Forget lousy food, airport delays, and turbulence. One of air travelers’ biggest nightmares is sitting near a cute, cuddly little baby that suddenly morphs into a nonstop noise machine emitting high decibel, ear-piercing, headache-producing, sleep-preventing terror. An even worse nightmare: it’s your child.
But hold on! There may be a solution to the screaming infant dilemma, in the air and on the ground. According to a blog post that has gone viral, Dr. Robert Hamilton, a pediatrician, claims that if you hold a screaming infant a certain way the infant will cease screaming, almost immediately. He calls it “the Hold.” It is effective on infants under the age of three months. Before using, make sure your infant isn’t screaming for medical reasons. For a demonstration of the Hold, go to http://mom.me/in-the-loop/25706-pediatrician-shows-us-all-how-calm-crying-baby-instantly/?icid=maing-grid7%7Chtmlws-main-bb%7Cdl13%7Csec1_lnk3%26pLid%3D1933296143
And here is an article I wrote in 2014: Everything you ever wanted to know about screaming children on airplanes but didn’t whom to ask (until now).
- The vast majority of infants do NOT cry during flight. Based on our surveys, most infants sleep like the proverbial baby, often better than they do at home. The droning of the aircraft seems to lull them to sleep, as it does in cars. But the rare infant who does cry is so disturbing to us, say psychologists, that the event is ingrained into our psyche and remembered for years, the result of mixed feelings of anger at the helpless baby, anger at the hapless parent(s), and guilt for feeling such anger.
An Australian airline settled a lawsuit by a passenger who said a screaming child caused her to lose some of her hearing. The incident occurred before the aircraft left the ground.
- It is surprising that more infants don’t cry during flight. Infants are creatures of habit. Air travel upsets their routines, disrupting eating and sleeping schedules. It places them in new surroundings, away from their own cribs, in new and often uncomfortable sleeping positions, and among strange noises and unfamiliar faces. If they are on an adult’s lap, they are disturbed every time the adult moves.
- There are many theories but few facts regarding crying. Likely, there are many causes – those just cited, and others – that can be lumped together as “general discomfort.” Our surveys suggest in-flight criers generally cry excessively at home, and often at about the same hours on the clock. (And, alas, we know little about why they cry at home. Theories to explain excess crying come and go. Acid reflux is currently in vogue.)
- “Crying infants” is one of the most objectionable features of air travel. According to many surveys, it is right up there with foul language, seated next to an obese passenger, body odor, inappropriate dress, rudeness and poor manners, loud and boisterous behavior, and inappropriate displays of affection.
- Airlines claim they have no solutions for the problem. Proposals include banning infants from certain flights, setting aside a section for families, and partitioning off the back of aircraft with soundproof curtains. Presently, some airlines ban infants from first class. But in an article asking, “Will new airline seating proposals create ‘baby ghettos’ in the backs of planes?’, the Wall Street Journal says that likely, segregation won’t “fly.” If family sections are full and seats are available elsewhere, would families be barred from that flight? Must families with well-behaved children sit in the family section? Will adults traveling alone accept seats near children?
- Sedating infants is not recommended. Drugs usually used are antihistamines, substances not designed for this purpose. (Antihistamines are rarely recommended anymore for young children due to their ineffectiveness and side reactions.) Sedation is a side effect, and an unpredictable one. Some infants become restless from antihistamines. And, possibly, the “criers” are the more likely ones to become so. “Trying out” medications at home prior to flights is more dosing for dubious reasons.
To misquote Shakespeare: To sedate or not to sedate infants for air travel, that is an oft-raised question. Is it truly nobler to spurn sedatives, risk an unruly child, and bravely suffer the scorn of outraged fellow passengers? Or is it more virtuous to sedate infants, perchance they’ll sleep, but endure the thousand humiliations that parental guilt is capable of self-inflicting?
- Some parents unwittingly contribute to infants’ crying. They believe extra fluids are necessary to prevent dehydration. In fact, in-flight dehydration is a myth. Adult air travelers erroneously interpret their parched mouths and throats as dehydration. In fact, the dryness is due to air conditioning removing most of the moisture from the cabin air. But, and especially in infants, excess fluids may cause colic. At cruising altitudes, air in the stomach and intestines is already increased by 20%, due to changes in atmospheric pressure. (This gives many adults a bloated feeling.) Feeding infants adds more air and milk to the stomach and intestines. Feed infants no more in flight than at home.
A flight attendant allegedly secretly added Xanax, an anti-depressant, to juice and told the mother that it will make her screaming infant sleep. It is unclear if the infant drank the juice; no side effects occurred. Later, the mother noticed that the juice was foamy, contained blue specks, and tasted bitter. She submitted the juice to authorities. Analysis revealed Xanax. The FBI charged the flight attendant with assault, charges he denied. He was fired. The outcome of the charges is unknown.
- Crying may be due to ear pain. Older children complain about ear pain but mostly during descent. Infants cry at random times. They do cry more during descent, but that is also the time that they are woken up. An appropriate dose of acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) may give relief. Sucking during ascent and descent may prevent earaches, but this is largely unproven – and may add to the air in the intestine and stomach.
- Simulate the home sleeping environment. Most infants prefer dark, cool, and quiet surroundings for sleeping. Don’t overdress them. A light blanket draped loosely over the infant, or over you and the infant, helps decrease light and noise. Make sure that the infant can breathe.
- Try every trick you can think of, bribery included. Bring toys, familiar blankets, bottles, appropriate treats, a DVD player and a pacifier (even if you don’t use one at home). Sing and hum. Walk up and down the aisle – but watch your step. Holding your infant in your arms blocks your view of protruding feet and luggage.
- Ignore the scorn of fellow passengers. Stay calm, if possible. Infants feel an adult’s stress, and cry in response, say some psychologists. While fellow passengers may become angry with you, most of them, at some level, realize that no parent is oblivious to a screaming infant in their arms. Attempt to make peace with your neighbors before they make an enemy of you. Apologize for the disturbance. Tell them that you are doing everything possible to quiet your baby. Likely, they will sympathize with you. Listen to their suggestions; you need not act on them. Politely, suggest they ask the flight attendant for another seat, if possible, or for earplugs or earphones.
Sky Nannies to the rescue? Two large international airlines – Etihad and Gulf, both based in the Middle East – employ Sky Nannies on their long haul flights. “Nannies are trained to provide a wide range of on-the-ground, boarding and disembarking, and in-flight services to assure that children will receive the best care every step of the way. Nannies give parents that much needed break during long flights and provide a watchful eye on the little ones.” Check the airlines’ websites for services provided.