Traveling and parenting during the holidays can be strenuous enough without a baby. Add a little one to the mix and you have a recipe for disaster! Trying to get from one family get-together to the next can wreak havoc on your baby’s sleep schedule, leading to less sleep for everyone in the family.
Read on to learn how to tackle the most common travel-related baby sleep challenges including plane rides, road trips, time zones changes, family sleepovers and hotel stays.
1) Plane Travel
Plane travel is DEFCON 1 when traveling with children. Hold nothing back when it comes to helping your little one fall asleep on a plane. Keep in mind that Baby might not be interested in sleeping at her normal sleep time when on a plane. In this case, revert to plan B and worry more about keeping your baby happy than about getting Baby to fall asleep.
Nursing or bottle feeding upon take-off can help soothe Baby to sleep. You can also strap him into an infant seat with a pacifier or bottle, and cover the seat with a blanket to create a dark environment. Remember to leave a small crack for ventilation.
Once the plane lands, you may find that your baby slept most the plane ride and is wide awake when you arrive at your hotel. Don’t worry. As long as you give Baby about two to four hours of wake time between landing and bedtime (the older the baby, the longer the wake time), he should be able to go down for the night just fine. A late bedtime is perfectly OK after a long day of travel, provided the baby has had a substantial amount of sleep on the flight. Just be sure to follow the time zone tips below as you transition through your holiday vacation.
2) Road Trips
Car trips are another challenging situation when it comes to babies and sleep. For rides that are four to six hours or less, it’s best to leave home right after your baby’s final nap of the day so that he or she will stay awake for most or all of the car ride. Then, when you arrive to your destination, Baby will be ready to go to bed for the night. If your baby took a snooze in the car, put her to bed about 1.5 to 2.5 hours after she last woke. If leaving after Baby’s final nap time lands you in rush hour traffic, your second best option is to leave immediately after Baby’s first nap of the day. Napping at home is always preferable to napping in the car as naps at home are more restorative.
If your road trip is seven hours or longer, consider leaving at Baby’s bedtime and driving straight through the night. Your baby might not fall asleep right away, but the darkness and road noise is sure to lull her to sleep soon after you start to drive. An added bonus: less traffic. Don’t forget to make a coffee stop!
3) Time Zone Changes
Time zone changes are not nearly as challenging to deal with as parents usually think they will be. The formula is actually easy. Just keep your child on your home time zone until he or she starts waking close to 6 or 7 a.m. local time. Once that happens, immediately switch schedules so your baby is taking naps at his usual times.
Going east, expect your 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. nighttime-sleeping baby to sleep from 10 p.m. to 10 a.m. local time, but to start waking earlier each morning. Now all you have to worry about is your own jet lag!
4) Family Sleepovers
It seemed like a good idea to have 30 of your closest family members sharing the same cabin for Thanksgiving. To make the most of your de facto family reunion, be sure to pack a loud white noise sound machine and some painter’s tape and tinfoil to block out light from any windows. When aunt Sally criticizes you for not keeping Baby up for late-night caroling, remind her that she probably had a great time when she was raising her children, and now you enjoy being a parent and making well-thought-out choices for your own family.
5) Hotel Sleepovers
Sharing a room with your kids sounds great until you encounter the realities of your children being able to see you all night long. When you book a room, ask for a handicap-accessible room that might afford you some extra space. To help your baby fall asleep in a hotel room, put Baby down and then leave the room and stand in the hallway for about 10-15 minutes until he falls asleep. By leaving the deadbolt lock in between the door and the door-jam, you can still have a direct line of sight and be within ear shot of your baby.
Remember that sleep should be a priority for everyone. Plan ahead and think about where your baby will sleep during your holiday travel and stay, and what you can do to create an environment as conducive to sleep as possible.
Natalie Willes has been working with families all over the world as an infant and toddler sleep consultant since 2008. By offering tailored approaches to each family and child, she draws from her extensive experience to make sure each family feels confident in their sleep-training journey. She works with infants starting as early as 14 weeks old through toddlers 3 years of age. She is based in Los Angeles and enjoys the outdoors with her children, Olive and Milo, and her husband, Michael. Reach her online at www.babysleeptrainer.com or by calling 310-279-9299.