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Flying with a Colicky Baby

Posted by on April 26, 2013

Fussy Baby

We took John on his first flight at 10.5 weeks. His colic/reflux was bad and he wasn’t happy very often. Although he wasn’t thrilled with the flight, I was able to keep him basically content and mostly quiet. Each baby and each day is different with a colicky baby, so I won’t claim that these tips will work every time. If you have a colicky baby you know that some things work one day and not the next. But here’s what worked for us on this flight:

Buy a Seat for Baby (even if you don’t use it)

Newborn Sleeping

Normally I would advise everyone to use a car seat for their infant on the plane, as it is unquestionably the safest way to travel. The problem for us was that John was very uncomfortable in his car seat and screamed any time he was buckled in. The buckle hits right in the middle of the infant’s tummy and when they are having tummy troubles it only adds to the pain. I held John in my lap on this first flight, but I quickly realized how much better it would be if we had a little more room. If I had purchased a seat for him then he could have stretched out and I think it would have helped him relax a little more. He wasn’t too thrilled with being on my shoulder the whole flight. Also if you’re lucky enough your baby will be lulled by the sound of the engines and sleep through much of the flight and it will be nice to put the baby down for a little bit and give your arms a break. (Most infants DO sleep the majority of the flight. Mine didn’t, but most do. Your chances are good.)

Feed Without a Schedule

If you are breastfeeding and that comforts your fussy baby, go ahead and let them use you as a pacifier as much as they want throughout the flight. Don’t worry about any judgmental stares from ignorant passengers. If you wear a nursing tank and a button-down shirt you can nurse very modestly even if your baby won’t tolerate a nursing cover.  Most passengers will be happy that you are doing what you can to soothe your baby. If you’ve introduced a bottle, bring a couple as a back up in case your baby suddenly decides he/she does not like to nurse in public.

If you are bottle feeding, don’t worry too much about the normal schedule you have for feeding. You can get back on that after the flight. For now do what you need to make your baby happy. Keep in mind, though, that a gassy belly will be worse with the air pressure in flight. Be sure to burp your baby often and have lots of burp cloths available. If you overfeed you risk a big mess from spit up.

If your baby likes a pacifier be sure to bring several. Chances are they will be dropped and you do not want to stick that thing in your precious baby’s mouth after it’s been on the aircraft floor. EWWW!  You might want to pack these paci wipes and use a paci clip.

airplane paci

Bring SEVERAL Changes of Clothes

When traveling with any child you should have at least one full change of clothes; with infants at least two. But if your infant has reflux, the chances of that spit up becoming projectile vomiting within the pressurized cabin are high. I was “lucky”. John has silent reflux, so he doesn’t often spit up. He did once on this first flight and that was because he over ate just a bit. We did experience what seems to be mandatory initiation for a baby’s first flight: Diaper Blowout. It was a big one. I was so grateful that I packed anticipating it. A fresh shirt for me was necessary and a complete outfit for John.

Say “CH” Instead of “SHUSH”


A shushing sound can be soothing for an infant, but it sure is irritating to others! It might just be me, but I think that  “CH” sounds less harsh than “SHHH”. It seems to travel over sound waves just a little bit less, while still soothing the baby. Give it a try. Smile

Accept Offers of Help


Don’t be too proud to accept offers of help from other passengers. There is a big difference between accepting help and expecting help. This wonderful woman (so sorry I forgot her name!) offered at the beginning of the flight to hold John anytime I needed a break. I didn’t really get a chance at first to take her up on her offer. But when it was time to deplane it was nearly impossible to  collect our bags from under the seats without smashing John in my arms. He refused to be worn in a sling since it put extra pressure on his hurting stomach. This kind stranger noticed my struggle and again offered to hold John. As she did this he actually enjoyed the change of scenery and calmed down a little bit and I was able to very quickly gather our belongings so we could deplane. Don’t freak out about a “stranger” holding your baby. They are in your presence and trapped in a metal tube with you. There is no shame in accepting help.

Realize Most Everyone Sympathizes With You


If all else fails and your poor baby cries the entire flight (this happened to my sister when she was traveling alone with her 3 children…so tough!), just realize that most of the people on the flight are sympathetic to you. If they’re not, they don’t deserve your consideration. Most people can tell if a baby or child is crying because they are hurting vs. crying because they are brats. Don’t put extra pressure on yourself trying to please other passengers. When you have a colicky baby your focus has to be on them and on your coping mechanisms. Try to remember to take a breath when you can. Do what you can to soothe your poor little one, but don’t worry about glares from others. Those are normally reserved for parents who don’t try to interact with and help their children.