Am I putting my children at excess risk with this crazy plan?
September 19, 2011 10:31 PM   Subscribe

Describe your experience traveling semi-adventurously (developing country, language barriers, etc) with a very small infant, like a few weeks old small. Specifically concerned with health and safety issues but also comfort and parental sanity.

Ok, we've been to India several times and wife was born there. Haven't been back since the 2 year old was born and we are thinking of taking the three of us, plus our as yet unborn child at the end of maternity leave (January or February). As we hear from the family several times a month, it's time for us to go back and they all want to meet the kids. There's a big festival and a big wedding. Our trip will include modern houses in big cities, modern hotels in big cities, but also travel to small towns where we'll stay with family and probably a few excursions to more remote places with dodgier lodging options; it's almost mandatory to take the kids to the Venkateshwara Temple in Tirupathi where you stand in a mob of people for hours and they shave the kids heads as an offering -- this a really big deal culturally. It's also really important for our half-ling son who is asking us all kinds of questions about India these days and we really want to make his mother's cultural heritage come alive for him(we live in Seattle and have very limited contact with Indian relatives here).

We're both doctors and we know all about vaccines and compounding malaria prophylaxis into breast milk, etc. I also anticipate a not trivial chance of car accident, injuries, animal bites, etc. We are looking for advice on how you approached these threats, whether you actually had to deal with any emergencies involving your family and what that was like for you. I think we know too much and are focused excessively on the horror stories we're dreaming in our heads. What happens when the 8 week old gets a high fever -- here in the U.S. it's blood cultures, xrays, a spinal tap and a week of IV antibiotics, is that even going to be possible in rural India? What do we do when my 2 year goes up to pet the puppy and is then bitten by a feral dog, since we aren't doing rabies vaccinations before we leave. And how do we keep him from putting every single thing in his mouth?

Finally, we'll have to contend with keeping the children entertained on an 18-24 hour flight, long car rides on Indian roads, train rides, etc. I think we can manage this, but our longest trip so far was about 8 hours on a plane, so maybe I don't really have a clear understanding of what it is we're signing up for and need to think up on this.

Is this crazy, Metafilter?
posted by Slarty Bartfast to Travel & Transportation around India (29 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
My son is 5 months old, FAR from sheltered since we left the hospital... and I wouldn't do this in a hundred thousand years. But I bet it's been done thousands of times successfully!

As a new parent, I bet I would crack under the stress and worry before the wee ones did. Really, I'm more concerned about the you, the parents.

Also, I ended up having a c-section and would have been in no shape for international travel at 8 weeks.

I dunno. I think your main reason, that you've been getting family pressure, simply isn't good enough to take on this considerable risk. Not to mention that even with vaccines, it's kinda sketchy for a newborn's immune system to be exposed to airplane germs. I mean, I'm an adult and although normally healthy, I usually catch a cold 60% of the time when I fly.

Also. Wow. Is that really a plane flight you want to expose your newborn to? My son is super duper easy, but he still cries. Planes are uncomfortable. And every time your infant cries you'll be feeling weird about your fellow travelers' comfort, even if they are super cool and understanding.

Again. I could be wrong, and I'm so sorry if my conclusion offends you. Truly.

I think somehow maybe this family pressure is causing you and your spouse to forget what a big hardship this will likely be. Think back. Considering that you know how you'll be feeling the first three months... Are you sure this is a good idea?

You've got previous experience, so you know better than me. My two cents, FWIW.
posted by jbenben at 11:05 PM on September 19, 2011 [4 favorites]

Also. My husband's family is overseas and only slightly closer than India to the US. So this topic has been discussed in my home once or twice, but never debated because my husband I both think it would be doughnuts to take that trip. Of course, we have the added deliciousness of political unrest in the region we'll be traveling to, making it a much easier choice not to go. This isn't exactly analog to your situation, but the rest sure fits.
posted by jbenben at 12:14 AM on September 20, 2011

No, just no. You are both drs, you know how quickly things can go south for an infant of that age. Part of this is also about exposure to new germs - very different than if the mom had been living in India when the child was born. The other part is about the quality and accessibility of healthcare if you do need it. Why don't you stay home and enjoy maternity leave and let the maternal relatives come to you?
posted by zia at 12:34 AM on September 20, 2011 [3 favorites]

Subjecting an eight week old baby and a two year old kid to all this sounds like a terrifically bad idea. I think Metafilter is going to agree this is crazy.
posted by joannemullen at 12:41 AM on September 20, 2011

It's also really important for our half-ling son who is asking us all kinds of questions about India these days and we really want to make his mother's cultural heritage come alive for him

He's two? I would not do this for the sake of exposing a two-year-old to culture. Save that for when the kid is older.

