Travelling with an infant

Travel with an infant is all about guessing where you’ll be in 3-4 hours’ time, and making the best of things when it’s feeding time and you are in the middle of a curious crowd, surrounded by dozens of cameras and no chairs or shelter. Unsurprisingly, my milk supply dropped drastically during this trip (which makes things easier for me, even in Canberra, since we have to deal with all the bottle-and-formula rigmarole anyway).

Although CJ is certainly capable of giving Louisette a bottle, she had a lot of trouble focusing on feeds, so I tended to minimise distractions by feeding her (almost) exclusively. And the combination of natural adult hunger plus the inability to feed a baby on a moving vehicle meant that I usually fed her precisely when some exotic dish was placed just out of baby-hampered reach on the table in front of me. So that was certainly unfun.

Travelling took away most of the things I actually liked about breastfeeding – the privacy, obviously (I did sometimes – generally when the only men nearby were strangers – feed Louisette without a cover, which felt a lot better; a peculiar change in someone as desperately modest as it is my nature to be), but also the peace for Louisette – feeding often gave her painful wind and/or reminded her of how tired and far from home she was. Babies almost never cry when feeding, but it happened all too frequently while we were away. My breasts were almost completely pain free, but my back often suffered badly from awkward positions (that is a problem at home too, even with all my U-shaped cushions and assorted paraphernalia – but it’s a problem I think I can fix).

Sterilising bottles and using clean water was extremely difficult (we bought enormous quantities of bottled water and then boiled it) – but breastfeeding is no picnic either (allowing myself one bottle-only feed a day was a huge luxury). Outside restaurants sucked.

Baby bjorns and strollers (effectively a truly portable portacot) are the best. We used the bjorn for a little bit of safety in taxis and buses.

On planes, bassinet seats were extremely useful – giving us the ability to put Louisette down which also meant she slept better – but we had to have her on our laps (and tied to us) when there was turbulence – so a flexible change mat was essential (our normal one is good thick rubber, but attached to the nappy bag),  plus all the nappy-change fixings close by (shoved into the seat pocket). And about a billion bottles with sterilised water ready to be mixed with pre-measured formula. They let us take all the water on board, but we had to get it all out at security checkpoints – and it’s a good thing we’ve always served her bottles at room temperature, because not all staff will help with heating/cooling food for you. Something about the heat or humidity or air pressure changed the bottles’ shapes, so they leaked – they didn’t used to leak. We travelled Cathay Pacific, who is well established as the most baby-friendly airline in the area (and more expensive). I always did my best (which was certainly not easy) to time feeds for takeoff and landing, so Louisette was swallowing at the right time to deal with air pressure without pain. It mostly worked, although takeoff delays were frequent and excruciating (especially leaving Beijing – apparently a chronic problem).

Physically, I was in fairly good shape but unable to run, and walking fast was painful in places walking shouldn’t hurt (never a good sign). Walking long distances was much more difficult than usual, as was carrying a bag or baby (two things that are heavy to start with, and of course we had much more luggage than usual as well). Psychologically, breastfeeding was something I dreaded hugely, and hadn’t had long enough to get used to myself (or for Louisette to be very competent, particularly on the move or half-smothered under a cover). I was hyperalert to Louisette too (protective instincts when away from home), which meant less sleep for me (to a literally dangerous extent) and when she needed a feed or a sleep and wasn’t able to get it instantly, I was extremely distressed. I had some food poisoning that my body was able to sort out without medicine (always a better path in the long term), and Louisette remained healthy (we were advised to take infant panadol and suppositories, which luckily we never used. She and I both had dry skin due to AC/heating beyond our control, and probably due to a whole lot of pollution too. I was still abnormally attractive to mosquitoes, so I was deeply grateful I’d indulged a random whim to pack stop-itch creams. I’m MUCH better at walking long distances now than I was two weeks ago.

It’s true than 2-month olds are easier to travel with than almost any other age (up to about five years, I reckon), but there are certain mum-specific disadvantages (more than offset by the fact that she sleeps so much, and doesn’t need to run around during a nine-hour flight).

Huggies newborn nappies were especially handy for the blue line that tells you when the nappy is wet (only up to 5 kilos). Chinese nappies all seem to have it (but they’re not so absorbent, which is more important). Some formula/nappies are evidently imported, and hugely, insanely expensive (more than at home).

