Travelling Alone with A Stubborn Toddler - Part 1
A story of screaming, and, lots and lots of vomit.
A friend had a recent, whirlwind trip... with a toddler... for 5 days was - surprise! - absolutely crazy. But, it started off with a well-behaved toddler and some advice from a hyper-organised pro (me) and hope that she was still the moderately cool jet-setter that she was pre-baby.
After an amazingly good solo trip to the airport, one flight later, one rushed layover, and a second flight with 15 minutes remaining, she tells me her smugness was starting to show when she received compliments for how well-behaved her toddler was throughout the flight. Turns out, with 5 minutes remaining till landing, the illusion of awesome travel mom broke down ... and if there were any millennials sitting near certainly must have made a mental check to re-fill their morning-after prescriptions.
Let me tell you what happened in those last 5 minutes where my illusions came crumbling down. The toddler, who is normally a pretty calm traveller, from previous trips, fell asleep just before the plane was landing. But, with 5 minutes remaining and our landing gear going down, his ears started to hurt due to the change in pressure. The poor little guy was so tired and inconsolable that he wouldn't listen to his mums’ pleas to take a drink or eat a biscuit. Before she could blink and because he was crying so hard, he vomited EVERYWHERE (though not on anyone else, thankfully!).
After the plane landed, the toddlers ear pain subsided, and he calmed down. Phew!
Lesson learned: Be prepared for the worst!
Strategies for dealing with in-flight ear pain in a stubborn toddler
Babies and kids suffer from ear pain at take-off and landing due to the change in pressure with the change in altitude. This is caused by the development of their Eustachian tubes, also known as the auditory tube, which is not yet complete and much narrower than an adult's. Because the auditory tube is still developing in kids, they are more likely to feel severe pain during take-off and landing because the tube can get clogged with fluid, especially when they have a runny or stuffy nose!
In preparation for my next trip to, I did some research into what I could do to help equalize the pressure in toddlers ears during flights. But I found a big hole of information about what to do with (terrible) 2-year-old who are either too tired, too young, or too stubborn to understand that swallowing is key to making them feel better.
So, after understanding that swallowing equalizes ear pressure, thus getting rid of or preventing ear pain, I came up with a step by step strategies that I could use with my 2-year-old.
1) Do they have a cold?
Mucus from a cold, stuffy, or runny noses can cause even more blockage of the auditory tubes from what I could read out there, so if you are flying while your toddler who has a cold, you might consider offering them some child friendly pain relief as per doctor recommended, that is age appropriate medicine to help with congestion.
1) Offer drinks or snacks
My first step during take-off and landing was is to offer drinks and snacks. Choose a drink not consumed often. I also purchased gummy snacks to promote chewing and swallowing as well as crunchy biscuits.
2) Explain the situation
If your toddler doesn’t talk a lot, then during take-off I explained that going up in a plane can hurt their ears, so we must eat and drink to make them feel better. Obviously, this is a step to skip if your toddler is flipping about but may be worth re-visiting before and after every flight, so they start to understand (repetition is key with kids).
3) Pump water/juice
Okay, this might sound a little fierce, but moms who've been there will get it. Use a liquid medicine syringe to squirt juice into their mouth. They should then swallow and hopefully start to feel better. Alternatively, if you had a squeezy bottle, you could use that to squirt water or juice into your child's mouth.
4) Keep them sitting up
Throughout these steps, it is key to keep your child sitting up since this position helps the auditory tubes to drain, whereas laying down can cause them to block further.
5) Talk to your doctor
If in-flight ear pain is causing huge problems with your travelling family, consider talking to your child's GP.