How To Fly With A Baby: Newborn
We booked our first international flight before we even had a passport for our baby. I gave birth at home, so after my postpartum confinement (one month without leaving the house) I had to register her with the county office of vital records, get her a birth certificate and then apply for a social security number – things people who give birth in hospitals don't have to worry about! I had to cancel and reschedule her first passport appointment because we didn’t get her social security card in time, so we ended up getting an expedited one.
A bit stressful, but looking back, it was actually easier to fly with a newborn than with her now at 9-months-old. If you've never heard the acronym HALT (Hungry, Angry, Lonely and Tired) – get familiar with it before flying with a baby. You have to prepare to deal with all these emotions for baby travel, in an enclosed space with strangers all around and no escape!
I'll be covering how to travel on a plane with a newborn, from how to get flight tickets for a baby to how to pack for the plane. I have blogs related to other elements of baby travel (like how to pack light even with a baby and flying with an infant). Traveling with a baby isn't awful! It just requires planning. Here are my tips:
1. How to get tickets for an "infant on lap"
When you book online with some airlines you can mark "infant on lap" for your ticket, add a bassinet request, even write your baby's name and birthday in, but sometimes that doesn't actually issue them a ticket! You have to call to do that and pay a fee (usually 10% of your ticket or the cost of the tax). Tip: Make sure to request a front row bulkhead seat and a bassinet for long flights. The seats are better and you don't have to hold the baby for hours. Do this early because seats get snatched up.
Note: Your baby may not share your last name, as is the case with mine. So I carry a copy of her birth certificate with me just in case there's any issues.
2. How to get a passport for a baby
If you’re planning only to travel domestically, don’t worry about a passport. U.S. citizens are not required to carry a passport when traveling in the U.S. But the airline you're flying with might require proof of your baby’s age, so it’s a good idea to carry their birth certificate (or any official document that shows your relationship and their age).
If you are planning to travel internationally, U.S. federal law requires all travelers, including newborns, carry a passport. On top of that, your baby’s passport photo has to meet the standard requirements, like a white background and centered framing.
The good thing is newborns don't have to have their eyes open or mouth closed. I learned later that you can use a passport app on your phone instead of going to a pharmacy or photo shop. I walked Safia down to Walgreens, after putting a white blanket behind her head. The lady snapped a few shots, waking her up, and printed a photo of my poor baby looking crazy, so I kind of wish I'd taken her photo.
That's the easy part. Actually applying for the passport can be complicated. But here's basically what you need to do: 1) Fill out this form, 2) Make photocopies of both parents' ID, 3) Bring the form, photocopies, original ID, original birth certificate and passport photos to the passport agency along with a form of payment. If one of the parents can't appear in person, they have to sign a notarized statement of consent. If you have sole custody, you have to provide proof. It usually takes 4-6 weeks, but for a fee you can expedite the process. Here's all the official info.
3. Pack food for you and the baby
This seems obvious, but wait. So if you're exclusively breastfeeding, it's really important to pack nutritious and high fat foods for yourself. Don't rely on airport food or airplane food. I was so worried about my supply dropping when I first flew that I brought lactation cookies. Later I made sure to pack lactation supplements (I cannot recommend Legendairy Milk enough, not an ad just trying to save new mommas time and stress, my milk supply increased in amount and fattiness once I started using them. Safia was on the thin side).
Flights are dehydrating and I can't tell you how worried I was that I wouldn't have milk when Safia wanted it during a flight. It never happened, but it could have, as I faced the issue of short supply occasionally some nights. The idea of it happening on a plane was a nightmare.
Just as a safety measure, when breastfeeding I would pump before a flight and bring at least one bottle on the plane in case I didn't happen to have milk when we were taking off. It's really important to have your baby sucking on something before take off – pacifier, bottle, boob – to keep their ears from hurting. Sometimes you have to wake them to get them to do it, but trust me it's worth it. You want to avoid a screaming baby if you can.
If you're formula-only, I suggest bringing more formula than you would anticipate your baby using in the time of the flight. Formula doesn't take much space and it beats your baby crying out of hunger. Running out of formula on a plane has happened to at least one mother. Remember this photo going viral? A Philippine Airlines flight attendant who breastfed a passenger's baby after the mom ran out of formula. She got lucky there was a lactating attendant on board!
