Flying with a baby has its challenges. Quite a few of them, actually – the noise, the seats, the dry air, the tiny bathrooms… and, the ear pain that can occur at take off and landing!
Learning how to avoid ear pain in babies when flying is at least one of the things you can do for your little one!
My daughter screamed for hours (or at least that’s how it felt) when we flew her at the age of 4 months. It was such a nightmare. I have learned (the hard way) how to make the best of flying with a baby.
Why do babies and toddlers experience ear pain when flying?
Just like for adults, babies’ ears can hurt when cabin pressure changes. Our ears adjust to changes in air pressure through what is called our “Eustachian tubes”, which connect the middle ear, behind the eardrum, to the back of the nose and throat. During takeoff and landing, we can feel pressure or even pain in our ears and we might swallow or yawn to mitigate the pain. By swallowing, the Eustachian tubes open up so our ears can adjust to the pressure more easily.
Babies and toddlers, however, have narrower Eustachian tubes, and sometimes they don’t open up as easily to equalize the pressure. This can cause even more pain than for adults. And of course, it can be quite difficult to make a crying baby or a furious toddler swallow on command!
Things to Do to Avoid Ear Pain in Babies When Flying (and Toddlers too!)
We can’t always avoid ear pain in babies when flying entirely. Here are tips both to prevent and mitigate the pain and pressure for both babies, toddlers and a bit older children.
1. Breastfeeding – Breastfeeding (or bottle-feeding) is very efficient. And it is possible to do even if your baby is sitting in the infant security belt provided. Practice at home on how to breastfeed in public if the thought makes you at all uncomfortable.
Your baby can otherwise sense your nervousness and might become fussier and more difficult to calm.
2. A pacifier – A pacifier also works – similar to how a chewing gum works for adults. The suckling help neutralize the ear pressure. If your baby does not accept a dummy yet, you can try these tips to help your baby take a pacifier.
3. Suckling or drinking anything – Babies who already know how to drink from a cup can do that too. You can even use your finger as long as it makes your baby suck and swallows.
4. Create a vacuum – You can also try pressing your hands against your baby’s ears to create kind of a vacuum. Then quickly take your hands away again. Practice on yourself first.
I once saw a flight attendant that pressed two mugs towards a child’s ears and then pulled away quickly. The child stopped crying immediately. This is the same thing as with your hands.
5. Something to eat – Older babies and toddlers can, of course, have some fruits or crackers to chew and swallow.
6. Something yummy – A bit older children, who have been introduced to sugar, can have a lollipop. Dum dum lollipops, for example, are small and hence the sugar intake is not huge. But this is of course only for kids who have already been introduced to candy! Flying is NOT a reason to start.
7. Chewing gum – Kids that are older than 3 years old can also try a chewing gum, if you believe they are capable of just chewing and not swallowing.
8. Wait with the feeding – An important thing to remember is to NOT start any feeding too soon. Since takeoff can be delayed, there is a risk that your baby or toddler is full way before the swallowing is actually needed to avoid the ear pain. Wait until the plane is actually rolling to take off.
9. Well hydrated child -Make sure that your child is well hydrated throughout the flight. Airplanes have very dry air and this can cause nasal congestion. Congestion is turn can make the ear pain worse.
10. Baby with a cold or allergies – Is your child at all congested from a cold or allergies? If so, then prepare at home by asking the Dr for an antihistamine or decongestant to be used during the flight. If you don’t have a decongestant, you can use a few drops of breast milk in your baby’s nostrils if needed. Note that decongestants are questioned for infants, so definitely check with your pediatrician before using one!
11. Infant pain reliever for sick baby – If your baby has a real cold or ear infection, discuss with your pediatrician whether you should give him an infant pain reliever. Or postpone the flight!
12. Creative flight attendants – Finally, don’t forget to ask the cabin crew for ideas; they are often real experts on how to help a child in pain from flying.
Do you have any additional tips on how to avoid ear pain in babies when flying? Please share!
And for more tips on traveling with your baby, check out the posts and travel testimonies here!