Do you ever feel like you need a vacation from your vacation? I certainly did when I traveled with a newborn, infant or toddler (and I still do even though I have three teenagers and a 23-year-old!). When we prepare for traveling, we think about packing, making flight or driving arrangements and reserving accommodations. However, we don’t often think about making plans to keep our infants, babies, and toddlers safe and healthy when it comes to sleep when we are away from home.
When traveling, try to reproduce the home environment and routines as much as possible. Bring your infants’ blankets, sheets, and pajamas with you so that these familiar textures and odors make them more comfortable. As best you can, continue bedtime routines with feeding, pajamas and stories/songs, etc..
In order to help with jet lag, try to get your family on the time schedule of your destination three days prior to travel. Keep your baby exposed to light and noise during the daytime while at your destination and keep the environment dark and quiet at night. It’s hard to let a baby cry when you are in a hotel or someone else’s home, but do the best you can to allow the baby to adjust to the new surroundings and self-sooth so that they do not have too much regression in their sleep habits which will have to be undone when you get back home.
Don’t medicate! Friends and family might suggest “a little Benadryl” for the trip. However, some sedating medications (antihistamines, for example) may make infants sleep less, as well as having other side effects. Ask hosts not to smoke. While travel necessitates change, avoid keeping infants awake for evening gatherings which might be overstimulating.
The Academy of Pediatrics provides some important advice about sleep when traveling.
- Safe sleeping arrangements away from home. Until infants are one year of age they should be put to bed on their backs on a fairly hard surface with no nearby toys or bumpers, says the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
- No exceptions to this rule. Not for one night. Not for short naps. Not if the child wakes up at night – which may occur more often away from home. When infants wake up at night, parents tend to make practical rather than sound decisions as to how to get the infant back to sleep, says the AAP. Advise babysitters to follow the rules. One in five infants who experiences SIDS was in the of someone other than a parent.
- Never “co-sleep.” Infants sleeping in bed with adults have been injured when an adult rolled onto them or the infant fell off the bed – no matter how ingeniously adults tried to prevent problems. Breathing issues may occur when infants bury their heads into pillows, comforters and loose bed linen. Also, co-sleeping when traveling may make it difficult to get infants to sleep alone upon returning home.
- Car seats are not for overnight sleeping. An infant may sleep well in a car seat but should never be left unattended in one. Many car seats are unstable unless properly strapped into cars. Infants should not be unattended in bouncy chairs or swings.
- Check cribs. Cribs should have firm, tight-fitting mattresses (two fingers should not fit between the edge of the mattress and the side of the crib). Cribs should not have protruding parts, screws, bolts or cutouts in the head or footboard, which can trap an infant’s head or limb. Cribs with sides that slide up and down are no longer considered safe. If possible, check whether cribs have been recalled by the manufacturer for being unsafe. Recalls occur almost yearly.
- “Heirloom” cribs and cradles usually do not meet safety standards. Stringent upgrades in crib design went into effect in 1970 and again in 2000. Very old cribs may have been painted with lead-containing paints. Cradles are popular overseas. While they are quaint, infants in cradles can roll so far to one side that the cradle topples over. Most cradles have pins to prevent this but the pins may be broken or missing
- Place cribs in safe locations. For older infants, avoid areas near window blinds, shades and drapes and away from furniture that can make it easier for the infant to climb out. Place cribs either flush against the wall or several feet from the wall so that if infants do climb out they will not become wedged between the wall and the crib.
- Buy a portable travel crib. For travel by car having a portable crib is easy to bring along. By purchasing it yourself, you will feel confident in the safety of the product. Some are specific for infants of certain heights and weights and constructed so that older infants cannot easily climb out. Learn how to assemble and disassemble it. Have infants sleep in a portable crib for a week before leaving home.
It is important for us to be able to continue to do some of the things we love to do even after we have kids. Of course, common sense must be used when thinking about travel, but a baby’s sleep should not prevent us from going on a family vacation or visiting relatives if that is what we want to do. Remember, kids join our lives and we don’t have to change everything we enjoy doing after we have them. We must take the time to plan for safe and healthy sleep which will help everyone in the long run. Most likely, your little one will have some sleep regression, but as soon as you get home, get back on track…until the next trip! Bon Voyage!