No matter how well-behaved your children may be, getting them to sit still and be quiet in a confined space for multiple hours is a big ask. So when I was prepping for a five-hour flight with my 1-year-old and 3-year-old, I desperately sought any advice I could get from other moms.
In addition to smart hacks like packing snacks in an egg carton and using Ziploc bags to contain crayons and coloring books, multiple people told me to give my youngest Benadryl to help him sleep. I'd heard this before, but I didn't feel comfortable with the idea of giving him medicine that he didn't actually need, so I ignored them and instead loaded up on extra bottles, food, and toys.
We were just over an hour into the flight when it occurred to me that I should have packed Benadryl in my bag, just in case. Two hours later, I was cursing myself for not listening to my friends and just giving him the damn medicine before we even boarded.
My son had fallen asleep easily, but when he woke up he wasn't happy about it. For over three hours, my husband and I tried everything to get our exhausted baby to fall back to sleep. Nothing worked. He alternated between muffled whines, sad sobbing, and full-out screaming until the plane landed.
As we walked out of the airport stressed and defeated, my husband and I reminded ourselves that those disastrous hours were such a tiny fraction of our vacation, we couldn't let it spoil the whole trip. And though we didn't, I couldn't stop thinking that we all (annoyed fellow passengers included) would have had a much smoother flight if we'd just taken that Benadryl advice.
But would it have even worked? And is it really safe?
"Some parents have told me that they have used it on planes, but I don't think this is an appropriate use . . . "
Although mommy forums and friends may be full of nonchalant stories about how Benadryl made their travels with young children a breeze, you'd be hard-pressed to find a doctor who will echo their advice. According to Dr. Hansa Bhargava, a WebMD medical editor and pediatrician, "In general, Benadryl or any antihistamine should be used for allergies or an allergic reaction." She added, "Some parents have told me that they have used it on planes, but I don't think this is an appropriate use for diphenhydramine."
Dr. Joel Siev, a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics at NYU Langone Medical Center, agrees. Although "fatigue or tiredness is a common side effect of Benadryl," it "should not be used in a toddler to help them sleep on an airplane." But he doesn't rule it out altogether. He says if you're going to use Benadryl to help a child sleep, you should wait until the "child is about 4-5 years of age or older."
I'd argue that by the time they're 4 years old, an iPad full of movies will be more effective than Benadryl anyway.
If you're still trying to decide whether to take a doctor's advice or defer to your seasoned mom friends on this one, you should also know that there's a chance Benadryl could actually have the opposite effect of sedation. According to Dr. Bhargava, instead of helping them doze off, the medication could make your little one hyperactive or busy.
Even with the memories of that hellish flight still fresh in my mind, that might not be a risk I'm willing to take.