The question: Me and my husband would really like to take a warm-weather vacation this winter. But of course, we have a 16-month-old at home. Do you have any health tips for travelling with a toddler?
The answer: My wife and I have had the good fortune of having children who have generally been good travellers. Now that our daughters are teenagers, travel is relatively easy (if somewhat expensive) and we have enjoyed family trips to Europe, the Caribbean, Costa Rica and Australia. However, travelling with a 16-month-old is a completely different proposition. Here are some things to consider when travelling with a toddler.
1. Destination selection. When travelling with an infant, keep things as simple as possible. I suggest choosing a destination accessible by direct flight with minimal ground transportation at either end. Consider countries where English is spoken, familiar foods are readily available and malaria is rare. If you leave Canada, your child will need a passport.
2. Vaccines. I recommend that adults and children who travel to tropical climates be immunized against both hepatitis A and B. Your child may or may not have received a hepatitis B vaccine already (this varies province to province). Children can receive a hepatitis A vaccine starting at 12 months of age. Your family physician or pediatrician will be able to clarify your child's vaccination status and provide doses of hepatitis vaccine as needed. Don't delay: It takes several weeks for the body's immune system to respond fully to the vaccine.
3. Airports. This is where things can get interesting and stressful! Not only are you carrying enough food, drink, and supplies for a Himalayan expedition (Sherpa not included!), but you may also have to deal with lengthy lines and possible delays. Again, direct flights are essential to minimize time spent in airports, and I would especially avoid connecting flights that go through the United States. Even if you are not staying in the U.S., you will still need to clear the country's customs and security, which can be a major hassle.
4. Airplanes. In my experience, preflight boarding is overrated. Travelling with a toddler is like travelling with a time bomb: You never know when the next temper tantrum, dirty diaper or projectile vomit could occur. As such, you want to spend as little time in the confined cabin of the plane as possible. This means, ideally, being the last to board and the first to deplane. Pressure changes on descent can cause ear pain, especially if your child has had a recent cold or ear infection. Consider administering a dose of ibuprofen or acetaminophen midflight. Offering your child frequent drinks during descent may also help depressurize the middle ear. Older children can chew gum.
5. Sun care. Remember that your child's skin will be vulnerable to sunburn, so bring sunscreen (SPF 30 or higher) and apply frequently, especially after swimming. Don't forget hats, sunglasses and swim diapers, and offer your child plenty to drink at regular intervals. Be prepared for your child's sleeping and eating schedule to be unpredictable. Go with the flow. Having patience and flexibility will ensure you have a family holiday to remember.
Dr. Michael Dickinson is the head of pediatrics and chief of staff at the Miramichi Regional Hospital in New Brunswick. He's a staunch advocate for children's health in Atlantic Canada through his involvement with the Canadian Paediatric Society.
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