Using Benadryl for Travel with a Toddler: A Cautionary Tale and a Little Science

I have a parenting confession to make.

Husband and I dosed BabyC with Benadryl during a flight last week.

In my last post, I wrote about what we got right on our trip. Now it’s time to come clean and tell you what we may have gotten wrong.

Before you jump to judgment, let me explain the situation. We were on a red-eye flight from Portland, OR to Newark, NJ. A 5.5 hour flight. This was the first time we had attempted a red-eye with BabyC. At the time that I booked the tickets, the red-eye was the best choice for several reasons, but I knew it was a gamble.

However, as our trip grew closer, I started to feel nervous. What if she wouldn’t sleep? What if the novel situation – being surrounded by strangers on an airplane and being held in our laps (we didn’t purchase her own seat) – was just too much for her?

I know that many frown upon the idea of “drugging” kids for smoother travel. To be honest, it is not something that I have ever considered before this trip. But several parents had told us that it worked for them, and we were feeling desperate. It wasn’t because we were hoping for a relaxing flight with cocktails and an in-flight movie. We just wanted BabyC to sleep for her sake and for the sake of our fellow passengers.

The Goal. BabyC was just 11 months in this photo, and at that age, sleep seemed to come easier on airplanes.

Don’t worry. We checked and double-checked the dosage. We knew that some kids have a “paradoxical reaction” to the antihistamine drugs found in Benadryl – turning hyper instead of drowsy – so we tested it out the night before our trip. We dosed her 30 minutes before bedtime, and she went right to sleep that night without a fuss, as usual, so we figured that either it helped her sleep a bit or had no effect.

On travel night, we gave BabyC the same dose of Benadryl while we waited at the gate to board our plane. It was 10 PM, several hours after BabyC’s bedtime, but she was busy watching the lights on the runway and the people around us. We figured that once we settled into our seats and the engines started, she would snuggle up and sleep restfully for the duration of the flight.

Unfortunately, this was not to be. Continue reading

Toddler Travel: Tips, Tricks, and Lessons Learned

We just returned from a trip to Vermont to visit my old high school and my grandmother’s summer cabin, which has been a part of summers in our family for some 60 years now. Our last trip as a family was a bit rough and not all that relaxing, so I was nervous about more travel, this time across the country. This trip, however, turned out to be fun for all three of us, and we all came home feeling refreshed. Why the difference? I think it was part luck, part adjusted attitude and expectations, and part experience from past trips.

I wrote a travel tips post last fall after a trip when BabyC was 11 months old, and I think I still agree with most of those. However, traveling with a 19-month-old is a bit different, and I thought I’d share some of the lessons learned along the way.

Airplane travel:

Don’t expect your toddler to nap on the plane. This used to be the holy grail of travel for me. We used to plan flights around nap time. We’d try to keep our time in the airport exciting and stimulating so that BabyC would sleep on the flight, and that actually worked pretty well most of the time. But now that BabyC is a toddler, this strategy has backfired on us a few times, and we’ve adopted a new one: Encourage sleep whenever she’s tired. It is better to board a plane with a cheerful, well-rested toddler and spend the entire flight playing games and singing songs and looking out the window than to have an over-tired, over-stimulated toddler who fights sleep with every ounce of remaining energy. When BabyC sleeps on planes, we love it, but we no longer count on it. My Two Hats published a post on Travel with Toddlers just before we left for this trip, and she included the same tip, which was a timely reminder for us.

Don’t expect an iPad to entertain a toddler for a flight. At least not my toddler. Continue reading

Letting Toddlers Climb: Teetering on the Balance of Exploration and Danger

For the last few months, climbing has been BabyC’s favorite “job,” perhaps second only to collecting things.  It started with climbing up on the couch, which felt like a huge milestone at the time. I was proud of her, watching her tackle the problem of pulling her weight up onto something chest-high, skillfully using the notch between the base of the couch and the top cushion as a foot hold.

It took her days to work out the moves for the couch climb. She tested different hand holds and explored the balance of her weight as she learned to transfer it from her feet into her arms. When she finally put all the moves together, she thoughtfully placed her hands and feet and then gave a toddler-sized grunt for the big move onto the couch. And then she turned around to lower herself off the couch in a careful and controlled way, only to practice this sequence of movements over and over again.

Next up were the kitchen chairs, which quickly led to climbing onto the kitchen table. I made the table off-limits (“We don’t climb on the table. That is where we eat.”), something BabyC seems to understand but still tests at least once per day. But the kitchen chairs are heavy and stable. BabyC has fallen off of them several times, and we’ve talked about how the chairs are up high and about how falling hurts. We let her climb on them as long as she sits down on her bottom when we are at the table for a meal.

Recently, BabyC has been taking on some new and riskier climbing challenges. Her favorite is to climb onto the back of the couch, which butts up against a window. From there, she can traverse over to reach the key rack (“keesss, keesss,” she says) and the lock on the front door, which she flips back and forth.

This new climbing project makes me feel uncomfortable, so for the last week, I’ve been asking BabyC to get down off the back of the couch. She has been testing this rule repeatedly. When I am in the kitchen, BabyC will often go into the living room, and the house will get quiet. Lately, a quiet BabyC has meant a 90% chance that she’s up on the back of the couch.

The other night, Husband told me that he thinks we should let her climb on the couch. His argument went something like this (and I hope I’ve gotten it right – I’ve elaborated a bit, as I tend to do): Continue reading

Are Cavities Contagious from Mom to Baby?

