Jet Lag and Babies, Toddlers, and Kids
After the flight itself, the idea of crossing time zones with a baby or toddler is one of the biggest worries for most parents. Before our first trip with our infant son I scoured my sleep books and the web looking for information about jet lag with infants and toddlers and found almost no useful information. Now that we’ve experienced it over and over, here is our Jet Lag Survival Guide for Parents:
Tips to help parents, babies, toddlers and kids
- For time differences of three hours or less, consider keeping yourself and your baby or child on home time. Hotel blackout curtains help with this! Over the course of a week or more, everyone will probably adjust to local time naturally but there’s no need to rush things.
- As with grownups, the thing that most helps babies and kids adjust to the time change is the sunlight. Get everyone up first thing in the morning, try to get them as much daylight as possible, and attempt to have them outside at dusk as well. During night time, try to keep the lights out and the blackout drapes closed.
- Offer your child food at local mealtimes (and in general try to fill them up during the day so that they're not hungry at night). Try to choose healthy, filling options, junk foods will only make the problem worse.
- Encourage physical activity (for everyone). There's no better way to encourage your body to sleep than to wear it out! Find a playground or encourage your child to do a lot of walking.
- Make sure to put yourself to bed early the first few nights so that you’re alert when the children wake you up in the middle of the night. Consider napping when your child naps. For the first few days, it is more important that you are alert enough to care for everyone than that you adjust quickly.
- Encourage your child to nap when it is nap time at your destination. It can be tempting to keep a child awake, hoping that they will crash at night, but that strategy rarely works well and can often run down your child's immune system. Here are some tips for naptime and bedtime on a family vacation
- Expect that it will take four to five nights for your child to adjust to a new time zone and plan your trip (and your return) accordingly.
- So that you don't arrive at your destination overtired, try to help your child sleep on the plane
Tips for Toddlers and Jetlag
- For big time changes, expect that your child will wake up once or twice the first few nights, most likely at their usual meal times. The first two nights, we let our kids play or eat when they wake up if they need to. After that we give them milk if they need it, but not solid food, and after that we expect them not to wake at night (just like home).
- The first few days after a big time change, your child will probably take some marathon naps during the day. Take advantage of them! On one trip, we ate a 7 course meal in a Michelin starred restaurant in Paris with my son napping in the stroller!
Tips for Babies and Jetlag
- Breastfed babies may take a little longer to adjust as mom's body is manufacturing milk on the home-schedule and may need some time to adjust to the new schedule. Jetlag and dehydration from a long flight can also impact mom's milk supply, so make sure to keep yourself well hydrated.
- Young babies rely on routines to help them understand their day. Try to keep your naptime and bedtime rituals similar to the routines you use at home, this will help your baby adjust.
- It's ok to play with a baby who wakes up at night (for the first few nights) but try to keep the activity fairly quiet and phase it out gradually. After a few nights, keep the room darkened, offer milk, and try to soothe your child back to sleep.
- Don't worry that a time change will cause a permanent regression in baby's nighttime sleep. Sleep training is a long, ongoing effort with frequent setbacks when baby is teething, learning a new skill, or not feeling well. Travel is just another temporary setback.
- The return back home is often a more difficult adjustment for babies than the transition to a new time zone.
- Try to gradually help baby get used to taking most of their food or milk during daytime hours (but don't refuse to feed them if they are hungry)
Flying with your Baby Toddler or Child
Helping Your Child Sleep on a Plane
Reader Questions: Will Travel Ruin Baby's Sleep Forever?