But if anyone can do this, I suppose you two can. And then you will come back exhausted and crazy.

Finally, we'll have to contend with keeping the children entertained on an 18-24 hour flight

Christ. That would probably be the hardest part for them, you, and everyone seated near you. You can't exactly take the kid out for a walk to calm yourselves.

Think about this: find a motherish or grandmotherish person (or a likely couple) in a seat near you and pay her (or them) to nanny for you for the duration of the flight. Now you have extra hands to help you and you have one or two fewer passengers grumbling about the screaming kids. Extra hands would mean one of you could use the toilet or take a nap while the other watched the two kids and the nanny. If you can't see yourself doing this, then maybe convince (and pay?) a friend or relative to come with you as nanny and dogsbody. Two parents juggling two little kids plus luggage is a hard thing to manage.

What happens when the 8 week old gets a high fever

Plan your route, find out exactly where all the closest hospitals are that have good services for children, and take all the contact names and addresses with you. When you pull in to city A, be able to tell a taxi driver that you need to get to a certain doctor at a certain hospital on a certain street immediately. If that fails, have a plan B ready. Find out where all the expats in town go for medical care, and have the contact details for two or three expats in each town to lead your around if needed. (Locals are cool but the expats will know about solving problems the locals might not anticipate, like paperwork for foreigners.)
posted by pracowity at 2:37 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Take a trusted, experienced, unflappable nanny along with you for the whole trip if you do go.

People generally do not remember things that happened when they were 2. If you want your children to get something out of such a trip wait until they're older, much older, like maybe 7 and 9.

It might be much easier for the grandparents and other close family to come visit you.
posted by mareli at 2:47 AM on September 20, 2011 [3 favorites]

Since you have extended family there, have someone find you a reputable ayah you can 'borrow' or hire (if they come for such short periods) for the duration of the trip. It will be a godsend. Bonus points if she's been a nurses aide or worked in some medical field. (I wonder, this should be a service available tbh) Which major city will you going to/based at? You might even be able to find some thing like this online. But in any case, someone should know someone who can find someone :)
posted by infini at 2:51 AM on September 20, 2011

Yup, there are such services and they have phone numbers and can be checked out / interviewed by your local family. (Though I suggest 'borrowing' a trusted family retainer, if its possible)
posted by infini at 2:56 AM on September 20, 2011

And please don't think you cannot travel with an infant. My first flight was allegedly at age 3 months to Kanpur for a wedding. There'll be tons of uncles and aunts and elder sisters and brothers ready to take the childrens (bachcha party) off to play etc
posted by infini at 3:02 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

The 2-year-old will remember exactly zero of it, so you are subjecting your entire family, and possibly the health of your newborn (not used to those bacteria, and anti-malarial drugs in the milk?) to appease the in-laws. Tell the in-laws to wait a few years.

Have those anti-malarial drugs been tested on newborns? Is there any evidence they're safe?
posted by zachawry at 3:28 AM on September 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

For the love of your fellow human beings, please do not take a newborn and a 2 year old on an 18-24 hour flight. Please please please.
posted by Grither at 3:47 AM on September 20, 2011 [3 favorites]

The first reason I wouldn't do this is because you never know what labor and delivery will bring. You just do not know. If your wife ends up needing a c-section, no way is she going to be up for this trip when it is scheduled.

The second reason I wouldn't do it is the age of the baby at the onset of the trip. Too young. Way, way too young. If it was just the two-year-old, I'd say go for it. But with a several-weeks-old infant? No.

I know the wedding is probably the big draw here but seriously, yes, I do think this is crazy.
posted by cooker girl at 5:12 AM on September 20, 2011 [6 favorites]

I was two, and my sister seven, the first time my parents took us both to extremely rural India from the U.S., in what must have been a superhuman effort, particularly for my mother. I have no recollection of this trip and only fleeting memories of the subsequent one when I was five.

Go if you must, but it's wrong to think it's for the kids' benefit. And please, it's India: There's always a big festival, a big feast, and some head shaving going on. Even if there were only minor complications with the pregnancy or delivery (and I hope not!), you'd be asking your wife for a frankly unreasonable effort.

