Why babies on airplanes become frequent criers

TOTS TO TEENS

October 26, 1993|By Dr. Modena Wilson and Dr. Alain Joffe | Dr. Modena Wilson and Dr. Alain Joffe,Contributing Writers

Q: I don't have any children, but I do have a question about them. I am a frequent traveler, so I've had plenty of occasions to ponder this. Why do babies always cry on airplanes?

A: It is hard to say whether babies cry more on planes than in other places; but we, like you, have noticed babies frequently cry on planes, especially during takeoff and landing.

Many babies are sensitive to changes in routine. They prefer familiar places and schedules. Airports and airliners are strange to them. So are all the people they see, many of whom may try to attract their attention or comfort them.

The timing of the flight may not suit the baby. It may be right in the middle of nap time, for instance.

Even the food may not taste right. Perhaps baby is being offered a bottle, when he usually breast feeds. Or the bottle is a "ready-to-feed" disposable favored by parents on trips because it requires no refrigeration, but has an unfamiliar nipple.

Depending on the reason for the trip, a baby's parents may be quite stressed. The trip may have been necessitated by an illness or death in the family. The parents may be parting for the length of the trip. There may be older children left behind or also on the plane and quite keyed up, requiring attention from the parents. All that excitement is conveyed subtly to the baby through parental body language.

By the time babies can sit, crawl or walk, they are not used to being still. They want to do just that -- sit, crawl or walk -- to explore their surroundings. That's just not safe or practical on a crowded, speeding plane. They can't understand why they are being restrained.

As if all the above were not enough, the pressure changes associated with changing altitudes make their ears hurt.

Given all these possible discomforts, parents and other passengers should not wonder why babies cry on planes.

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