Two specific notes for breastfeeding mommas. 1) You may be pumping. I traveled with the portable, rechargeable Spectra 9. It's not great for draining milk but it's easier to pack than my Medela, which was fantastic for getting milk but not as easy to transport. 2) Don't ever feel weird about breastfeeding on a plane. It can be awkward, with your arm almost in the other seat or the baby's head sticking in the aisle. Do what you have to do! Safia was never one to feed under a cover so I wore clothes that allowed a slip of the boob. No one ever said a word (I dare anyone to try lol). I will admit there were times I chose to go to the bathroom to feed her because she was being too fussy and I needed space. Whatever works.
I wrote a blog on breastfeeding and pumping while traveling if you want more information.
4. Pack enough diapers, wipes and clothes to account for explosive poops
Parents know all about explosive poop, the kind that somehow travel up the baby's back? It's mostly a newborn thing. But it happened to us on a flight. Luckily I'd packed a change of clothes and enough diapers. But I almost ran short of wipes. So yeah, make sure of that. And bring a reusable bag that you can put the soiled clothes in. I have this one.
I also recommend getting a diaper bag that can hold all of these things + food and even a change of clothes for you in case of leakage or messes. This is the one I use. It's on the expensive end. But I searched for a month before I settled on it, after reading tons of reviews. I decided the investment was worth it for a bag/pack that would travel well, hold up well and look good. I don't like disposable items and this bag is going to last me years. I plan to use it as a bag for the gym or work after its use as a diaper bag. Here's how compact it looks hanging on my stroller.
5. Be prepared for TSA not giving a shit you're a new parent / have a newborn
I remember going through TSA in NYC in a wheelchair, with a broken foot and holding a newborn, and being told I had to hand over my baby and take off my boot for inspection (even though I have TSA pre-check, because my attendant took us through the wrong line). When I first flew with a newborn I thought airport security would be more understanding – maybe smile? Um no. They'll tell you to pick up your sleeping baby, fold up your stroller and lift it onto the belt. It's a good idea to put all your baby’s liquid food, drink, oils etc. in a transparent bag (this unfortunately means plastic so get the reusable kind). They may even examine your bottles (though I haven't had that and I've take bottles with water, formula and breastmilk through security). During my last trip I was "randomly selected" twice and had my hands swiped while holding Safia. Just breath, smile and get through it because your baby feeds off your energy.
6. Book early morning/red-eye flights
Ahh traveling with a newborn is so easy compared to an alert infant. They sleep so much! The hum of the plane is really great for that. My number one suggestion – book the earliest or the latest flight you can. Know when your baby sleeps best and longest – or doesn't! As a newborn Safia was great in the early morning and for much of the daytime but cried a lot at night. I would have never subjected other passengers to her hours of crying at night if I could help it. So I would book 6 a.m. flights for us.
I already miss the days when she would sleep through TSA, waking up confused for a moment before passing back out once in her stroller, staying asleep while boarding, waking up for a feeding, then passing back out for much of the flight.
Our next trip is 19 hours of travel and we're leaning into how tough it's going to be because at the end of the day, you gotta get where you want to go, somehow. But I'm not looking forward to it. One tip my doctor gave me (she has two kids and takes them home to Ethiopia, also a long trip) is to have a sack of new toys your baby has never seen, and pull out one every hour of the flight. I'll be trying this.
7. Stroller bags and carriers
Last note, if you're going to bring a stroller on your trip, I highly recommend a stroller bag that allows you to throw your folded up stroller + your carseat into a bag that gets tagged at the gate for free. We use this one. Safia wasn't a carrier baby at first, so we always had to bring a stroller. Now she's happy to be in this carrier only (I tried so many kinds) and I sometimes wear her through the airport and onto the plane. It's great to have your carrier on the flight if it helps comfort your baby or put them to sleep, which can be a lifesaver.
Let me know if you have other questions – or if I missed anything – and I'm happy to answer/chat in the comment section or in a whole other blog! 💫
Flight Diaper Bag Checklist
✔️Food/water for mom
✔️Food/water for baby
✔️Baby bum balm