I can see taking my boy to see his family in India perhaps when he's 3 or 4. But an eight week old has only negative risks and very little to gain, and I say that as the kind of traveler who eats stuff from the vendors on the trains of Indian railways.
posted by anildash at 5:40 AM on September 20, 2011 [7 favorites]

I've been on plenty of these flights and there is always an abundance of children and infants. I can't vouch for their health after they arrive but certainly their parent/s thought it was possible.

One thing you might consider is breaking up the flight with 2 or more stopovers so it is not one long journey. Seattle > Hawaii > Hong Kong > Bangkok etc if you're flying the Pacific route. These are all modern airports with good facilities that are easily navigable. Although this might sound like transit hell, you can store your big luggage at the airport and stay at a nearby hotel overnight because there's nothing like being able to sleep in a real bed.

But if you want to rip the band-aid off all at once, one word: drugs. For the two-year-old, give him the children's cold medicine that will make him drowsy. The new-born will sleep most of the way anyway, right?
posted by TWinbrook8 at 5:43 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Multiple members of my family have done this over the past several decades, traveling from the US to Pakistan. Granted, they weren't visiting rural Pakistan, for the most part. My younger brother was 4 weeks old when he first made the trip, over 30 years ago. So this is certainly doable. Whether or not you want to is a different story.

As to whether the 2-yr-old will remember, I wouldn't be so certain that it will all be a blank. I know a lot of memories for me have been latent ones, coming back when something triggers them. They are cherished memories.

The flight will be long. There's not a lot you can do about that, barring Benadryl or some such. Should you decide to use something like Benadryl, make sure you've checked that it actually makes you child drowsy. As you may very well know, some kids get really hyper in response to cold medications.

It's a tough decision. My extended family has usually come down in favour of making the trip. We've grown up with that and as a result, there are real emotional ties amongst cousins who have spent very little time with each other, ever. You have to weigh that against the risks, which are real.
posted by bardophile at 6:16 AM on September 20, 2011

I see a lot of risks and downsides but I don't see a compelling reason for going right then. It doesn't balance out to me. I don't think you're focusing excessively on the downsides, I think you're being cautious and responsible parents that understand you'll have a lot of variables thrown at the two of you and your tiny humans.

All of that said, you can probably manage it and you'll have family support. I would plan out your responses to various things that could go wrong and have contingency plans, and always know the nearest resources, wherever you are in the journey. And leave yourselves a few days to decompress when you get home, if possible with some child care support - don't jump right back into work and daily routines.
posted by mrs. taters at 6:32 AM on September 20, 2011

This blog post from the aptly named travel blog Almost Fearless might be helpful. The blogger is a mom who travels with her toddler all over the world, including India. She's been doing it since he was 4 months old - but note, 4 months is still not the same as 2 months (8 weeks). You'll probably want to contact her to ask. At the bottom of the post there are a number of links to other people who travel with young children.

Other posts you may find relevant:

8 Common Myths about Flying with Kids
A Year with Cole
Six Humbling Aspects of Traveling with an Infant - one of the unexpected benefits is that people in non-Western cultures will warmly welcome and delight in your baby at every turn.

And I can't find the post right now, but the mom writes that the trip is absolutely worth it for baby Cole, even though it's true he won't remember a lot of it. What he will get, however, is a sense that the world is big and exciting, that there are many different ways of life, that people come in all colors and shapes and sizes, and that travel is a wonderful thing.
posted by danceswithlight at 7:20 AM on September 20, 2011

If you'll be mixing antimalarials with breastmilk, that means pumping. Are there places to plug in the pump etc.? Or will you be done with the antimalarials and solely breastfeeding? If something happens and breastfeeding doesn't work out, will you have access to high-quality formula and safe water with which to mix it?

I can't give an opinion either way but the above would be my biggest concern. Second biggest would be whether my wife would be fully recovered from childbirth.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:26 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think the flights are really not such a big deal, if you can break them up a bit, and fly eastbound, so its mostly overnight. I've traveled internationally with both my kids several times, and domestically from about 6 months of age onwards. However, I would personally not take an 8 week-old on an international trip, irrelevant of the destination country to be honest. It's just too much stress for everyone, during a time when your wife should be resting, enjoying time with the new baby, and gently getting into a motherhood routine. The two year old will still be adjusting to life with the new baby (as will all of you), and may react badly to even more disruption. On top of that, the medical issues give me serious concern, and I'm not a doctor.

