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Sorting out the ways to soothe tiny fliers

The Baltimore Sun

Every time I fly, there seem to be lots of crying babies. For the babies near me, I talk to the mothers about feeding the babies, so they swallow and their ears pop. Or I recommend throwing a little cold water into the baby's face. The surprise will cause the baby to take a deep breath and pop the ears. For 90 percent of mothers to whom I've spoken, these techniques work. Why don't the airlines give parents a pamphlet on baby ear-popping so the babies are not in pain and the rest of us can have a quiet flight?

Do you really want the airline industry parenting your child? Unless you want your kid to turn out to be Damien, I think not. And although it's good of you to coach those parents, you might want to back off on that water-in-the-face idea, just so no one thinks you're trying to start a bar fight at 35,000 feet with a 7-month-old.

Adults aren't the only ones in distress when they fly, although our pain is mostly psychic. Babies and small children have narrow eustachian tubes, which causes the distress. Eustachian tubes help equalize the pressure on both sides of the eardrum. Adults know that chewing gum will help pop the ear and restore the balance, but it's generally a bad idea to give an infant a wad of Dubble Bubble.

There are, however, other ways to relieve your baby's discomfort, says Dr. Tanya Remer Altmann, a Los Angeles-area pediatrician and author of the new Mommy Calls: Dr. Tanya Answers Parents' Top 101 Questions About Babies and Toddlers. She suggests feeding the baby during takeoff and landing. She adds, "If your infant is already sleeping, don't wake them up, but if they start to wake up, go ahead and start nursing."

If it's not the ear, it might be the noise and the rushing around that are scaring your child. Try holding the baby upright, rocking him or her and providing something fun to look at, says Altmann, who has flown several times with her boys, ages 1 and 3.

Susan S. Bartell, a New York psychologist and author, also has flown numerous times with her three children, and her take is just a bit different. The problem is bad parenting, she says. "The vast majority of parents don't make enough of an effort to silence their screaming babies, whether it's pressure, hunger, exhaustion or just crankiness from being confined," she writes in an e-mail.

"The solution in most cases is to get up out of your seat and pace the aisle with your child. ... I think those parents who don't do this are typically the same ones that allow their babies to cry in restaurants."

Bar fight, anyone?

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