The thought of flying with a baby for the first time produces a certain level of stress. Packing and considering everything you might need during the flight can be daunting, but with careful planning, you can ensure a stress-free journey.
One of the most important things to consider when flying with your infant for the first time is what to pack in a carry on for a baby.
This baby carry-on guide lays out the essentials you’ll need to put in a carry-on bag for a baby, so you can be prepared and ready for anything during your travels.
Our experience packing a carry on for a baby
I always called our baby’s carry-on bag “the arsenal bag”. A properly packed carry on is a must-have for anyone flying with an infant.
Well-prepared parents must be able to cover all bases when in the enclosed confines of an airplane cabin. Your fellow passengers will thank you if you are ready to tackle the tears, tantrums, and bodily functions your baby might experience during your flight.
Having been on more than 50 flights with an infant, and countless more flying with a toddler, we learned what was necessary and what wasn’t necessary to include in a carry-on bag for a baby and compiled a list of our top carry-on essentials you will likely need when flying with a baby or a toddler.
Best Carry On Bag for Baby
But before we lay out what to put in your carry-on bag for a baby, you’ll first want to make sure you have an adequate bag that will suit your travel needs. Here are 3 carry-on bags or diaper bags that work wonders on a plane.
This diaper bag makes for the perfect baby carry on bag because of its many functions and level of versatility. It even has a built in bassinet or changing pad, a USB charging port, and multiple pockets and compartments for all your necessities.
If you prefer a tote style bag to a backpack, this functional bag is both stylish and durable. With tons of storage, there is ample room for all your carry-on essentials or even all your baby’s needs for a weekend getaway or shorter trip.
Carry-on for Baby | Essential Items Packing List
Now that you’ve seen a few options for the best carry-on bag for a baby, let’s detail what to put in your bag. Here are the necessary items to pack in your carry on for your baby.
Extra diapers and wipes
Diapers can take up a lot of space in your luggage or carry-on bag when traveling. So, we usually recommend packing most of them in your checked luggage or, better yet, buying them once you arrive at your destination.
However, you always travel with more diapers and wipes in your carry-on bag than you think may be necessary for the duration of your flights. You definitely don’t want to run out if there is an unexpected layover or flight cancellation.
We typically take the number of diapers we think we would need and double it. That way if you end up with a long layover that wasn’t planned, you won’t have to worry about running out.
Formula and bottles or expressed breastmilk, if needed
As with diapers, you’ll always want to travel with more formula or mother’s milk (if you pump) than you expect to need during the journey. And unlike diapers, you may not be able to get your baby’s particular brand of formula at your destination, so we recommend bringing enough formula for your entire trip.
Feeding your baby during the plane’s takeoff and landing will also help your little one with the pressure changes which can often cause a baby’s ears to hurt.
If flying with liquid formula or expressed breastmilk, you can even bring an additional cooler with you through security in the United States.
Snacks, Snacks, Snacks
Puffs, Cheerios, teething wafers, if your baby is old enough to eat early solid foods, be sure to bring some of your little one’s favorite snacks.
Beginning around 6 months old when we introduced solid foods, our daughter constantly had snacks during flights. It distracts and keeps little ones busy during the flight.
While we understand snack foods in general lack nutritional value, when traveling, especially when on a plane – try not to be too strict.
Happy babies are quiet babies. So, plan to pull out all the stops when flying with a baby to keep your little one entertained, busy, and happy during your flight.
While snacks are great to keep a little one busy, chances are if you are traveling with a baby over the age of 6 months old, at least once while en route to your destination, your child will need to eat more than just a snack.
So, you’ll want to plan for a solid meal on the plane.
Toys and Books
When flying with a baby, a new toy can go a long way in keeping your child entertained.
When our daughter was an infant, we made sure to bring a new, inexpensive toy that she had never seen or played with before on every trip. The newness of the toy can often keep babies occupied and entertained longer than an old toy to which they have become accustomed.
Also, pack a few of your baby’s favorite, smaller toys from home and a book or two in your baby carry on bag. That way, if your baby doesn’t like the new toy, you’ll have several more options available.
Wet bag and change of clothes
Have you ever experienced a diaper blow out on a plane? We have. Fortunately, we had a wet bag but we didn’t have a change of clothes! Lesson learned. Our baby spent the rest of the flight wearing nothing but a diaper. Don’t be like us.
Your baby could throw up, spit up, poop, or spill something. In fact, I’d venture to say if the flight is more than a couple of hours, one of those scenarios is very likely. An extra outfit is a necessity in your carry on bag for baby.
The wet bag will prevent the nasty clothes from touching everything else in your carry-on, so be sure to have one every time you travel. If you don’t want to invest in a wet bag, simple plastic bags will do.
An extra shirt for you
Babies have a way of projecting their bodily fluids. So, if any bodily fluids are released while in flight, there is a really good chance you and your baby will need to change.
No one wants to spend a flight wearing a shirt covered in baby spit up. An extra shirt and even a pair of leggings will come in very handy if your baby’s projectile bodily fluids end up on you.
Airports and planes are gross! While many people realized that during the COVID pandemic , we realized that the first time we flew with an infant.
Until you have a kid who wants to lick the window, chew on the laminated insert in the seat back pocket, or crawl around on the floor at the airport gate, you may not realize just how necessary disinfectant wipes are when traveling.
When flying with an infant, I wiped down everything with disinfectant wipes when we got on the plane. Plus, I wiped my daughter’s hands routinely while traveling. Even now that our daughter is older, disinfectant wipes are a travel necessity.
Medicine and Safety Kit
A safety kit, basic medicines, and of course any medicine that your child needs or uses regularly.