Of course your family wants you to go back so they can see you all, and meet the kids. But your kids' needs trump theirs. Ask yourself if this is really the best decision for the kids. Once the baby is a year old, then I would definitely say that it would be a great trip and not to worry too much. But 8 weeks is too little IMHO.
posted by Joh at 8:28 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Is this crazy, Metafilter?

Yes, it is.

Do not underestimate how much harder it is to travel with two small children instead of one. We've done both, and it's exponentially more challenging traveling with two. Neither one of you will have your hands free. And that is setting aside the 18-24 hour travel times, the concerns about vaccines, accidents, injuries, and unhappy animal encounters.

I refused to fly from California to Colorado with two year old and a seven week old baby, and insisted my family come to see us for the holidays. I would not have entertained the notion of flying with them to India even long enough to post a question to AskMe.

We have decided to postpone further air travel with our two small ones until the younger is old enough to be engaged by Sesame Street or some other video entertainment. Before then, no way.

posted by ambrosia at 10:38 AM on September 20, 2011

Response by poster: This is all very helpful Metafilter, thank you for confirming that I'm crazy. To be clear, we do *want* to go very badly, it won't be hard to tell the family we can't.

I'm interested to hear from more people who have done something like this. I keep thinking about the last time we went there was a couple on the flight with a newborn who had just returned from 3 weeks at an Ashram. They looked so calm and graceful. I also think of my mother in law coming to the U.S. for the first time on a plane with all her belongings, *and* an infant and toddler, by herself.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 11:37 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

My first trip to India that I remember was when I was five or six years old, and my sister was four or five. We went every couple years until college age, so it's possible that there was a trip a couple years earlier, but I don't remember it at all. I'll have to see if there are any pictures lying around. This was in the mid-80s, so obviously flying internationally was a fairly different proposition, as were entertainment options. Jet lag was also a much bigger deal when I was younger; we stayed for a month and I was lagged out for the whole of the first week and into the second, so that I was basically asleep or groggy all day. My first few trips were basically just to Mumbai and specifically to the apartments of my family there; with the exception of trips to Baroda an hour or so north, my parents chose not to travel around the country until we were much older. I don't think we would have managed the trains very well at a younger age, although obviously people do.

I wouldn't say that it's a terrible horrible idea, but I'd question how much your kids would get out of it at this age, especially and obviously the infant. I felt very close to my cousins in India despite not meeting them until I was around 5, so I don't think your kids would be losing much by waiting a couple years. Missing the wedding would suck, certainly. The festivals, though, aren't going anywhere, and with the timing of the birth, I'd be inclined to just chalk it up to unfortunate timing and wait, especially until you can vaccinate more thoroughly.
posted by Errant at 12:00 PM on September 20, 2011

I wouldn't do it, but that's me. When my son was 10 months old, my in-laws gifted the whole family with a Christmas cruise. Fun! Cushy! Tropical! Yeah, no. On the two hour flight to Florida, the baby barfed on me twice. I thought the trip was a horrible idea from the start, and they all said "Come on, it'll be fun. We'll help!". Helping consisted of meeting up with us at dinnertime after full days of them enjoying the sunshine and island fun and ignoring us! Maybe that's just my family, but the point here is that it really was a lot of work with a baby involved. And we weren't dealing with the conditions you mentioned in India.

Another note, I am half-Vietnamese and that part of my culture is really important to me. I have been back since I was born there, but I haven't taken my son who is 11. It's a phenomenally long trip (24 hours from the East Coast) and I don't think he is quite at at the age to appreciate it. Even though your 2 year old is asking questions, he won't remember this trip at all. But, my biggest concern would be the health and safety of the newborn.

Sorry for being a downer. You know your family best, though, and I'm sure you'll make the right decision!
posted by fresh-rn at 1:32 PM on September 20, 2011

We took lil ubu to Indonesia for 6 weeks, when he was 4 months old.

For what it's worth:

- Plane ride (approx 8 hours): no problems at all, an absolute gem. Like cars, the background hum of planes seems to be soothing to babies. On our flight, all the parents with young kids were put up the back of the plane ("because that's where the toilet with the baby change table is") so no great dramas about annoying other passengers.

- Health & sanitation: breastfed, so clean water & food not an issue in the slightest. At such a young age they can't move around by themselves, so cleanliness of the environment not much of a worry. Tried to be careful when bathing, though, and used boiled water when possible (though this was a bit of a hassle & we discontinued it, trying instead just not to allow any water to transfer into his mouth.