Our hotel’s web site said they had a cot, and they confirmed by email that we could use the cot – then they informed us upon our arrival that said cot did not and had never existed (and yes, Louisette did fall out of the single mattress they supplied for her during the period before we acquired another cot). They collected the (stinking) rubbish whenever I asked, day or night – very handy – but the laundry service was insanely expensive (eg $5 Australian per T-shirt). It was important to have breakfast and other meals within the one building.

At home, I usually get 6 hours of sleep five or six times a week. That happened exactly once while I was away. I was tired enough to have problems with reality, and to hallucinate for three days.

When we left, Louisette’s favourite toy was dangling Winnie the Pooh characters in her bouncer. I took the toys and a piece of ribbon, which was brilliant. They were tied to strollers and bassinets all over the place, and Louisette loved them as much as ever.

I’m not sure how I feel about breastfeeding now. Despite facing my fears, the thought of breastfeeding in public still fills me with horror, whether covered (smothering my baby and making things harder for her) or uncovered (eep! Boobs away!) But I just went to a parenting class with a physio that gave me a lot of ideas for making breastfeeding not hurt (right now the pain is mostly in my back, neck, shoulders, and legs – as you’d know from the Great Wall photos). So I’m cautiously hopeful. But I’d estimate my chances of getting rid of bottles at approximately nil, so it does all seem close to pointless. Other times I wish all my feeding issues would go away so I could just enjoy it. Maybe next child – although the punishing schedule will still exist, and the social awkwardness.

People  in Hong Kong were totally discreet and totally helpful. No-one ever gave me a second look, or a dirty look, and when we’d dropped both dummies on the ground at various points (we were travelling with three, but we kept one  at home) a lady in a sandwich shop was super sweet even as Louisette cried loudly. we asked for a cup each of just-boiled water and cold water to cool it, and she refused to give us cold water because it was tap water, and she knew it wouldn’t be clean enough for a baby. Instead she took it away and washed it, then waved it around until it was cool enough for Louisette, who took it and instantly fell asleep).

In Beijing people often photographed us (with or without permission), constantly stared or complimented us (I’m okay with people constantly pointing out how gorgeous Louisette is), and sometimes scolded us for not dressing her warmly enough, or (more gently) for not having her permanently strapped to us.

In conclusion, I’m confirmed in my views that travelling with any child under about five years of age is simply not worth it. Anything that causes a person (me) to have a mental breakdown – particularly in a public place, particularly when several hours away from the next home base, and particularly while travelling with the in-laws – is not worth doing. Ditto anything that causes me to lose touch with reality, or to hallucinate. The health and safety risks are a whole bundle of inadvisability, too, and we were lucky. Even with our good luck, I was very sick for a few hours one night – if I’d been breastfeeding exclusively, I’d have had no choice but to feed Louisette while simultaneously being ill, and sitting on the toilet in severe pain. When you travel, things happen.

We did a lot of amazing awesome things, and always took Louisette along. Many of those things aren’t the kind of things I’d normally let Louisette even get close to (hookahs, loud noise, Mongolian wind, major pollution).

So we had a brilliant time, and there doesn’t seem to be any lasting harm to any of us (I’ll write in a couple of weeks if Louisette has fully recovered or not – right now she needs more props – dummy AND being held, for example – to get to sleep or to feel safe) – but travelling with an infant is definitely a bad and unpleasant idea. There are only two possible reasons to put oneself through it:

1. If major travelling is an essential part of one or both parents’ identity or job.

2. A wedding.

Tomorrow I’ll be blogging about the wedding – which was one of the most beautiful and fun weddings I’ve ever attended (it helps that it’s one of the world’s best marriages thanks to the sheer goodness of the participants). Next week on Wednesday I’ll be posting this month’s daily Louisette photos (with lots of picturesque extras from our travels).

2 thoughts on “Travelling with an infant

  1. We could see that all three of you had lots of things to contend with in a range of situations over a fairly long time frame. Miss L. was out of her own known environment which is a big deal for such a young child. You made it to all the pre-wedding and wedding essentials and made sure you experienced much of the local sights and sounds in both HK and BJ. It was a big call and I don’t think any young couple with a baby could have done much better. So enjoy the recovery phase!

    • CJ: Thank you for all your help, too. I’ve already had three good night-time sleeps in a row, so I feel fabulous.

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