort and explore by taxi/public transport. We used our car seat on several occasions, I would not have felt safe travelling with Charlie on my lap for even short journeys.
7. Protect your pushchair. Umbrella strollers are great for throwing onto airplanes however they are not so great for attempting to push through sand on the beach. You may therefore wish to consider taking your everyday sturdier pushchair and just protecting it from airport damage with a heavy weight pushchair bag.
8. Save space in your suitcase by packing mainly vests for baby. I packed loads of cute outfits and for the majority of the holiday it was too hot for him to wear anything more than a vest.
9. Pack your sense of humour! There were (many!) times on the holiday when it was very stressful travelling with our four-month old son but memories such as this one when he made friends with all the kids in the pool definitely made up for the sleepless nights!
Have you experienced your first long haul holiday with baby? Can you add any top tips for a child (and parent!) meltdown free holiday?
Image of cocktails copyright Flickr/Shes Cooking. All other images copyright Travel Loving Family.