Interactive books, fidgets, snacks, and screens can be helpful!
Traveling with your baby shouldn’t be so stressful! Especially if you are going on vacation, or visiting family you haven’t seen in a while, you will want to enjoy your time, not stress over your baby’s sleep. I know that’s easier said than done though! I’ve helped many clients through time zone changes and messy travel schedules, and I’ve learned a few things from that!
Travel and Time Changes
If you are traveling to a time zone that is 1-2 hours ahead you probably won't have too much trouble. You can choose not to change anything, which might be ideal for a short trip, or you can get your child on the new time zone ASAP to let his body adjust. Make sure to wake your baby up at the new time zone within a day or two after you arrive. Expose your child to natural sunlight first thing in the morning so your child's circadian rhythm recognizes this is morning. Your child's body may not feel ready for bedtime at the new time zone's time, so try to keep the lights dim in the evenings to clue your child's body in on the fact that it is nighttime and bedtime will be coming up.
If you are traveling to a time zone that is 1-2 hours behind your baby may wake earlier than you'd want him to. You can prepare for this time change by pushing your baby's bedtime, wake up time, and meal times 10-30 minutes later in the week leading up to travel. That way when you travel to the new time zone baby will be used to sleeping in just a bit longer than her usual schedule, and hopefully will sleep right up until the time you want your baby up.
If you are traveling to a time zone 4-6 hours behind (That Hawaii trip!) I highly recommend preparing your baby's body at least a week ahead by splitting the difference. Push your baby's bedtime/wake up time 10-15 minutes later within the upcoming week or two to where baby is waking up a full hour later. On the day of travel your baby will feel like they are staying up much later than usual, but this will work in your favor. 3 pm on the new time zone may feel like 8 pm to your baby, but it's important to push your baby to the new time zone's bedtime. (obviously with naps and semi-appropriate wake windows in there!) An infant who wakes very early in the morning may need help to be resettled, or even need a feed (don't worry, you can fix this!). A toddler will just need to be reminded that it's not morning yet (the "Toddler clock" can be very helpful for travel!) and it's okay if you cheat a little bit and lay with your toddler. Even if your baby or toddler wakes up early in the morning, try to push their body to the normal nap time (in the new time zone) so their body can adjust. And don't forget to adjust meal times! If you are traveling to a time zone 5+ hours ahead the same will be true, just in the opposite direction!
Remember, flexibility is your friend. Your baby may be struggling as much as you to adjust to the new time change, so don't expect perfection.
Naps and Travel
When you are in a new environment naps might not always go as planned. But that might actually work in your favor because often a baby will be ready for bedtime and sleep all night! If you can make it back to your hotel/house to do a nap during the day that of course is always best. Set up the environment as you would at home…a sound machine and somewhat dark room will help your child nap well. Travel black-out shades are your friend! (Try these or these!)
If you can’t make it back to the pack n play in time for nap it’s okay to do a nap on the go. A stroller or car nap, napping in the carrier, or even on the beach in a travel tent. This might mean your baby’s naps will be on the shorter side. Try to breathe and repeat this mantra, “I accept the moment is as it is.” It’s important to accept what you cannot control and put your effort in what you can control!
One problem that occurs when naps are on the go is that the baby falls asleep too soon. That paired with short naps might mean an extra nap during the day or bedtime too early. If you can, try to keep your baby up at least until the set wake window or even a tad later so that your baby’s naps don’t end too early in the afternoon.
Night Sleep and Travel
Not much changes as far as expectations of night sleep goes. Make sure that your baby is still falling asleep independently at bedtime, even if that means a little more crying than usual. If you help your baby to sleep because of the new environment you will surely set your baby and yourself up for a long night of wake-ups!
If you are in a hotel where you are all piled up in one space, grab a drink, your phone, and the monitor and settle in the bathroom, outside on a patio, or outside the front doorway to allow your baby to fall asleep without your presence. Many babies who are already sleep trained struggle with sleeping when a parent is present! You can keep an eye on your baby with the monitor, but take the time to relax and unwind while your baby is falling asleep. Then you can slip in quietly and resume your night. (Your baby or toddler may even be able to sleep through a TV being turned on!) The Slumberpod (find the generic brand product here- note I haven’t tried or heard reviews of the knock-off brand!) or a pack n play cover can be a helpful tool when having to room-share. Got a toddler? Try an inflatable toddler bed!
Again, try to allow independent sleep in the night if you can. This is why I love Airbnbs! You can keep to the same expectations as you would at home. If you are in a hotel and you are worried about disrupting other travelers, you can cheat, as minimally as possible! (feed middle of the night after 5-10 min of crying, keeping baby AWAKE for the feed, extra soothing or staying next to the crib).
You Got This!
My hope for you is that you will be able to enjoy the time with your little family rather than stressing about your child’s sleep while you are not at home. Do your best with what you have, and have fun!
Need one-on-one support during your trip? Reach out about my travel package! You’ll get a 20-minute phone call to ask all your travel questions plus 2 weeks of texting support for just $85!