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Babies and Altitude

Is it safe to travel at high altitudes with a baby?

Your baby will have the same tolerance for high altitudes as you do, provided that she has no special health concerns and is beyond 3 months of age. (Babies under 3 months do not have mature enough lungs to handle the altitude stress, so wait until the baby has reached that milestone to take your trip.)

If you live in a high-altitude city, your baby will adapt to the pressure and lower oxygen level more quickly. Note: A high altitude is considered to be anything over 1,500 meters, or 4,921 feet.

If your baby has any heart or lung conditions, or if she is born prematurely, then you’ll need to reconsider the trip. In that case, consult with child’s physician about her ability to tolerate the altitude.

To allow time for all of your bodies to adjust to the change in altitude, plan an easy trip with frequent stops along the way. Fluid requirements are increased at higher altitudes, so nurse your baby frequently or offer her several additional ounces of formula or water daily while you remain at the higher altitude. Temperature maintenance can be a concern for the baby, too, so be sure to bring along plenty of warm layers to keep your child cozy. The sun’s rays are also more intense at higher altitudes, so you’ll need to be particularly careful about slathering on a baby-safe sunscreen and covering her head with a wide-brimmed hat.

About 25 percent of people get acute altitude sickness no matter what, and that applies to babies, too. Signs of this can be very subtle in an infant, with poor feeding, irritability and vomiting, often mimicking the flu.

Symptoms of altitude sickness:

According to the Mayo Clinic, there are three types of altitude-related illness:

Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS): Even though it has the word acute in the name, AMS is actually the mildest, most common type of altitude sickness. People may get this due to reduced air pressure and lower oxygen levels. Symptoms of AMS include difficulty sleeping, dizziness, fatigue, headache, loss of appetite, nausea or vomiting, rapid heart rate, and shortness of breath.

High-Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE): HAPE is a serious condition in which people experience shortness of breath (even while resting), persistent coughing and exercise intolerance. Some may even cough up pink, frothy spit (which indicates that there’s fluid in the lungs).

High-Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE): HACE, another serious condition, causes difficulty when walking, severe lethargy and a loss of focus.

There are 2 ways to deal with this: Go back to a lower altitude, or, if the trip is short, just get through it, provided that the baby’s color is good and there is no breathing distress.

If baby is having trouble acclimating to the high altitudes, she might have a hard time catching her breath, difficulty sleeping, reduced appetite or upset stomach, and she might be irritable (sounds like a vacation from hell, doesn’t it?).

She could start feeling the effects anytime within the first 36 hours after you hit a high altitude. Trust us, if baby’s not adapting to the altitude change well, she’ll let you know with those signs.

You can help baby cope with high altitudes by keeping her hydrated (nurse her or give her formula more often), bringing layers of clothing to help baby acclimate to the temperature change, or taking her to a lower altitude. The faster you and baby travel to a high altitude, the more likely either of you could get altitude sickness. Plan your trip so that you have enough time to travel slowly and help baby (and you!) get used to the change.

Another thing to consider regarding the trip will be access to healthcare, since even a simple earache can turn into a major problem if help isn’t available. Anyone with acute mountain sickness may also need medical attention. Go over the details of your vacation with your child’s pediatrician before departure. These same kinds of issues occur when families take infants or children up to the mountains to ski or on other family vacations.

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