Last month, I boarded a plane in the early evening to head back home after a weekend away at a family wedding. As people sat down around me, everything was looking towards a quiet, stress-free ride. Suddenly, a dad and his newborn baby boarded the plane and made their way behind me. I prayed that they’d go all the way to the back of the aircraft, but instead he sat directly behind me, his knees digging into my own seat as he adjusted his. I cursed my luck and angrily opened my Kindle, hoping a good storyline would distract me from the inevitable blood-curdling screaming that was about to start during takeoff. To my utter shock, I forgot the baby was there. In fact, I didn’t remember until we were de-boarding, and I looked behind me to see a peaceful sleeping infant in her dad’s arms. I was flabbergasted, and I wondered why so many babies have problems flying when they clearly don’t have to. Aside from the usual fussiness, babies hate flying because it hurts their ears.

Assuming you’ve fed your baby, changed his diaper, and tired him out before the plane ride, the only other variable that could cause a crying fit is the flight itself. When we take off as adults, our ears pop slightly and we carry on with our in-flight thoughts. The situation is much different for babies. That same pressure caused by the change in altitude actually causes pain, because the Eustachian tubes in an infant’s ear are much smaller. Any built up earwax or liquid presses up directly against the eardrum and causes considerable pain. If your baby has an ear infection, there will be even more wax built up, and your doctor will probably recommend you don’t fly. Skipping that flight will save you (and everyone else on the plane) a lot of trouble, so follow that advice if you can.

Flying with your baby for the first time will be very scary. If he or she goes berserk midair, there is really nothing you can do except apologize to those around you and hope that it will end soon. One study shows that letting a baby cry is the best way to relieve the pressure, because the jaw will be moving. You could also try feeding baby during takeoff and landing to make sure he is swallowing and popping his ears.

Source: Anne Saletta et al: Fit to Fly. The American Journal of Nursing Volume 84 Issue 4 April 1984

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