We are home. Theo was a terrific traveler and now has two stamps in his passport. We loved Amsterdam and walking along the canals, meeting up with old friends who now live in Berlin, seeing the art museums, and Theo mostly loved his first boat ride. Despite arriving home with a teething and jet-lagged infant, the trip was definitely worth it and highly recommended for folks who have a long enough maternity leave for it to be plausible. I think that a lot of the beauty of traveling is the ability to be present and just enjoying your surroundings — whereas at home when I’m holding or feeding Theo, I feel pressure to be managing email or dealing with the yard, while traveling I just enjoyed hanging out with my new baby, so it was a great way to spend the last few weeks of my maternity leave. A few additional tips for those considering travel with their infants:
- We arrived home with a teething (see below) and jet-lagged infant. I definitely underestimated the potential complication of a jet-lagged infant, mostly because Theo has always (knock on wood) been a pretty good sleeper. He adjusted to Paris time quickly (going east) but is really struggling with the return home (going west) — he is WIDE awake at 4AM. The first night I fought this for hours (nursing over and over, swaddling, noise machine…) before giving up and just reading about how Dragons Love Tacos and playing with teething toys. Last night we gave up after about 45 minutes and Dan helpfully got up and just hung out with him through the small morning hours. We are trying ample doses of morning and evening sunshine and hoping that it resolves in a few days — a good friend said to remember that this too will pass, which is true, but hard to remember at 4AM. I thought these blog posts on baby jet-lag were helpful, and it’s apparently common for babies to struggle more traveling west.
- Theo started teething on this trip (a bit early, but he’s such a precocious kid 🙂 so, I definitely recommend bringing infant Tylenol, which was a life-saver on a couple of days (and nights). Also, it probably makes sense to bring your baby’s thermometer — we didn’t do this and before it became obvious that Theo was teething, we wondered briefly whether he was sick; it might have been nice to be able to check his temperature.
- Theo went on a brief “nursing strike” during our last few days in Paris — he would arch his head back and scream when offered the breast. What caused it? Too much travel and stimulation? The start of teething? No idea. But it was heartbreaking for me. Thankfully, we have been supplementing anyway due to my low milk supply, so we had bottles (another side tip — I found this travel bottle brush set very helpful — probably not necessary, but it saved us having to figure out how to clean the bottles every time we landed, tired, at an AirBnB with a whole bunch of very dirty bottles) and a breast pump with us. We stopped trying to force nursing when out and about for a couple of days and just offered him the bottle at restaurants and I kept up with pumping 3-6 times a day. After really just a couple of days, the issue went away — though I am still a bit nervous every time we go to nurse. No idea whether others have experienced something like this while traveling, but a couple of tips — the Medela Pump in Style Advanced worked great for keeping up my supply, even though I had been using a hospital-grade pump at home. You can’t plug it in abroad (even with an adapter) and it takes 8 double-A batteries so we brought a TON of batteries. But one set of batteries really lasted a week of at least 3 pumping sessions a day. And this page from Kelly Mom was helpful and reassuring, especially the parts about starting with the nursing sessions when he was tired (about to go down or first to get up) and trying to nurse when we were back in the apartment in a calm and familiar-ish place.
- Traveling with grandmas for the win (Thanks Elaine and Mom!). It was great to have their help and it is so much more pleasant to brave restaurant dinners and international flights with an infant if there are three people to do hand-offs.
- All our friends who suggested bringing a nursing pillow were dead-on — great bring. Helpful for naps on the flights and feedings once we got to our apartments. There will definitely be a moment going through security when you wonder why you are carrying this huge pillow, but as soon as you sit down on the plane it will be so worth it. (Bonus tip — this is the best nursing pillow –more functional shape and smaller than the boppy.)
- As I mentioned before, we really liked having our Babybjorn travel crib — it was nice for Theo to have a somewhat-familiar place to lie down. Also, before we left, Theo had gotten really into his baby gym mat and we wanted some way to recreate that while traveling, without, obviously, carting around a baby gym. So, we took a travel drying line (great travel gadget) and strung it across his crib and dangled some of his hanging toys from it — it bought us dozens of minutes of free time several times a day.
- We brought a light-weight travel stroller — and I remain agnostic on whether we needed it. It was definitely helpful for carting around baby gear — especially through the airports, but Theo was happy to spend most of his time in the Babybjorn and probably slept a bit better in the Bjorn anyway. I’m definitely glad that we had the smaller, light-weight stroller rather than a full-size, full-weight American one, since most apartments in Europe are walk-ups. We stayed on the second floor both times, but still, the stairs would have been really tough with a full-size stroller. Paris is not designed well for strollers, especially the metro, so in that city I think folks really don’t need a stroller with a young infant (though it did allow us to skip some of the lines at the Louvre). Amsterdam has good bike and stroller infrastructure, so we used the stroller more in that city, but still, Theo often opted for the Bjorn. Most restaurants, in both cities, did not have space for the stroller inside. But one benefit of a stroller is the European tradition of allowing a sleeping baby to stay in their stroller parked outside the restaurant while the parents enjoy dinner inside, so that’s an option.
- We still have a lot to learn about packing with a kid. Our carry-ons were large because we wanted to be sure to have enough burp clothes, outfits, diapers, and pumped milk/formula for supplemental feeds in case of multiple airport blow-outs or a missed connection that required us to overnight without our bags — that mostly worked out OK thanks to the airline tradition of allowing families with young kids to board first, but required a lot of airport schlepping