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Travel Advice for Parents of Preemies

For two travel bunnies like my husband and I, spending several months enduring pregnancy related bed rest and our child’s 123-day hospitalization didn’t quell our need to explore the world. Rather, it enhanced our desire to introduce our son to one of our favorite passions.

Special Care Luggage

Ten Travel Tips With a Preemie

  1. Be well prepared with information. Know the location of the local clinics and hospitals, if they are able to care for children and hours of operation. If your child has particular medical needs, ensure that the facility can meet them. Will your insurance be accepted? Are emergency 9-1-1 services available? Take a copy of your infant’s discharge record and pertinent information. Consider using a service like Medic Alert which provides your child’s current medical concerns via telephone as well as an alerting band (Torran wore his on his leg).
  2. Consider any health advisories for your destination. Avoid countries with active outbreaks. Travel vaccinations may be recommended for some locations. Check with your doctor. Don’t forget to pack child-friendly sunscreen and bug spray as needed. Before you leave, arrange travel insurance.
  3. Keep a first aid kit with you for minor injuries. We had small bottles of hand sanitizer in the stroller, diaper bag and my purse in case someone wanted to handle the baby.  Of course, the best prevention is asking “please don’t touch”. We found that some people were surprised at our request, but they understood when we explained the situation. Carry anti-bacterial wipes for surfaces. I don’t recommend using these directly on the baby’s skin. Pack a thermometer and over-the- counter analgesic. When a fever gets too high, a child may have a seizure. Clearly label prescription medications (and keep away from baby!).
  4. Travel with a Preemie is possible - and advisable!Babes in arms are usually free but may require pre-registration. Security rules are constantly changing, so check with the appropriate security agency before you pack.  Take dry snacks with you. I find that airport shopping has a very poor selection for wee ones. Fluids (including pureed food) in a container under 3.4oz (100mL) in a 1 quart-sized bag is generally permitted. Be prepared to open containers during security screening. Some airports have family friendly lanes and children’s play areas.
  5. Take fresh and frozen breast milk. Freshly pumped breast milk is good at room temperature for 4-8 hours. Refrigerated breast milk is OK for up to 72 hours, although it is ideal to use it within 24 hours. To re-warm, note that planes do not have microwaves, only hot water. Pack frozen breast milk in your check-in luggage wrapped in ice packs for your arrival destination. Thawed breast milk should be used within 24 hours.  If you’re taking your pump on a plane, it’s considered carry-on luggage. Security may ask you to turn in on.
  6. A diaper bag counts as an item of carry-on luggage, too, so pack efficiently. Because babies don’t have tickets, the airline may not permit them a luggage allowance. We found that strollers aren’t always allowed to the airline gate. Airlines prefer smaller strollers that fold down thin. If your child has mobility issues, travel with the disability documentation that supports your use of a larger stroller (for equipment and/or mobility).
  7. Rental car agencies have car seats for infants and children available but they might not install the seat. Pre-arrange seating for your child when you book your car. Know your child’s age and weight for the appropriate sized seat if you are not bringing your own. Be sure you know how to install a car seat properly because the rental company may not have experience.
  8. Be prepared for delays. Emotions run very high when a screaming, hungry baby decides he’s not going to wait patiently for changes in travel plans. Distraction tools and food help keep baby calm.
  9. Trial your travel skills with shorter trips until you’re  familiar with your baby’s routines and your level of travel comfort.
  10. Have the correct travel documentation and identification for all members of your party. Parents and guardians travelling alone should take a letter of permission from the other custodial parent or guardian to avoid any problems at security or customs.

First flight Lesley and TorranFive months and two brain surgeries after our son’s birth, we ventured within Canada to Nova Scotia to take our first family holiday. Our careful planning and conscientious choice of destination came into play when our son developed a fever and required hospitalization to rule out a shunt infection (he has hydrocephalus). Wherever you travel, be organized. Your most precious gift is going with you and you deserve a smooth holiday.

More Information About Security Restrictions

American TSA

Transport Canada

Car Seat Tips

Lesley Donaldson-Reid About Lesley Donaldson-Reid

Lesley Donaldson-Reid (ON, Canada) is a nurse and writer whose personal blog focuses on her life, special needs and travel with her family. Lesley is the author of Growing A Rainbow, the painful and uplifting narrative about Torran, born at 26 weeks and 6 days from sub-chorionic bleeds and oligohydramnios. Torran has hydrocephalus from grade 3 & 4 IVH, PVL, autism, audio dys-synchrony hearing loss & cerebral palsy (and other medical stuff). Connect with Lesley: Twitter, Facebook , Pinterest, & Google+.


  1. Thank you for giving insight on such a delicate subject when it comes to preemies. All of my family is from out of state. So when I asked one of the NICU nurses about traveling in the future with my preemie, she was appalled that I would even do such a thing. She said that it was horrible to even think that. I felt like a horrible mother. I realized how would any of my family get to know our son.

    • Lori, I’m so sorry to hear that! We spend so much of our time in the NICU feeling isolated. Being apart from family makes it worse. I know that there is a heightened concern for infection in preemies. However, normalizing our lives as much as possible is incredibly important for surviving the trauma of the NICU. Did you eventually get to introduce your family to your child?

  2. Heidi Ortiz says:

    We recently traveled from Arizona to Washington State with our preemie. We were surprised at how accommodating the airline was. With a lap child we were allowed our luggage and 2 baby items which helped so much to take carseats & our pack and play. Check your airline, either way no surprises at check-in. I agree that planning ahead just gives the peace of mind that you’ll have a plan just incase. We didn’t need services on our trip but we were reassured driving past Children’s Hospital and knowing we could relax, they are there if we need them.

  3. Those are great tips! I didn’t really think of it that way – but I guess after bed rest and 123 days in NICU anyone would be ready to hop a plane. I hope you went somewhere awesome after all that!

  4. Hi, thank you for this post! Would I be able to chat privately with you via email? My son was born 3mo early in Jan 2016. He had a brain bleed and hydrocephalus and now has a VP shunt. I’d love to get more information from you about traveling with a baby/child who has a shunt. Thanks!


  1. […] Foundation. Preemie Babies 101 (USA) published my article in their parent support network about travelling with premature infants. I entered writing competitions and I’m connecting with Canadian writers and literary groups. […]

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