I must state outright that I am not a health expert and if you have any concerns over health related issues and travelling you should consult a registered health care professional. The advice contained below is based on my own research and experience on this topic and compiles a number of helpful links to external sources for you to plan your family travel.
Generally speaking, children are more liable to become ill than adults from travel related illnesses as they have weaker immune systems. The most common illnesses and ailments include insect bites, sunburn, skin rashes and diarrhea. Being prepared for how to handle both minor and major ailments while travelling should help put your mind somewhat at ease.
Some of the really basic travel health advice for kids includes;
- Drink bottled water or boiled water only – and keep hydrated
- Practice good hygiene – hand washing, using antiseptic wipes and lotions
- Always put on sunscreen and “slip, slop, slap” when out in the sun, remembering the sun’s rays can be far more penetrating in different parts of the world, particularly the southern hemisphere where the ozone layer is much thinner (visit Sun Smart if planning a trip Down Under) or at higher altitudes
- Make sure you follow travel advice on vaccines for your destination, and keep alert to any World Health Organisation (WHO) alerts (see resources at the end of this page)
- Take a basic first aid kit with you, including things like infant paracetemol (or equivalent pain reliever – don’t forget a small syringe/measuring spoon), sticky plasters, insect repellent, antihistamine cream, tweezers
- Take out travel insurance. Whilst some countries have reciprocal health cover, many do not. Particularly when travelling with children its just a risk not worth taking
- Keep important emergency numbers programmed in your phone and with your travel documents
Commonly asked health questions
How early can I travel after having a baby?
The pragmatic answer to this is as soon as you have your travel documents for your new child. This is more than just their birth certificate, you will also need a passport for international travel, and if the child is born away from your home country you will likely need things like document translations and to apply for citizenship in your home country before the passport will be issued, and there won’t necessarily be an embassy in your origin country to rely upon an immediate turnaround. You may also need a residency Visa or re-entry permit to return from your travels.
From a health perspective however, assuming there were no complications during delivery for either you or the child and a passport is not required, you could in theory fly within a couple of days – do check with the individual airline however as rules vary from two days to one week. Also note that some airlines may ask that you provide a doctor’s letter if your child is less than two weeks old stating that they are fit to fly. As for the mother, recovery time will vary greatly depending on your birth experience but you may want to wait until your 4-6 week check-up and getting a clean bill of health from your doctor or midwife before flying. If you have had a cesarean or episiotomy think about your ability to sit for hours on end immediately following the birth.
The only other advice I have found that may severely restrict air travel in the very young is if they have heart and lung problems or respiratory issues you should restrict travel, and do not travel with an ear infection or within two weeks of ear surgery. See the American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) website for more on this topic.
You may also like to visit our travelling while pregnant page for more on pregnancy related health issues.
Can you travel before a child has their first routine vaccines?
Yes, there are no regulations stopping you from traveling before infant vaccine programs as outlined by WHO or your home country designate, this is purely parental choice. I am not aware of any airlines that will request this information as a condition of travel (please comment below though if you are aware otherwise!)
If you are travelling to countries where additional vaccines might be required such as yellow fever, you will likely have to wait until the baby is at least six months old due to the risk of developing brain infection (encephalitis). Additionally, babies under two months old should not be given anti-malaria tablets (source: NHS Choices).
Can I give my children sedatives for flying?
I touch on this topic a few times in this travel advice section but this is probably the best place to set out some of the pros and cons of this strategy – or setting out the battle lines in the “Great Sedation Debate”.
Most of the suggested medicines that purport to promote relaxation in children are safe, over the counter, regulatory body approved drugs that you can purchase without a prescription, though some pharmacies may restrict sales to you based on the child’s age. Most suggested drugs are antihistamine based medications (depending on your country these could be called Benadryl or Phenergan Elixir), usually used to fight the symptoms of allergies or motion sickness, but have the side effect of usually making a child drowsy, hence their popularity as a sedative for flying.
What most PC parents get up in arms about in this debate is that you are using a medicine (or ‘toxic chemicals’ as I have seen the most ardent describe it!) for its side effect rather than treating a cause. Of course if your child required an antihistamine or other form of medication you probably wouldn’t hesitate in providing them with the ‘toxic chemicals’ they need.
If you have read this far, I am sure you are more interested in getting some factual information than being judged for your actions and drawn into one of the more controversial parenting debates. To be clear, there is no definitive evidence that using an antihistamine will settle your child during a flight, nor that it will help ‘cure’ jet lag; conversely in some children it can have the opposite effect of making your child more hyper and difficult. If, however, you want to be fully prepared for all eventualities at 30,000 feet then you might want to pack some antihistamine medication in your carry on as part of your in-flight arsenal.
If you are having difficultly trying to calm and settle your child, you may want to try homeopathic remedies first. I have heard of people using chamomile drops, or placing lavender drops on pillows and blankets. Other OTC homeopathic remedies I have heard of though never tried are Jet Zone and No Jet Lag, I understand these to only be available at present in the US.
Some parents (usually after a past horror experience) will routinely give their children medicine at the point of departure as a proactive measure to promote drowsiness. I would, however, recommend that you speak to a pediatrician before reaching for the Benadryl and think about the other consequences that medicating may have on the rest of your trip. The doctor may well diagnose other issues that are causing your child to be distressed during flight, such as an inner ear infection that requires a different course of action. If you do decide to take the medication route, you may want to test it whilst on solid ground to make sure your child does not have any adverse reaction to the drugs, and know your child’s current weight to determine correct dosage.
I would not medicate just to make others around you comfortable, an old parenting adage but honestly – do what you think is right by the child – if they are highly distressed (not you or anyone around you staring) then do what you think is in their best interest to get them through the situation.
If, despite medication, your child still screams every time you fly, you may want to reconsider the frequency and length of your travels until your child is older, and consult a pediatrician.
Want more on “The Great Sedation Debate”?
In the “for” corner: Why I drug my children – Daily Mail; this article went global in 2013 and is still referenced in many other forums after a British mum bravely comes out on her use of sedatives for flying.
And against – a medical opinion Kids Travel Doc.
Of course you could try typing the word ‘sedation’ or ‘Phenergan‘ into just about any parenting website and witness the onslaught, if you have the time and patience for this to read between the lines.
General travelling health advice websites