LOS ANGELES, CA -- As a new mom, my life was suddenly all about firsts: The first time we brought our daughter home. The first time she squeezed my thumb. The first time we took her to a restaurant. The first time she laughed out loud.
So it was just a matter of time until we took her on her first trip. It came when Cassia was 11 months old, and we were traveling to Seattle for my mom's 60th birthday.
Before becoming a parent, I dreaded sitting near or even being on the same flight as a baby. The last thing I wanted in a crowded plane was hours of whining, crying or kicking.
Then I found myself on the other end of the spectrum -- I would be the one bringing the baby on the plane to the horror of my fellow passengers.
My top priority was to make Cassia's flight and overall traveling experience smooth and as fuss-free as possible for everyone involved.
Get organized by creating lists for packing
I started with tackling the question of what to pack by creating lists: clothes, feeding supplies, everyday diaper bag gear, sleeping essentials.
I ended up buying a handful of travel-specific items, but I made sure to not go overboard with my purchases. Some notable purchases include a stroller cover, travel bottle brush and drying rack and a small hand-held breast pump.
I didn't take the pump on the plane with me since I just nursed on board, but it was very handy to have instead of lugging a bulky plug-in double pump.
My original to-buy list was much longer, but it helped to keep in mind that flying with a baby is similar to a longer outing. Just because it includes a plane ride doesn't mean I have to buy a ton of new stuff!
Call your airline ahead of time
After my husband booked our flight, he called Alaska Airlines to let them know ahead of time that we're bringing an infant with us. Most airlines give an option for a child under 2 to travel on your lap or on a reserved seat. We chose the lap option. The Alaska official let us know that we should bring our daughter's birth certificate for proof of age.
Confirm airline's policy on checking stroller, car seat
We made sure to confirm the airline's policy regarding checking in our stroller and car seat. Many let you check in one stroller and one car seat (per traveler) for free. You can do this either at the check-in counter or at the gate. The airline official also let us know that a diaper bag counts as one carry-on.
Alaska allowed us to check in our stroller and car seat both at the gate and also provided thick, large plastic bags with drawstrings to cover and protect them during travel. Our stroller is on the larger side, so I bought a separate travel cover ahead of time, but the airline's travel bag was a great fit for our car seat.
I admit, I was very nervous as I walked down the aisle carrying my baby. I caught glimpses of annoyance on the faces of some fellow passengers, but mostly, I found people to be kind and empathetic.
Be ready with your child's favorite snacks, toys
Cassia isn't much of a crier or overly fussy, but I wasn't taking any chances. From the time we were waiting at the gate to when were seated in the plane, I had her favorite snacks, books and (non-squeaky) toys at the ready - not tucked away in a bag in the overhead compartment.
Prevent discomfort with nursing or a pacifier
My doctor warned me that my daughter's ears could pop during takeoff and landing. Nursing or a pacifier was recommended since the sucking action can prevent discomfort. Since Cassia never really took to pacifiers, I brought along my nursing cover and breastfed her during the ascending and descending portions of the flight. The feedings acted as perfect bookends to the two-hour flight from Los Angeles to Seattle.
Fortunately, Cassia's first flight went off without a hitch. She didn't cry at all. She only fussed for a few minutes here and there, and she quickly stopped when I gave her a snack or distracted her with a toy or a book.
A big concern of mine was where Cassia would sleep at my parents' house.
Pack n' play was perfect for travel
We never took the co-sleeping route, so Cassia was used to sleeping in a bassinet or a crib. I was able to find a relatively inexpensive pack n' play on Amazon and send it to my parents' house.
I thought about buying a crib mattress to place on the bottom of the pack n' play, but I found that the bottom was sturdy and supportive enough. I just added a blanket on top, and my daughter slept soundly.
I figured we would be visiting often, so we left it behind for next time. No need to haul it back home!
Caution: Baby may have trouble returning to sleep routine when back home
We made it back to Los Angeles in one piece, but our first-time travel experience wasn't over yet. After sleeping for three nights in a pack n' play in the same room as us, Cassia began having trouble falling asleep alone in her own room. She would cry every time we put her in the crib and walked toward the door.
It took about two (long and sleepless) weeks for Cassia's sleep routine to return to normal. It made me realize just how fragile a baby's sleep routine is.
Our next challenge will be attempting a longer trip with a longer flight, but I'm more than relieved that our first journey is in the books!