When we went on our first family holiday with our baby, we knew jet lag would be an issue and made sure there was plenty of time at each destination to adjust to the time difference before setting off again to the next stop.
Our first holiday stopover was at my parent’s home in Salt Lake City. From Sydney, that equates to an 18 hour time difference and roughly a 16 hour flight with one connection into LAX or SFO. This is actually not too bad if you sleep on the way over.
It always take us a few days to get over the jet lag, but for an 8 month old it took a good week until her body rhythms were back to normal.
We scheduled a massive around-the-world trip with Charlotte and the only time she had noticeable or lengthy jet lag was the first and last trip. This must have been due to getting used to travelling in general.
SIGNS OF JET LAG IN A BABY
Charlotte has always been a good sleeper and she did try very hard in that first week to stay asleep at night time. Bless her! It was her natural body rhythms that had to shift.
She would still wake for a bottle in the night. This in itself was not unusual, but the amount of times she would wake was. We did not want to give her formula more than she would at home, so we would alternate the formula with water. This proved to be successful because the climate was drier than at home and she was not always hungry but rather thirsty. (See our story about Running out of Supplements on an Overseas Holiday.)
The biggest sign that she had not yet adjusted was when she would do a bowel movement in the middle of the night.
TIPS TO FLIGHT JET LAG IN BABIES & TODDLERS
Personally, my very first (and in my opinion most important) advise in preparing for jet lag is to GET YOUR BABY INTO A ROUTINE BEFORE FLYING! A friend had given me the book Save Our Sleep by Tizzie Hall.
before Charlotte was born. I decided to get Charlotte into a sleep routine, as laid out in this book, a good couple of months before our trip. That way Charlotte would be used to her sleep cues and know it was time to sleep regardless of what time zone we were in. This proved to be extremely helpful, both on the plane and once we landed.
In addition to the book, I have also asked other mothers who have flown long-haul flights with their babies and toddlers what they do to fight jet lag. This list is quite consistent with everyone I spoke or read.
- If you plan to take a portable cot, place your baby in it a couple of nights at home to get used to it before you travel.
- Choose flights that are closest to your baby’s sleep schedule.
- Keep your baby awake for a little bit longer on the first night if they slept well during the flight.
- Follow your normal routine at bedtime so your baby recognizes all the sleep cues. This goes for bedtime on the plane as well as off.
- On the first morning, adjust your baby’s normal routine to match that of the local time.
- During the night, try to settle them with water and a cuddle, but don’t let it become a habit on the holiday.
- Do not let your baby become overtired! Stick to the new timetable for 2 days in a row; longer than that and they will get overtired. (Another mother told me that they allow their baby to sleep any time they need to avoid the problems that come with being overtired.)
- Allow babies to sleep wherever they find a comfortable place. They do not need to be in their cot to sleep.
- If your baby is only taking short naps rather than full sleeps, try putting them to bed at night a little bit earlier.
- Try not to over schedule the first few days of your holiday in anticipation of disruptions to your baby’s rhythms.
To avoid jet lag with babies or toddlers, plan ahead. Get them used to a routine and sleeping cues. Avoid overtired babies and let them sleep where they are comfortable. Hydrate throughout the journey and at night. Avoid over planning for the first few days of your trip. The best thing you can do is to understand that your little one will be suffering from jet lag just as much as you are, so be sympathetic.