The holiday travel season is in full swing, and parents are wondering how they are going to get their baby to sleep well despite the breaks in routine.
Traveling with a baby – across town or across the country – can be a daunting task, especially as a new parent. But with just a bit of preparation and planning, you can avoid tired toddler tantrums and fussy, overtired babies.
These seven sleep tips will give you the knowledge and confidence to conquer travel with your little copilots.
Plan the travel itinerary around your child’s sleep schedule
Try to depart or arrive at locations around nap time. Being able to sleep in a safe, flat surface space like a crib, in a quiet, dark room – will be more peaceful and restorative for baby than trying to sleep in a stroller or moving vehicle.
Plan to leave after the first nap, because that first nap provides the best-quality sleep for baby, compared to the rest later in the day.
Maintain bedtime rituals
Whether you read a book or sing a song together, keep up with your bedtime routines. Your baby will recognize the familiarity and predictability of the routine, which prepares them to sleep. They will also become more comfortable in their unfamiliar environment with the comfort of your routine.
Think about the sleeping environment
Will you be in a noisy urban or quiet rural environment? Will there be enough space to set up a crib? When booking a hotel room or going home for the holidays, think about the size of your sleeping area and the noise level.
Do not be afraid to rearrange furniture or décor (like hanging bed sheets over windows using painter’s tape to block sunlight) to create a peaceful, dark, cool space. Setting up this sleep-friendly environment will help both baby and you snooze better.
Pack sleep accessories
When considering the sleep environment, keep in mind the accessories you use to lull your baby to sleep. Helpful products like pacifiers, fully-vented bottles, a humidifier and a white noise machine will come in handy. Pacifiers can help soothe and settle baby on the go, and vented bottles can reduce gas in baby’s stomach after feeding, allowing for more peaceful sleep. A humidifier can prevent nose and throat irritations from dry air, and a white noise machine or app can drown out background noise. If you make room in your luggage for these sleep essentials, you’ll be thankful you did.
Adjust to different time zones before traveling
If you are traveling across time zones, aim to either keep your baby on your home time zone or gradually adjust baby’s eating and sleeping schedules at least a week beforehand. This will start slowly modifying their internal clock to shift the timing of their usual routine. Move up or push back their schedules by 15-minute increments each day for the easiest transition.
Schedule time for naps
The holidays can get busy with activities and events; and before you know it, your baby has missed naptime! If this does happen, try to get baby to bed earlier to make up for the missed time. Remember – a later bedtime does not equal a later wake-up time the following morning. (Frequently, it leads to the opposite!)
Return to sleeping routine when home
Upon returning home from your travels, go back to the normal routine as soon as possible. Try not to bring traveling sleep habits back home with you.
Remember that everyone, young and old, has a sleep bank. You must put in as many hours for sleep as you do for fun, especially while traveling. Your baby will be trying to process and comprehend new spaces and faces. Give them and their brains time to rest, regroup and prepare to take on the next day through sleep.
Following these tips can make for a well-rested holiday travel season. Your baby is adapting to the new sights and sounds of a lively world, and you are their support system in navigating it all.
Dr. Rebecca Kempton, M.D., is a certified infant and toddler sleep specialist and Baby Sleep Pro founder. She is on the Medical Expert Panel for Dr. Brown’s. Kempton is a board member of the American Sleep Association and the Family Sleep Institute.