Keeping kids healthy and happy while traveling

If you are traveling this holiday season and if you have kids in tow, you know it’ll be more of an adventure than a vacation.

Traveling with children presents special challenges. It disrupts familiar routines and imposes new demands. Involving children in the planning, may lessen the stress of travel.

Adam Keating, MD, a pediatrician with Cleveland Clinic Children’s said if your little travelers are grumpy, it’s usually because they’re tired, hungry, thirsty, or over stimulated.

“The way to prevent that among kids can really be around preparing ahead, so making sure that you have water for the kids, that you have healthy snacks, that you’re keeping up with regular sleep schedules and routines as much as you can when traveling,” he advised.

Bring snacks and familiar foods with you. This helps when travel delays meals or when the available meals do not suit the child’s needs. Small crackers, unsugared cereals, and string cheese make good snacks. Some children can eat fruit without problems. Cookies and sugared cereals make for sticky children.

Talk to your health care provider before traveling with a child. Children may have special medical concerns. The provider can also talk to you about any medicines you might need if your child becomes ill. Know your child’s dosage of common medicines for colds, allergic reactions, or flu. If your child has a long-term (chronic) illness, consider bringing a copy of recent medical reports and a list of all medicines your child is taking.

When flying with babies and infants:

  • If you are not breastfeeding, bring powdered formula and buy water after you get through security.
  • If you are breastfeeding, you can bring breast milk in larger quantities than 3 ounces (90 milliliters), as long as you tell security people and let them inspect it.
  • Small jars of baby food travel well. They make little waste, and you can dispose of them easily.

If you’re flying, children often have trouble with pressure changes at takeoff and landing. The pain and pressure will almost always go away in a few minutes. If your child has a cold or ear infection, the discomfort may be greater.

Your provider may suggest not flying if your child has an ear infection or a lot of fluid behind the eardrum. Children who have had ear tubes placed should do fine.

Some tips to prevent or treat ear pain:

  • Have your child chew sugar-free gum or suck on hard candy when taking off and landing. It helps with ear pressure. Most children can learn to do this at about age 3.
  • Bottles (for infants), breastfeeding, or sucking on pacifiers can also help prevent ear pain.
  • Give your child plenty of fluids during the flight to help unclog the ears.
  • Avoid letting your child sleep during takeoff or landing. Children swallow more often when they are awake. Also, waking up with ear pain can be frightening for the child.
  • Give your child acetaminophen or ibuprofen about 30 minutes before takeoff or landing. Or use nasal spray or drops before takeoff or landing. Follow package instructions exactly about how much medicine to give your child.

Keeping kids healthy while traveling can also be a challenge, especially if you’re flying.

“Airports can particularly be one of the places in which we see the biggest crowds and so keeping distance from people as much as you can be helpful,” said Dr. Keating.

He adds that it’s also important for kids wash their hands before eating and to try to avoid touching their faces. Parents can always consider masking children in crowds to protect them from respiratory viruses too.

Sources:     Cleveland Clinic New Service, ccnewsservice@ccf.org;

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