Traveling with a baby can be a nerve-racking endeavor, and almost every new parent feels a little anxious about how it will go. Meltdowns mid-flight, skipped feedings, excessive amounts of gear and over-stuffed diaper bags—there’s a lot to think (read: worry) about. One of the top concerns for parents is how a trip will throw off their child’s well-honed sleep schedule. At home the environment is controlled, the routines are consistent, and the sleep times set. When you’re traveling, this can all go out the window.
But if you’re prepared, it doesn’t have to. Nothing feels worse than a sleep-deprived family on the road, so keep these in mind to smooth the travel experience.
Time keeping. Your child’s internal clock keeps ticking no matter where you are—on a flight or waiting at a gate. Keep track of time so you know when a nap is in order. At least half of the baby cries you hear on airplanes are cries of exhaustion. Young babies usually need to sleep after being awake for 90 minutes, whereas older babies and toddlers nap more according to the time of day.
A carrier. A sling or front pack carrier is a must when you’re on an airplane with a baby (or a toddler who is used to being carried this way). If she’s having a hard time falling asleep, put on the carrier and walk up and down the aisle. Usually enough walking or bouncing in place in a carrier will do the trick. If it’s a young baby, try not to miss that 90-minute window.
Thin blanket or nursing cover. The obvious reason for carrying on a nursing cover is to nurse. But the hidden value is in keeping your baby’s distraction level to a minimum. There’s so much to see on airplanes—windows and clouds, TV screens, friendly flight attendants—your baby will be much more likely to sleep if you can feed her or shush and rock her while covering her view of the world.
A small pillow. The handiness of a pillow will surprise you. If you have a toddler, she might be able to lay her head down and sleep on it, or if you’re holding a baby who falls asleep, you’ll need a pillow to prop up your arm. We’ve all been trapped holding a sleeping baby in the most awkward position ever, worrying that any shift will wake her up. Make yourself comfortable—you could be here for a while.
Temporary black out shades. Think about the space where your baby will be sleeping. One of the easiest ways to make a room baby-sleep conducive is to take travel shades with you. These are cheap, portable and easy to put up in most rooms (some use suction cups).
Babies don’t need a lot of space to sleep, so look at the options for where to put the crib. I’ve talked to parents who used large closets for the baby room, and recently while we were traveling I set up the hotel’s crib in the bathroom. Dark, cool, and quiet. My daughter slept beautifully. Traveling doesn’t have to equal sleep loss. The more you protect your family’s sleep while you’re en route, the more you’ll enjoy your time away.