Traveling with Babies - the Sleep Edition
By Frank Apodaca
Scenario: You’ve been invited on a week-long trip to a cabin in the mountains. You haven’t gotten out of the house to do anything other than grocery shop since your baby was born. Now is the perfect time. It’s going to be perfect. Your first family vacation.
But then the daunting task of traveling with a baby creeps into your brain. You’ve worked so hard to curate a tight sleep and nap schedule for your little one so that he feels safe, secure, and as happy as possible. Traveling by car, sleeping in unfamiliar environments, meeting new people, new smells, new arrangements, and now you have to figure out a brand new, temporary schedule to just get by. What happens if the weekend unravels your entire routine when you get back home? You think it might be more work than relaxation. And maybe you have even decided to decline the offer.
Do not give up just yet. If you’ve yet to travel with your little angel, or maybe you have but it’s been a while, you don't know that this won’t be the magical trip where he will have fun and in turn, so will you. Getting away is so important in so many ways, as we all know. And while yes, it’s an adjustment and a transition to new accommodations, it will be worth it in one way or another. Aside from the experiences had, memories made, and lessons learned, the best decisions in life have all been big adjustments, traveling with a scheduled baby won’t be any different.
Here is a short list of suggestions to help you plan, prepare, predict, and then execute. But make sure to do your own searching as well, talk to your doctor, family, and friends. Your resources are endless.
Consistency is Key!
It’s well known that babies thrive on consistency. You’ll want to try to keep things as consistent as possible to get them to stay somewhat on track.
A Rested Baby is a Happy Baby!
Make sure their sleeping arrangements mimic their crib at home to create a perfect place to sleep. Remember crib size matters too! It would be difficult going from a large, roomy crib to a tiny pack and play. Adjust as much as possible to help recreate a well-known environment. Is there a mobile hanging above, a white noise machine or silence, a fan blowing, music playing? Does the baby normally have blackout curtains? What temperature is the room usually at when baby is sleeping? These are all factors you want to try to recreate so baby feels as secure and safe as normal.
Try to keep the same timeline throughout your trip as you do at home. Do you have a bedtime routine? Make sure not to forgo that, bedtime routines are perfect for signaling melatonin and sleepy yawns. If baby always gets a bath right after dinner and right before bedtime, try to recreate the bath as best as possible, if you don’t have all the supplies just take essentials and do what you can.
When does baby lay down? Just make sure you’re back at the room in time to fill the belly and make it around the time he normally lays down. Try not to make it too much later than normal, an exhausted, overtired baby is one that is impossible to get to sleep. Naps aren’t any different at all! If your baby takes a late morning nap AND a mid-afternoon nap try to make sure the first one is as normal as possible. This way baby is well rested for the rest of the day and can deal with a little shorter, off schedule nap in the afternoon.
Should you go back to the room for every nap? That is a decision up to you, but remember the first nap of the day is the most important. Depending on how well your baby sleeps in the car, carseat, stroller, or pack-and-play it may be feasible to lay them down wherever you may be… take this opportunity for a little break for yourself too!
Airplane Travel… We Can Do It!
Is baby used to sleeping by himself or falling asleep on you and then being placed in his crib? Make sure to keep consistency as much as possible. But sometimes it isn’t possible, for instance on a plane. Are you flying to your destination? Airplanes and babies are a hard mix, but with a little forward thinking, a bit of distraction, and a lot of comfort we can get to landing with very little frustration. Make sure to pack lots of their favorite soothers: pacifiers, stuffed animals, blankets, books, music. Try to mimic naptime routines as much as possible to lull baby into a peaceful sleep.
Jet Lag, YUCK!
What about Jet Lag? Nobody likes jet lag, it is the worst! Just like adults, babies will need time to adjust. For a shorter trip, say around three days, try to stick to your home time zone as much as possible. This will make it less miserable for the short amount of time you’re there, and much easier to slip back into normal routine when you do get back home.
For longer vacations, try to get baby on the new schedule right away. Obviously, it’s going to be a little difficult, do what you feel is best, but remember not to torture baby with sleep deprivation. One good idea is to split the time difference between going to sleep and waking up. If you’re in a time zone four hours different than yours, allow two hours earlier/later for going to bed and the same for waking up. Then slowly adjust as needed. And obviously, that day after travel can be a little exhausting, so the first day can be lenient as far as sleeping in and nap times.
Let the Kids Make the Rules!
Let’s say you just want to have blast and not worry about being too rigid. You’ll let baby sleep when baby falls asleep, and everyone will just do whatever feels right for the entire vacation. Will it completely destroy your schedule when you get back home? No, probably not. Depending on how long your vacation is, it could make for a cranky, uncertain, and exhausted baby though! You want your baby to have as much fun as you, and to them - fun is only had when they are well rested, safe, and comfortable.
When you’re back at home there also may be a little adjustment, but just be patient and get right back on track as quickly as possible. You will most likely see little resistance in your infant; baby will probably welcome the re-implementation of the schedule he knows and responds to just as he did before. Just remember, there always may be a little adjustment, but this adjustment is towards a familiar and well-known itinerary. Everything smells the same, looks the same, feels the same.
Vacation time is so very important, it allows for downtime for your body and your brain. Being a parent is a 24/7 job, no one is denying that. But parenting while looking at a beautiful scenery, taking in new sights, experiencing new moments, and taking home a camera full of stories is going to make that parenting job so much easier, during vacation and after too! Traveling with baby may come with a to-do list. But don’t let that deter you, the accomplishment and the connection you’ll feel with your family will definitely have lasting effects that will overpower any overwhelming feeling of uncertainty. You’ll just learn lessons along the way and be able to master parenting on vacation in no time!
Frank Apodaca is the editor of The Sleep Judge (https://www.thesleepjudge.com/) . A website focused on raising awareness on the importance of sleep and also providing reviews on the latest sleep products. Follow the Sleep Judge on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/thesleepjudge) , Twitter (https://twitter.com/thesleepjudge) and Youtube (https://www.youtube.com/c/Thesleepjudge) .
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