I’ve actually never had to use them while we were traveling, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
An iPad or tablet
Even if you limit or restrict screen time at home, you may want to consider a more lenient stance when traveling.
Having a couple entertaining and educational shows your baby or toddler likes already downloaded and stored on a tablet will be very helpful when your child gets restless and needs an instant distraction.
Baby Einstein and Mickey Mouse Clubhouse are two options that present educational content in an engaging way.
The older your child gets, the more beneficial allowing screen time during a flight will become. Don’t forget the headphones! No one else on the plane wants to listen to Mickey Mouse’s voice for the duration of their flight.
A comfort item from home
If your baby or toddler has a favorite blanket, stuffed animal, or lovey, do not forget to bring it and pack it in the carry-on bag for the baby. The cabin of a plane can be an overwhelming new environment.
A comfort item will help your little one adjust to being in that new environment simply by providing a familiar and loved piece of home for them.
A receiving blanket
Whether the plane is cold or your baby wants to lay down or crawl on the airport floor, a blanket will come in handy in multiple scenarios.
These lightweight swaddle blankets are larger and thinner than typical receiving blankets, and make great nursing covers, as well.
If traveling with a car seat on the plane, you can also drape the breathable blanket over the top of the car seat to create a darker, quieter area that will promote better sleep during the flight. This is great for helping your baby or toddler with jet lag on longer, international flights, also.
With several practical uses, a receiving blanket is a must-have in your carry-on for a baby.
Other carry-on essentials for a baby
Of course, don’t forget to pack your typical diaper bag essentials in your baby carry-on bag. Here are a few things that we always had in our carry-on bag for our little one.
- A travel diaper changing mat
- Nail clippers
- Burp cloths
- Travel Spoon
- Extra Pacifiers (if your baby uses one)
- Diaper rash cream
- Infant Thermometer
- Boogie Wipes
- Nursing pads (if nursing)
- Bottles (if your formula feeding)
- Travel-sized baby shampoo and lotion
- Infant washcloth
Usually these carry-on essentials for a baby helped me through almost any difficult or trying flight.
Tips for Packing Light and traveling carry on only with a baby
If trying to pack light and travel carry-on only with a baby, know it is definitely possible. There are definitely benefits to traveling carry-on only, even when flying with babies and toddlers.
First and foremost, not checking luggage saves both time and money. You also have less risk of losing your luggage or your checked luggage not making it to your final destination.
And finally, if staying in a hotel vs. an apartment when traveling, packing light takes up less room in small hotel rooms.
When traveling carry-on only you will want to be prepared for any possible scenario. But try not to stress when things don’t go as planned. Here are a few tips for packing light even when traveling with a baby or toddler.
Plan for one carry on + backpacks for the two adults and a smaller carry-on for the baby
We primarily travel carry-on only – even on longer trips. Each adult typically brings a larger rolling carry-on bag plus an additional backpack, which serves as a personal item. We then bring a carry-on (like the ones above) for the baby.
Buy diapers later
As previously mentioned, diapers can take up a lot of space in a suitcase. So, if traveling carry-on only, bring enough for your flight duration (plus an extra day) and buy the rest when you arrive at your destination.
Pack only what’s needed
When our daughter was an older toddler, we began allowing her to pack a small bag, which ultimately was filled with a bunch of toys and junk she didn’t touch the entire trip.
When traveling only with carry-on bags, don’t do this!
Pack only the items you need for the trip and leave everything else at home.
Share a larger carry on
Through the baby and toddler years, your child’s clothes are tiny. Because of that, one parent can share a carry-on bag with the baby.
Pack your clothes and your baby’s clothes together in a larger carry-on and then keep essentials for the flight and toiletries in a smaller backpack-sized bag.
Use packing cubes to keep items together
Packing cubes are one of the best inventions for helping traveling families stay organized. I like to pack cubes, not by person, but by day or type of item.
Going to the beach with a toddler or baby? Swimwear and beach items all go in one cube.
Expecting rain one day? Your lightweight rain jackets and clothes for the whole family that day go in one cube together.
FAQs about Carry Ons for Babies
Understandably, when flying with a baby or toddler for the first time, it is normal to have a little anxiety. Here are a few frequently asked questions about the essentials in a carry on bag for a baby.
Do babies get their own carry on?
To some extent, yes. Even if you are flying with your baby on your lap, you can bring a separate carry-on or personal item in the form of a diaper bag for the baby.
On most airlines, a diaper bag or backpack with baby carry on essentials and items will not count against you as your own carry-on or personal item.
Can you take liquids on a plane for a baby?
Yes! The TSA limits on liquids do not apply to babies. So, you can bring as much liquid formula or breastmilk on the plane as you need. The exemptions also apply to baby food.
We have personally traveled carry-on only with our baby for weeks-long trips, which meant we brought a significant amount of baby food and expressed breastmilk with us through security.
While we never had any trouble, be sure to check the guidelines for your country and the countries you are visiting if traveling internationally with a baby or toddler.
Do you need a car seat on a plane for a baby?
Babies and toddlers under the age of 2 can sit in a parent’s lap on a flight without an airline ticket. You will need to add a lap infant to your plane ticket, however.
You do not need a car seat on a plane. However, depending on the length of your flight and your budget, it might be a good idea to purchase an extra seat for your baby and bring your car seat. This is not just for an added level of safety but also for comfort – yours and your baby’s.
What other carry-on baby essentials would add to this packing list? What is in your carry-on bag for baby? Let us know in the comments below.
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This carry on for baby guide was first written in December 2015 and was most recently updated in April 2023 for accuracy and current information.