Worried about travelling with a baby? We answer your most frequent questions about travelling abroad with a young children…
1. Travelling by plane
Q “I’ve heard that it can be dangerous for young babies to travel by plane. Is it safe to take my four-month-old on holiday?”
A There have been recent newspaper reports linking cot death to babies who have been on long-haul flights. A possible factor was thought to be the lowered oxygen levels, but there is no evidence to prove this and GPs and paediatricians have not advised against travelling with your baby on flights. The Aerospace Medical Association suggests waiting until a newborn is a week old before flying to ensure that there are no health problems, so your baby should be fine. However, if she has any respiratory problems before your flight, consult your doctor for advice.
2. Holiday insurance
Q “Holiday health insurance is so expensive – should we really bother?”
A Yes! It’s essential that you have full health insurance for the whole family. You can then be sure that you will get the medical attention you need in an emergency. Plus in destinations like the US, you may be refused medical treatment – unless it’s an emergency – if you do not have proof of insurance. If you are treated in America and don’t have insurance, it could cost thousands of pounds.
If you are travelling within the European Economic Area, you will need to apply for a free European Health Insurance card (EHIC) for each member of the family which will entitle you to free emergency medical treatment, but this shouldn’t be used as a substitute for full insurance – preferably choose a policy that covers flights home, too.
3. MMR vaccination
Q “My baby’s due her 12-month MMR vaccination while we’re away on holiday. Should we give it to her before we go or wait till we get back? I don’t want to leave her vulnerable.”
A Dr Peter Barrett, Senior Medical Advisor to the Medical Advisory Service for Travellers Abroad (MASTA) advises: “If you are going somewhere such as Africa, it makes sense for your daughter to have the vaccination before you travel, because measles is still common. There is not a high rate of incidences in Europe, so if she doesn’t have the MMR she is less vulnerable, but check with your GP if there are any known outbreaks in the area you are travelling to.”
4. Travel sickness
Q “I suffered from travel sickness as a child. Is my baby daughter likely to suffer the same problem too and how can I try to prevent it?”
A Travel sickness doesn’t tend to occur in children under about 18 months old, as the area which controls balance in the inner ear – and causes motion sickness – is not yet developed enough to be affected. From this age, factors such as lack of fresh air, too many snacks and anxiety can trigger the problem – so if you’re worried she’s about to vomit, try not to let her notice! Keep snacks fresh and light, such as dry biscuits, make sure she can regularly move about and gets plenty of fresh air. Ask your chemist which anti-sickness tablets are safe for her to take.
5. Sun protection
Q “What’s the best way to protect my 10-month-old baby from the sun?”
A Children under a year old should be kept completely out of the sun. This is because their skin is more sensitive and vulnerable to the sun’s damaging UV rays. But this doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a sun holiday. Just make sure she is well covered with sunscreen, with a factor of at least SPF30, although you can buy total sunblock. Apply an hour before you venture out and re-apply regularly. Make sure she wears a hat that protects her ears and neck as well as her face and that she is wearing either a sunsuit or loose cotton clothing to keep her cool. If you’re on the beach, keep her in the shade or use a beach tent to protect her from the heat (read product reviews here). Babies dehydrate at a much faster rate than adults, so make sure she drinks plenty of cooled, boiled water.
6. Emergency advice
Q “We’re going on holiday to Spain with our baby. We don’t speak the language, so what should we do in an emergency?”
A If you are going on a package holiday, your travel rep will know the name and number of the local doctor or clinic and where the nearest hospital is. For your own peace of mind, ask her for this information at the beginning of your holiday, in case she’s not around if you need her. If you are travelling independently, these details should be provided at your destination, for instance, the emergency number is not 999 in many other countries. You can also ask at the local pharmacy for help – use a travel dictionary to work out what you need to say before you get there!
7. Food poisoning and breastfeeding
Q “If I get food poisoning abroad will this affect my breastmilk and therefore my baby?”
A Dr Peter Barrett of MASTA says: “If you do suffer from a bout of food poisoning on holiday it is very unlikely that you will pass this on to your baby, but it is wise to take sensible precautions to prevent becoming ill in the first place.” Your baby is unlikely to be affected because breastmilk contains antibodies that help protect against infection. But to be on the safe side, avoid unchilled buffet food, food from street stalls and peel all uncooked fruit and vegetables. If you are travelling somewhere with dubious sanitation, avoid eating anything that may have been washed in local water, such as salads. Check that the local water supply is safe to drink – if you’re not sure, stick to bottled water.
8. First aid
Q “I don’t want to take a bag full of first aid items with me – which essentials should I take to cover most minor problems?”
A The following should cover most eventualities:
- Infant pain relief, eg Calpol
- Assorted size sticky plasters and antiseptic cream
- Mosquito repellent
- antihistamine cream
- Sunscreen (factor SPF 30) and soothing Aftersun cream
- Tweezers for splinters
Make sure that the products you buy are suitable to use on infants. However, you will probably be able to buy most of these basics if you or run out while on holiday so long as you aren’t going off the beaten track.
If you want a fuller first aid list then see our article Medicine Mum, which covers what to pack in your medicine bage whether holidaying at home or abroad.
9. Sterilising abroad
Q “I’m worried about sterilising teats etc abroad. What’s the best way to do it?”
A It’s not very practical taking a steam steriliser abroad and if you’re not sure what the facilities are at your destination. There are two options – you can either use a liquid sterilising solution, such as Milton’s. You’ll need to take a plastic bowl to submerge the teats in – making sure that there are no air bubbles when you do so. You’ll need to regularly change the solution (check the directions), but can keep items such as teats and dummies submerged for a number of hours. Or, if there is a microwave available at your holiday destination you could consider taking microwavable steriliser bags – just pop everything in the bag and microwave for three minutes. Each bag is reusable up to 20 times!
10. Foreign baby food
Q “I don’t want to take lots of jars abroad, but how will I know what’s similar and safe to feed my 10-month-old?”
A Easy! Just check Holiday Essentials, which lists over 90 countries and which brands of formula, babyfood, nappies and wipes they stock.
However, you can take essential liquid babyfood and baby milk on board the airplane. You may be asked to taste the contents of each bottle or jar – we strongly advise you to check the airline’s website for up-to-date information before you fly.
Where to next?
- MASTA (Medical Advisory Services for Travellers Abroad) tel: 0207 291 9333 offers information on travelling abroad, particularly concerning vaccinations.
- British Airways travel clinic and health and medical information.