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Traveling With A Baby – Your Travel Health Questions Answered!

A recent entry to the parenting scene, High Street Huddle is a UK based store that sells baby essentials for lower prices than the big online retailers (we won’t mention the A word) by a novel group ‘huddling’ mechanism.  Their founder, Chris Whittle, is a practising doctor by day job, so I thought I’d catch up with him and ask some pertinent medical questions relevant to travelling!
High Street Huddle - Chris Widdle
1)  Is it safe to travel longhaul with a baby under 6 months?  What advice would you give to new parents?

I think the first thing to say here is that many airlines have their own strict rules about ages allowed on flights, and so your particular airline needs to be checked in advance.  Most vary from 2 days old as their minimum, up to some needing a GP letter if your baby is less than 2 weeks old.  To be sure, I would strongly urge you to book a GP appointment early on in your holiday booking so that you can get the all clear beforehand based on your baby’s particular history.  One example, speaking in general terms, is that after caesarean section you may not be allowed to fly until the six week check up, unless signed off by your GP, because of the need to check your little one’s breathing and lung development after the caesarean.
The other thing to mention is that below six months, your baby is too young to have received a yellow fever vaccination; this needs to be considered and places where yellow fever and subsequent encephalitis (brain infection) are a risk need to be avoided.  The same goes for malarial zones, as babies younger than 2 months cannot take anti-malaria tablets.  Check with your GP at the same appointment about their recommended local travel clinic, or look online at the NHS Fit for Travel website
2)  What are your essentials for a travel medical kit?
Many countries have fantastic emergency healthcare, but if you are going somewhere unfamiliar it is best to presume they do not; take sterile items like dressings and plasters for bumps and bruises that you can buy over the counter in chemists in the UK.  If you buy plasters, antiseptic cream and steristrips at pharmacies in the UK and take them with you, you know they are certified as clean and safe to use.  Other invaluable items include your tried and trusted thermometer if you have one (so you can better judge how your little one is if you suspect a fever), Calpol and Dioralyte. The latter two need to be age specific, and reading the instructions in English is much easier!  Other essentials are items pertaining to any particular medical problem your child has; in which case you should ask your GP for advice about the particular place and type of travel you are planning.  Allergies and chest problems, for example, might really limit what it would be safe to do.
Medical kit
3)  What is the best way to cope with a child who has traveller’s diarrhoea?
The first difficulty with diarrhoea is working out whether it is infective (can be caused by lots of different bugs, including basteria like E coli and Salmonella, parasites and viruses) or caused by something else like change in diet.  As always, the best treatment is prevention.  Take precautions with water where you don’t know the source, and ensure hand washing with eating and drinking.  A good way to do this is to take antibacterial gel and wipes – see a good article on making your own wipes here
When diarrhoea strikes, you need to be vigilant; both with your own hand washing (most of these bugs are spread by oral-faecal routes) and with seeking medical advice early.  Children, and especially young ones, although resilient will hide the symptoms of somebody who is unwell until it is very late in their illness progression.  Moral of the story?  Seek help early.  Start with Dioralyte, which you should have in your medical kit, as directed according to your child’s age.  Don’t forget to use safe water with it, and if it isn’t having a good effect you may need to seek attention for IV fluids +/- antibiotics.  Treatments that adults might have used before, like loperamide (immodium), are not recommended for children under 12, and are only for mild to moderate diarrhoea.  Also note that any pain, bleeding or fever need urgent medical advice too – don’t soldier on before seeking help!
4)  What are your tips for staying healthy whilst on the road?
The NHS, despite what we like to groan about, is a fantastic resource and admired around the world. Rather than learning reems of information (I should know, working in anaesthetics, intensive care and accident and emergency) it is better to learn good principles and seek expert help as required.  The vast majority of places you travel will have WiFi (you’d be amazed how rural, and the local MacDonalds is a great bet), so log on to http://www.nhs.uk/symptom-checker and type in your query if it is not urgent enough to seek immediate help. There is regulated and safe advice on this site and we should use it more often!
Take a good medical kit, as described in the previous questions, and look after yourself too!  The more you concentrate on your little one and forget about yourself, the more likely you are to miss something important.  We have the same thing in hospital medicine; looking after yourself allows you to make good, rational decisions, and will allow you to do what’s best for your children.
5)  What are your top travel tips in general?
  • Check the UK Government Foreign Travel Advice site for general advice and vaccination risks.
  • Be as organised as you can with GP and travel clinic appointments; see the NHS Fit for Travel site for some great information.
  • A tip for travel sickness; aim for the middle of a boat and plane, and get your kids to look at distant fixed objects above the horizon line, and not close by moving objects like cars or waves.  Ginger biscuits will give the benefit of ginger antiemesis, but avoid big meals around travel to reduce chances of nausea.
  • As already mentioned, look after yourself! It’s easy to get fixated on your baby’s health and forget about your own.  Double up on pre-trip appointments, and consciously look after yourself too whilst away; you’ll make better decisions and enjoy yourself more!
  • Ask around fellow new parents.  You’ll have gathered by now that I’m a great advocate of new parents sticking together for mutual benefit why not ask if any friends have been to where you plan to go, and how they think it would be for your child or children?  Medical advice can give you the safety impression but your friends can tell you whether they think you’d all enjoy it!

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