You’ve heard the warning before: Don’t share saliva with your baby. No sharing utensils, food, or toothbrushes. No “cutting” grapes in half with your own teeth. No cleaning the crud off the corner of her mouth with a little spit on your finger. No blowing on your baby’s hot food or tasting it yourself first. All of these things can spread mama’s saliva to baby and infect her mouth with cavity-causing bacteria.

I’ve heard these warnings, but all I can say is, “Seriously?” In my mind, a little saliva-sharing between mom and baby is unavoidable. I have tried. It wasn’t too difficult for the first few months of BabyC’s life, but then she started fish-hooking my mouth with her finger while she nursed, and it’s been down hill over since.

So what’s the deal? Are cavities contagious? If so, what can we do about it?

Mutans streptococci

Bacteria that colonize the mouth cause cavities, or dental caries. Mutans streptococci (MS) are the most common bacteria implicated, but several other species are also associated with caries. The bacteria consume food particles, particularly sugar and starch, and produce acid, which causes demineralization of the tooth.

We aren’t born with bacteria-infested mouths – we have to be infected. Cavities are contagious in the sense that MS can be passed from mom’s saliva to baby’s mouth, where they quickly set up shop. MS is detected in some infants within the first few months of life, even before their first teeth erupt, and studies conducted in the 1980’s identified mom as the primary source of bacterial colonization in an infant’s mouth [1]. Of course, you’ve got to wonder if a bit of colonization blame has shifted towards fathers or other caregivers since the 80’s, since fathers are sharing more of the balance of childcare these days. Continue reading

Why Care About Breastfeeding Research?

Since becoming a mom, and especially since starting this blog, I have paid particular attention to new breastfeeding research. After all, my training is in nutrition, and breast milk is one of the most interesting foods around. Plus, I’m currently lactating and still breastfeeding my daughter a few times per day, so it’s on my mind.

When I look back at the papers that I have covered and those that I find on other blogs and media outlets, I notice that many focus on how breastfeeding improves outcomes in babies.

But I also notice that when I blog about breastfeeding research, I have to spend a big chunk of the piece talking about the limitations of the study. Breastfeeding research – at least when conducted in humans – will always have big limitations that require disclaiming and explaining. The problem is that it is impossible to randomize breastfeeding trials or to “blind” the subjects to feeding type. It is difficult to know, despite the fanciest statistical methods, if it is breast milk that makes those babies thinner, smarter, stronger, cry more, etc, or if there are other factors at play in this complex thing called human life. Sometimes, by the time I’ve listed the problems with interpreting a breastfeeding study, I wonder if these findings were actually meaningful, and I’m sure my readers feel the same way.

Elsewhere around the Internet (not so much on my blog), I often see comments to this effect on articles about the latest research on the benefits of breastfeeding:

“Another useless study. Obviously we mammals were meant to feed our babies breast milk. I don’t know why scientists waste their time and our money with this stuff.”

Why bother doing more research on outcomes associated with breastfeeding? It is pretty clear that breastfeeding is a great way to feed an infant. Maybe it is time to stop oohing and awing over breast milk. Continue reading

Limits: They Can Set a Toddler Free

Sometimes BabyC just wants me to tell her no. I’m learning this about my toddler.

We read two books of BabyC’s choosing at bedtime each night. Last night, she rushed us through the first book, turning the pages so fast that we couldn’t really read it. For the second book, she signed “all done” on page 3. This happens sometimes when BabyC is really tired. “OK then, we’re all done with reading, BabyC. Time to sing our song and get in bed.”

She protested, “No, no, no, no.” She arched her back in my arms and shook her head at the crib. She signed for “milk.” Looking desperate, she whined and made the sign for “book” with her hands.

I love reading to my daughter. It is one of my all-time favorite things to do. I’m tempted to sit down for another book, trying it again, hoping for sweet snuggles before bed. But it is late, and I know she’s dead tired – that’s what she was telling us when she sped through her books. I know that if we sit down for another book, she’ll have a hard time choosing the one she wants, and then she’ll again flip through it too fast to read. We could play that game for 10 more books.

But I hate saying no. I really do. As much as I know BabyC needs limits, I often pause and wonder if there is an easier way out, a way to avoid her disappointment or sadness.

“BabyC, you had milk, and we brushed your teeth. We read two books together. Now it is time to sing our song and say goodnight.”

Her body relaxes in my arms. There is no protest – she just seems relieved. She needed me to tell her that tonight would be the same as every other night and that it was time for bed. You’re right, Mama, it is time for bed. Thanks.

We sing. I kiss her. Daddy kisses her. She holds out her baby doll for us to kiss, and each of us does. I lean down and she pecks me on the cheek, then points to Daddy. He leans down to receive his kiss. Kisses all around and a goodnight. Twinkle, twinkle.

I often find myself afraid to set limits, thinking there must be an easier way. You already had two cookies, BabyC – you don’t need a third. I won’t let you climb on the table. And yes, we really do have to brush your teeth tonight. It’s what I do all day. But I’m still new enough to this parenting gig that I get surprised by nights like last night, when it is obvious that setting a limit was not just the right thing but also the easiest thing for everyone. Sometimes these moments of parenting sweetness are book-ended with 10 struggles on either side, and still they make me feel like we’re doing alright.

P.S. I’ve been busy, dear readers. I have a few posts half-written in my head and on notepads around the house that are in danger of being hijacked by BabyC at any moment. I’ve neglected the blog a bit, but we’ll get back into the swing of things soon.