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Photos: Megan Soto
Mother’s Situation: Family travels
My husband and I, our preschooler, and breastfeeding baby are planning to make a vacation in July that will involve a lot of travel, by air, road, and rail. I am really anxious about how best to manage this trip so as to keep my little ones happy, and stress for my husband and me to a minimum. How have other parents met such a challenge? I should love you to share your tips, please!
I worried about breastfeeding when traveling and how to cover up, but I quickly became comfortable with practice. Most of the time no one even notices, and it was so much easier than having to carry bottles.
Jane Brown, Edinburgh, Scotland, UK
When my son was eight weeks old and my daughter was two, our family went to Europe for my husband’s job, first for two months, then again later for six.
I was never more thankful for my parenting decisions to breastfeed, baby wear (my favorite carrier is the Moby), and co-sleep. Those things definitely made traveling easier.
We learned along the way and changed our expectations. Water play is always good and an ice-cream cone can buy a bit more time. Traveling by train is the best for us and, if it fits in the budget, springing for the first class ticket ensures the family gets to sit together. Finding a place to stay in the city center reduces walking between sights and “home,” and being near a playground helps. On our first trip, I joked that we were on a European tour of playgrounds.
My preschooler liked to compare currencies and paying for things with Euros—the one and two-Euro coins are readily identifiable. We looked at the flags of different countries and “I Spy” became a favorite game.
We abandoned the idea of nice restaurants. An outdoor café next to a playground was easier. Bubbles are a hit for any age and blowing them often brought children who could not communicate in the same language together to laugh and play.
When traveling by train, we made sure we had lots of time between connections, opting always for the train after the next one to avoid a panic rush, when there were only a few minutes to change platforms.
We love books, but to avoid carrying them, we downloaded picture books on the iPad, and bought a small number en route.
A stroller would have been too heavy and taken up too much space, as well as limiting where you can go, and there’s the worry about where you may leave it. A soft carrier, and a back carrier for the older child, worked well.
Both trips, I let my son nap on my chest, in the carrier, mostly. We respected my daughter’s naptime, making sure that after lunch we went to the hotel to let her sleep. I would nap too. Keeping that aspect of our routine, amidst all the other constant change, was essential for reducing our stress.
Kyle Maner Begley, Santa Barbara, CA, USA
Have realistic expectations of what you can manage each day.
Breastfeeding is a great help, calms the child, and makes the journey easier. I travel a lot by car now without another adult, with a four and two-year-old. I make a “party” bag for each child with interesting things to keep them busy while I am driving. Stickers are a firm favorite. We also play games, like guessing the color of the next car to pass us.
Ruth, London, UK
Plan rest stop times, so you can pull over to nurse when you’re on the road without worrying about delays. Bringing quiet toys, books, and drawing equipment can entertain your preschooler. A baby carrier allows you to nurse your baby while wearing him—a lifesaver on an airplane!
Tova Ovits, Brooklyn, New York, USA
Pack light and make sure you are easily able to carry your stuff. Take as much as necessary but as little as possible. Baby wearing was such a big help for me when I was traveling without another adult, making it easy to nurse and leaving my hands free for other things I needed to do.
Have your preschooler bring his own backpack. He will feel important if he can choose what to bring. I would recommend no toys with many pieces that may easily be lost. Maybe bring card games that can be played by the whole family or a tablet with some movies.
Traveling by plane, I prefer a seat in the back, closer to the bathroom, and where it is easier to get the flight attendant’s attention.
Leave some times during your day open to allow for changes or unforeseen delays in your schedule and add playtime in too. Try not to stress yourself about any of it as that can inhibit your milk letting down. Take it one hour at a time. Enjoy your trip!
Melanie Alvarez Mueller, Riverview FL, USA
Have realistic expectations of what you can manage each day. Try to time car rides when your baby will sleep. Don’t expect too much of your preschooler. The novelty value of inexpensive, new (to him) toys and books can provide a good distraction. Ultimately, if you plan so your preschooler will be able to cope, then everyone will be happier, because if a three-year-old isn’t happy, nobody is going to be!
Katherine Rutter, Northampton, UK
Traveling is a lot of work. We took our 12-month-old on a plane to Germany. I kept him moving whenever there was space for him to be active, walking up and down the train and plane aisles with him and exploring the airport, which helped when he had to sit still on the plane for take-off and landing.
Alexandra, London, UK
Picking individually wrapped simple gifts from the “lucky dip bag” was a great distraction. I think my daughter enjoyed the unwrapping as much as anything!
Amanda Baldwin, Northampton, UK
Our first child hated car journeys so much that we sold our car and traveled by train. Now she is four and is an amazing traveler, even on long car journeys. We think it might be because she felt we listened to her and didn’t force her to go by car.
Lucy, Nottingham, UK
Changing places in the car seems to make the time pass faster. My husband and I will alternate driving and sitting back with the kids. When we travel by air, gate checking the car seat has been helpful. On the road, I stop to stretch and have some baby wearing time to relax us both. We plan for a few days beforehand so that we aren’t rushing doing all the laundry and last-minute packing. If the day before we go is relaxed and calm, it seems to make the traveling go better.
Ashley Barrett, Oregon, USA
When we made a long train journey, the baby was the easier one. Baby wearing is comforting. Don’t worry about apologizing for any disruptions, every one was a baby at one time and disrupted other people! I was tandem nursing both my girls, so there were times they needed to cuddle, nurse, and recharge for more fun.
Enjoy your vacation!
Megan Crane, Sweet Valley, PA, USA
Mother’s New Situation: Cry It Out
My baby won’t go to sleep at night without me. Breastfeeding always works well to settle him and is a nice way to end each day, but I am worried that it is becoming a bad habit that we’ll never break. I am hearing a lot of advice from friends and family that he needs to learn to self-soothe and they say his reliance on breastfeeding will spoil him. My mother-in-law recommends I try the “Cry It Out” method. The one time I did, it reduced me to tears as well as my baby. What do other mothers think? How effective is such a technique to encourage babies to sleep? And what gentler ways are there for nighttime parenting your baby to sleep?