- Car rides: we didn't go anywhere more than 4-6 hours away, but with relaxed laws about child safety seats etc (ie no laws whatsoever) we just held him in our laps. Boobie feeds when needed. All good. The traffic doesn't move much faster than 20mph anyway (as in India) so we felt this was OK in case of accidents. The biggest issue in India is a head-on with a Tata truck or a bus, in which case you're hazar fucked regardless of seatbelts or not. Train rides with a baby would be a hoot. Babies open doors for you in developing countries (not literally, although sometimes hotel staff might be a bit underaged).

- Medical emergency: would've skipped back to Darwin if needed. Travellers in India normally use Singapore as their emergency backup, although major cities will always have private hospitals up at something like western standards.

- Antimalarials: didn't use them as there was little / no risk where we were. In my past couple of trips to India, I've not used prophylactic antimalarials, choosing instead to cross the malaria bridge if I came to it. Seek your own medical advice on this, and especially on the risk of dengue fever.

- Other vaccinations: you absolutely must must must wait until baby Bartfast is properly immunised, especially for polio & measles. I am not a paediatrician, so you'd want to check which vaccinations are available for newborns, eg typhoid, hepatitis, etc.

- General: we basically rented a house & stayed put in one place most of the time. It would be harder to be on the move more...not sure exactly how much you'd be moving about, but I've been to India a number of times, and a kid or two would add extra challenges to what can already be a very trying experience. The more upmarket you go, the better - especially if you rent cars with drivers instead of taking buses, for example.
posted by UbuRoivas at 1:41 PM on September 20, 2011

PS - another risk is if Mrs Bartfast falls ill, eg with severe diarrhoea, dysentery or giardia, although if she was born in India this might not be such a risk. Need to be able to feed that baby & not be horrendously dehydrated.
posted by UbuRoivas at 1:44 PM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Here's something I don't think anyone else has mentioned: Don't count on being able to get the new baby a passport on time, especially if you're trying to get a passport that isn't a US passport too.

We're planning on moving Baby Crab to the UK when he's 4 or 5 months old, and one of the reasons we're not going sooner is getting all his paperwork ready (health and vaccinations and postpartum recovery are the other big reasons). First US passports are currently taking about three weeks if expedited, and UK passports up to 4 months! Beyond the wait for the passport itself, the form asks for a SS number, so you'll need that first unless there's some out I don't know about that lets you apply without one. And do you really want to commit even more of the postpartum recovery time to trying to get pictures that meet the standards (eyes open looking at the camera) and schlepping to the application center?

Baby Crab will have his own seat for safety and sanity reasons, so I believe we need his passport number to even book our flights, but even if you're comfortable with a lap baby and that's not a requirement, you will certainly need a passport before the baby can get on the plane.
posted by crabintheocean at 6:29 PM on September 20, 2011

I just did a little more research and it looks like the SSN is not necessarily an issue - if you don't have one you can put all zeros and it should be fine. The rest of what I wrote applies though I think.
posted by crabintheocean at 7:15 PM on September 20, 2011

PS - another risk is if Mrs Bartfast falls ill, eg with severe diarrhoea, dysentery or giardia, although if she was born in India this might not be such a risk.

It's a risk if she has been away for any period of time. I've got a couple of India-born, India-raised friends who, after spending a few years in the States, went back to Chowpatty Beach for their favorite ice cream from their university days. They regretted it for several weeks thereafter.

If you decide to do this, find the names of good doctors in your nearest major metro (Delhi, Mumbai, or Bangalore are the only three I'd look at) who specialize in 1) the care of infants and 2) very young children before you go. Get their contact info. It will give you comfort to know you've got their mobile numbers and a plan of how to get to them if one of your kids gets sick.

All that said -- one of my good friends took her two year old to India and both she and the kid had a ball. If it were just your two year old you were planning on taking, I'd think you were crazy for being so worried. :) But a two year old and an eight week old... that's a lot to handle no matter where you are in the world, much less when traveling, even less when traveling in a (lovely, amazing) country that pretty regularly wreaks havoc on immune systems (and patience, and planned schedules :).
posted by artemisia at 10:13 PM on September 20, 2011

In terms of timing: I would not want to travel to places that are less developed than I'm used to while experiencing lochia. I presume Mrs. Bartfast has already considered this, since this is your second -- and congratulations! -- but I thought I'd throw it out there in case she'd blocked it from her memory.

(Sorry, I know you want more "We did it and you can too!" stories.)
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:11 AM on September 21, 2011

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