Is air travel safe for an infant?

Answer From Jay L. Hoecker, M.D.

Air travel is typically safe for most healthy, full-term infants after the first few weeks. Air travel may not be a good idea for babies born before their due date, called premature or pre-term.

Babies born early may still need time for their lungs to mature. So check with a healthcare professional before flying in a pressurized cabin or visiting high-altitude places.

And any infant with heart or lung problems should be cleared for air travel by a healthcare professional.

As you plan your trip, here are some things to keep in mind, such as the baby's age, your health and some basics of flying.

The baby's age, overall health

Experts caution against flying in the first seven days after a baby is born. Some healthcare professionals suggest not traveling for the first few months.

In general, babies and adults face the same risk of exposure to illness from travel. But a baby's immune system is still learning how to protect against germs. And in most cases, a baby's illness needs to be more closely watched by a healthcare professional.

Caregiver health and planning

It is important for caregivers to think about their own health too. Flying with a child can cause added sleep loss and stress. And adults are at risk for new germs and illness, as well.

Finding out what illnesses are spreading in your area and where you're going can help you prepare and take thoughtful action. And basic things like handwashing are even more important to prevent the spread of germs while traveling.

The baby's ears

Offering a baby something to suck on may help relieve the baby's ear discomfort. You can offer the baby a breast, bottle or pacifier to suck on during takeoff and the start of the landing process. It might help to try to time feedings so that your baby is hungry during these times.

Ask a healthcare professional when it's safe to fly with babies who have had ear surgery or an ear infection.

Also, airplane cabin noise levels are loud, mainly during takeoff. Cotton balls, noise-canceling headphones or small earplugs may limit your baby's exposure to this noise. This may help make it easier for your baby to sleep.

The baby's safety seat

Most infant car seats are certified for air travel. Airlines often allow infants to ride on a caregiver's lap during flight. But the Federal Aviation Administration recommends that infants ride in properly secured safety seats.

If you choose not to purchase a ticket for your infant, ask about open seats when you board the plane. It's possible an open seat could be assigned to your infant.

Don't be tempted to give your baby medicine, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl, others), to help the baby sleep during the flight. The practice isn't recommended, and sometimes the medicine can have the opposite effect.

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Jan. 05, 2024 See more Expert Answers