Tips for parents traveling to India with Infants

Many couples are excited to travel with their new born baby to India. It is a time to rejoice and a time to share your happiness with friends and family. The excitement is doubled if the baby is born in the U.S. However, many couples are inexperienced to travel with an infant. They are likely to face many hardships if they are not prepared. Infants are at high risk for many food related and waterborne illnesses. This is not because they are travelling to India. It is simply because their immune systems are not developed. Infants also have the habit of frequent hand-to-mouth contact which causes several infections. If you are afraid that your child will get ill in India, or elsewhere you must not travel at all. Many couples do not know what to expect from their infant's first journey to India.
This article explains some of the practical issues faced by couples travelling to India with an infant.

Infants and airline service

All airlines ensure that the infants have a safe and comfortable journey. All the aircrafts are equipped with special baby bassinets and packs as well as a lot of baby food. Each aircraft will have at least two toilets with special fold-down tables. These tables are used for changing diapers. At the time of making reservations make sure that your airline carrier has all these facilities. You will be provided with diapers, a small tube of diaper rash cream and infant food on request.
You must carry items like

  • formula
  • breast milk
  • juice
  • diapers

These items will be inspected by the security officers at the airport. These liquids should be carried in packs of 3 ounces. Security Officers will test liquids that exceed the minimum allowable limit( 3 ounces) for explosives.
The following problems are commonly encountered by couples accompanied with infants on their first journey to India.

Problem 1: Mosquitoes

You must protect your baby from agents that transmit disease. Infants born in the U.S. are not fully immune to the diseases in India. You must protect your child from mosquitoes. Each mosquito-bite leaves a big blister 2-3cm with a reddish inflammation and takes at least 3-5 days to heal. Some infants are allergic to mosquito bites and a single bite may cause rashes all over the body. People living in the coastal areas must take extra precautions to prevent malaria.
The following below table lists commonly used mosquito prevention methods and their drawbacks.

Methods to prevent mosquito bites

Mosquito Net

The temperature inside the net gets warm. Due to a change in temperature, the baby will wake up at least a couple of times during the night.

Mosquito Coil (All Out )

You must never use it as the fumes are harmful for the lungs of the baby.

Odomos/mosquito repellents/balm

The skin of infants are very sensitive. You must not use mosquito repellents on sensitive skin. Never use repellents over cuts or wounds. When using repellent on an infant, you must apply it to your own hands and gently rub it on the child. Make sure that you avoid the child's eyes and mouth. Children use frequent hand-mouth contact, so do not apply repellant on their hands. Use repellent when you are travelling outdoors. After returning home, bathe the child or wash the repellent off with soap and water.

Electronic Repellents

Using electronic repellents is one of the safest methods to prevent mosquito bites. If these are not available in India, purchase a couple of them in the US. There are many varieties available for as cheap as $4.

Mosquito zapper or mosquito racket, mosquito traps

These are easily available everywhere. Since these do not affect the infant directly they are quite safe to use.

Problem 2: Water

The quality of water in India may cause another problem for your baby. The level of contamination is very high in some areas and may affect the health of infants. If your home does not have an Aquaguard or other water filters, it is better to carry a PUR or BRITA water filter (with additional candles). These water filters are very effective in removing impurities from the water. You can also carry a hot water kettle to boil water for your child. A simple hot-water kettle in India costs around Rs 2500/- You can also buy one from the U.S. but you must carry a converter to use the kettle in India.

Problem 3: Diarrhea

Infants are prone to diarrhea and other gastrointestinal illnesses during a long journey. Change of environment, change in food and other factors press the immune systems of infants. You must consult your pediatrician and carry proper medication with you. Diarrhea causes dehydration. The infant must drink plenty of liquids to prevent dehydration. Kelodrolyte, a powered form of oral electrolytes can be taken in case of diarrhea / vomiting. How to prevent Diarrhea in infants:

  • Keep your infant's toys clean and sanitized. Make sure you carry extra teething rings and small toys in case you spoil some during the trip.
  • You must breastfeed your infant. This will prevent food- related diseases and waterborne illness.
  • Try to use filtered water for your infants.
  • You must wash your hands properly. Always keep a pocket sanitizer with you.

Problem 4: Common cold/cough/fever

please consult your pediatrician and take necessary medications.

Problem 5: Diaper Rash

Due to the high temperature the infant may get diaper rashes. It is better to buy a good diaper rash protector like Balmex or Johnson & Johnson diaper rash cream with you. Consult your pediatrician for a good diaper rash cream.

Some Notes:

  • If you are planning to travel to India with your infant, it is a good idea to travel before the baby is 6 months old. Most of the airlines provide bassinets only for infants up to the age of 6 months. If your baby has just turned 6 months you may not have priority to get a bassinet. It is very challenging to have the baby in your arms for the long journey.
  • Take more than required of infant formula and other baby essentials. Many stores in your neighborhood may not carry infant formula of your choice.
  • Take sufficient diapers for your trip. Huggies/Pampers are available in India but they differ in quality and may be expensive as well. The diapers available in U.S. are of superior quality and are more absorbent. The competing brands available in India may not be very comfortable for your infant. Make sure that there are good diapers available at the destination city. If not you must carry enough for the duration of your India trip.
  • Carry a thermos flask to keep hot-water with you all the time.
  • Carry some clothes which are thin and fully cover the legs and hands of the baby. This acts like a natural 'mosquito net'. You can also get such clothes stitched in India..
  • Talk to your pediatrician about your travel plans. It is likely that they would administer a shot of 'gamma-goblin', which will protect the baby from disease.

Some Tips during the flight

  • During takeoff and Landing the air pressure difference can cause discomfort. Babies are likely to cry due to the pressure felt on the ear drums. One way to release pressure is to suckle something and gently pat them at the time of takeoff and landing.
  • Some babies are unable to sleep onboard and keep crying. Consult your doctor about this. He may recommend a dose of Benadryl syrup (an anti-allergy medication) which will put the baby to sleep for 2-3 hrs.
  • You will not get enough hot water to wash the feeding bottles in transit. Try to familiarize the baby with disposable feeders in advance. If the baby recognizes the feeder he will not cry.

Remember that infants are unable to talk. Always be on the lookout for signs. If your infant shows symptoms such as loss of appetite, change in sleep patterns, lack of energy or irritability make sure that you are feeding and clothing him well. If the symptoms persist you must consult a doctor.
The article presents a practical picture of some of the problems you will face if you travel to India. Your infant's health is in your hands. If you are prepared beforehand you and your baby will have a great time in India!