3 expert tips: how to travel and preserve your baby's sleep
Many parents dread traveling with their babies, especially once their babies are sleeping well. And it's true, it's not always easy to travel with little ones, especially over the holidays. But it is possible to preserve your baby's great sleep skills while traveling.
I've travelled many times with Parker. By plane and by car. And he's always kept his great sleep skills. So I know it can be done!
1. Prioritize your baby's sleep
The biggest mistake parents make is that they over-schedule themselves. They try to pack in all the fun and adventure they might normally have had back in their “child-free” days, forgetting an important fact: they have a child now. And your baby needs sleep more than she needs to see everyone and everything.
An occasional car nap or slightly later bedtime probably isn’t going to do too much harm. But if your baby spends a couple of days taking car seat naps here and there and having late bedtimes, she may become too overtired. By the time bedtime rolls around on day three, she has a complete meltdown and seems to “forget” all her sleep skills and just cries the house down.
If that happens, you might start to get very nervous because:
(a) your baby, who has been happily chatting to herself to sleep for weeks, is now crying again, and
(b) your mother-in-law is standing outside the door repeatedly asking you if you’re sure the baby is okay.
You may start to give into this pressure and bend your expectations for your baby’s sleep. It’s easy to see how you could revert back to your own familiar ways in no time if you give into this pressure and fear. So stay strong and remember that your baby knows how to sleep well.
As much as possible, schedule your activities around your baby's naps and bedtime. Sure, it can be inconvenient. But it makes sense that your baby be well-rested so you can enjoy the time she's awake. Having a fussy baby isn't any fun. Especially around friends and family who you don't see all the time. And you can spend her nap time relaxing. Take advantage of that time because vacations aren't all that relaxing once you have a baby.
2. Keep it consistent.
Go through the steps of the bedtime routine just as you would at home. Going through this familiar routine will be comforting for your baby and will make it easier for her to adjust to the new environment.
Also, make sure you bring your child’s sleeping toy and/or blanket! And if you use white noise at home, bring white noise with you.
It’s very normal for babies and toddlers to test the boundaries around sleep when they are somewhere new. In their minds, just because the rule is the rule at home, that does not necessarily mean the rule is the same at Grandma’s house. This may mean that your baby cries for some time at bedtime or has a night waking or two.
The best way to handle it is to not do too much different than you would if the regression happened at home. You can go in every five minutes or so to offer a bit of reassurance. But other than that, don’t bend your rules. If you hang on tight to your consistency, within the first night or two, your child will be used to the new environment and will be sleeping well again.
3. Create a sleep sanctuary.
Just like at home, your baby will sleep better if the room is dark, quiet, and cool. Bring some sort of white noise machine or fan. And block out as much light as possible from the windows with sheets or curtains.
If your child is eight months or older, my advice is to try to make some sort of a private space for your baby to sleep. This could be the bathroom (if it’s big enough). Or the closet. Anywhere that you can build some sort of a partition between you and your baby. That way, if she wakes up in the middle of the night, she doesn't see her two favorite people first thing and end up wide awake thinking it’s play time! Of course, getting an extra bedroom for your child is great if that’s an option for you.
Another big mistake parents make is to bed share with their baby or toddler while
traveling. Bed sharing is a big no-no! Even it’s it is only for a few nights. If your baby decides this is her new preferred location, you could find yourself starting all over again when you get home. Most hotels have a crib you can use or rent. Or take your pack and play along and use that as a crib.
In spite of their best efforts, many parents find themselves doing whatever they can to get their baby to sleep while traveling. Rocking, nursing, and a pacifier can quickly become the only way your baby knows how to sleep. If your child has been a good sleeper before, keep in mind that she can do it again. Once you get home, get back on track by being consistent again.
I can't tell you how many clients I work with who hire me because their child's sleep has come unraveled from traveling. So if this happens to you, you're not the only one. But your child can learn to sleep well again. Following these tips will ensure that your baby keeps her great sleep habits so you don't have to sleep train all over again!