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Flying With a Baby: Is Air Travel Safe for Infants?

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WebMD Commentary
Reviewed by Jennifer Shu, MD

Q: I want to schedule a plane flight so my newborn baby can see her uncle in Biloxi. My friend's pediatrician told her to wait until the first set of immunizations was complete. Another said two weeks at the earliest. I'm confused!

A. I have yet a third opinion: If there are no medical concerns*, you can safely travel by plane with your newborn from day 1! In fact, the younger a baby is, the easier it is to travel: Their needs are simple; they don't say NO; and they can't try to walk away and explore the cockpit.

* The amount of oxygen in the air of an airplane is 30% less than usual, so any breathing problems can be made worse during a flight.

Dr. P's Pearl

Air travel is far and away the safest way to go. Your baby is at a much greater risk if you choose to drive than fly to your destination.

Air Travel With Newborns

The main concerns with air travel and newborns include:

  • Their immune systems are still immature, so should they be exposed to a virus or some other infectious disease on the plane, they could get sick.
    • But the risk of germ exposure is always present, the immune system at two months is still not quite up to snuff, and childhood immunizations do not protect against the germs that are likely to be on the plane.
  • The potential for pressure to build up in the ears (again, true at any age).
    • As the cabin pressure changes during takeoff (and especially landing), the pressure in the outer ear canal changes with it, but the pressure in middle ear may not. (When we feel our ears 'pop' on a plane, that's when the pressure in our middle ear has equalized.)
    • If the pressure in the middle and outer ear are not the same, pain and discomfort occur until the ears pop.
  • There is the question of safety during turbulence. But we all have experienced turbulence and know how useful our seat belts were.
    • On the airplane, your baby would be safest if you purchased a separate seat for her and put her into a rear-facing car seat. If you haven't purchased a separate ticket and the plane is not full, most airlines will allow you to use an empty seat at little or no charge. It's best to contact your airline for their policies on seats for infants.
    • Getting through security: Navigating security with your infant is another challenge altogether. Everyone gets screened, including babies. Check the regulations from the TSA at www.tsa.gov/travelers/airtravel/children/index.shtm.

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