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Travel Tips for Baby: Sleeping on the Go

Airplanes, road trips, hotel stays – oh my! Tis the season for travel, and through all the excitement and vacation-mode mania, for many, there’s one big difference this year. They’ll be accompanied by baby.

There are two rituals of everyday life that can get easily interrupted during travel: Feeding and sleeping. But there are a few ways to prepare that can help make feeding and sleeping be as turbulence-free as possible, so you and your family can fully enjoy your time away from home.

In part one of this two-part series, we talked about Feeding on the Go. Now, let’s jump into sleeping tips for the traveling baby.

Traveling with Baby: Sleeping Tips

You don’t have to let travel interrupt baby’s sleeping patterns – including naps! Use these tips to help baby catch the ZZZ’s you all need for a happy vacation.

Sleeping Baby in Flight

  • Can you catch a night flight? If so, do it. A tired baby may be more likely to sleep on the plane – just try to keep some elements of their nighttime ritual the same.
  • Bring baby’s lovey for an extra dose of comfort while they go through the unfamiliar experience of flying. Don’t forget to attach their pacifier so it doesn’t roll around while the seatbelt sign is on.
  • If you use a baby carrier, be sure to bring it along. Not only does it make getting through airport security a lot easier, but baby can snuggle up close to you during the flight, which should encourage sleep. (The flight attendant will likely make you take baby out of the carrier for take-off and landing but strap that baby right back in once you’re in the air.)
  • Download a white noise app and play it for baby on the plane. Dr. Rebecca Kempton, Certified Infant and Toddler Pediatric Sleep Specialist and member of the Dr. Brown’s Medical Panel, says white noise, on low volume, will help drown out all the other sounds of air travel and calm baby down.
  • If you can hack it, buy a seat for baby and secure their car seat in the middle seat – just make sure they’re under constant supervision and the seat restraints are properly strapped. The familiar car seat should provide a comfortable place for baby to rest during the flight. Even if you don’t buy a seat, you may be able to use an extra seat if the flight isn’t full.
  • Dress baby in layers; the cabin can get pretty cold higher up. If baby gets too hot, you can always remove some layers. Consider changing them into pajamas before take-off, as you would for their nightly ritual, signaling to them that it’s sleepy time.

Sleeping Baby on the Road

  • Some parents swear by driving through the night if they have to go on a long car trip with a little baby. This is a great option if your baby is a good car-sleeper. You’ll arrive at your destination with a rested baby who got a good night’s sleep. Just make sure you have someone to lend a hand with baby once you arrive, so you can get some rest too!
  • If you’re traveling on a sunny day, consider investing in some good quality sunshades for your back windows to keep the bright sun out of baby’s eyes. Bright sunlight in baby’s eyes may make it hard for them to nap or suddenly wake them up from their car snooze.
  • Prepare ahead of time by packing and gassing up the night before and begin your trip before baby normally wakes up so you can take advantage of a few sleepy miles. Start the car and get the interior cooled off or warmed up before placing baby inside. Get her nice and cozy by covering her up with a familiar blanket once you get her securely buckled into her car seat.
  • Listen to soothing, consistent music while you are driving – just be careful to not let yourself get lulled into sleep. Try to avoid any disturbances like rolling down windows.
  • If traveling during naptime, about 30 minutes before it’s time, pull over and do your sleep rituals. Change baby into pajamas, feed, change diapers, and anything else that’s part of the ritual.
  • Make sure baby’s lovey (and again, attached binkie) is at the ready to help soothe her into sleep during the car ride; bringing a familiar, comforting object from home can put baby at ease and help lull her to sleep.
  • Plan for long stops so baby can stretch, crawl or walk around and burn off some energy. Being stuck in a car for hours is hard on everyone, so give them a chance to stretch their little limbs and wear themselves out for better naps.

Sleeping Baby in the Hotel

  • Try to keep any bedtime ritual items hidden before it’s bedtime. You don’t want baby seeing their favorite bedtime book beforehand. Stash bedtime items high up on the TV armoire, in a desk drawer, or even in a closet.
  • If you’re able to bring a portable crib or play yard, make sure to bring a set of baby’s sheets along, too. The texture and smell will go a long way in making a strange place feel like home. Pro tip: Many hotels offer complimentary portable cribs or play yards for baby to sleep in; call ahead to check availability.
  • That white noise app you used on the plane will do wonders for hotel sleeping. Turn it on and up to help block out the hustle and bustle noises common to hotels.
  • If the hotel’s curtains don’t block out enough light, Dr. Kempton’s pro advice is to use black garbage bags with painter’s tape to create make-shift blackout curtains.
  • Vacation has a magical effect of helping you forget time, which also means you might forget naptime. Set alarms on your phone for t-minus 30 minutes (or so) until baby needs to get back to the room for a nap.
  • Try to place baby’s crib in a quiet area where there are less distractions. That can be tricky in a hotel room so you may need to get creative!

Time Zone Changes

When it comes to time zone changes, Dr. Kempton’s best travel advice is to move your schedules to the new time zone ASAP. She writes, “If you are traveling for a longer period to a different time zone, consider shifting to the new time zone during the week before you travel. So modify your children’s sleeping and eating routines 15 minutes earlier, or later, each day prior to the trip.” She even suggests using light to help your little one adjust. “Exposure to bright light early in the morning and dim light in the early evening if you are traveling east and doing the opposite traveling west can help shift their circadian rhythms and make the transition easier.”

A baby that hasn’t slept is a baby that’s wrecked – so use these tips and your own creativity to find out what works for your little one to get the sleep they need. And if you have an adult travel partner, try to split up naptime duty so you don’t miss out each time baby has to go down – or hog all the naptime. Don’t forget to check out the Travel Tips for Baby: Feeding on the Go!

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