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My Top 5 Sleep Tips for Traveling With a Baby

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Cara Dumaplin

RN, BSN, Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant

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traveling with a baby

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Traveling can be such an exciting adventure. However, if you are traveling with a baby, “vacation” can often feel like more “work” than staying home. 

A mom of a 9-month-old told me, “Cara, I’m thinking of canceling our trip. We were so sleep deprived for the first 7 months of my daughter’s life. The last 2 months of her sleeping has been so great that I just don’t want to mess it up.”

Want to hear my advice?

Please, please, please do NOT cancel your trip. Do NOT let your fear of sleepless nights rob you of priceless memories with family and friends. Please, GO!

Let me share some of my tried and true sleep tips for traveling with a baby.

How do I get my baby to sleep while traveling on vacation?anchor

1. Start with a well-rested baby.anchor

Even before we travel, we have schedules full of loose ends to tie up, errands to run, and packing to do. This can make your days hectic and also interfere with your little one’s sleep. Do your best to protect your baby’s sleep time before your trip so that you don’t start your travels with a sleep deficit. An overtired baby nearly guarantees a rough trip.

2. Plan accommodations carefully.anchor

If your baby is accustomed to sleeping in her own space at home, you will want to TRY to continue this while traveling. Room-sharing can lead to tough nights if your baby is not accustomed to sharing her space.

If you’re staying at a hotel, try to book a room with a separate living area or attached room. I know this is not always feasible, so in a pinch, the bathroom of your hotel room works just fine too, as long as it has adequate circulation!

If you’re staying with friends or family, talk to them in advance about the possibility of separate room accommodations for you and the baby. (Even an office works great as a makeshift nursery!)

Maintaining your baby’s own sleeping space is the best-case scenario for making sure EVERYONE gets a good night of sleep! If this simply isn’t an option, try to provide a barrier – or at least a considerable distance – between your bed and the baby. Check out the Slumberpod too (Code CARA saves you 5%).

 3. Pack the essentials to recreate the baby’s bedroom.anchor

Try to replicate your baby’s normal nighttime surroundings as closely as possible. Bring your:

If you’re staying at a hotel, you can request an actual crib. For some babies, this can work much better than a Pack ‘n Play. Also, check out Baby’s Away for renting a crib (or other baby equipment) if you are staying with family.

4. Maintain your bedtime routine while away.anchor

A familiar bedtime routine cues your baby’s brain to the coming sleep. If you typically do a bath, give a mini massage, dress in jammies, feed her, and then read a book before placing her in the crib, continue to do that while you travel. This predictable series of events remind her that bedtime is coming, even if her surroundings are slightly different or if bedtime is later than normal. Consistency in this routine is key!

5. Try to get one good nap a day.anchor

During trips, we often try to pack in as many activities as possible. Unfortunately, your carefully planned fun can turn into an absolute disaster with a cranky, overtired baby. If your little one is taking more than one nap a day, attempt to get a solid morning nap at the hotel (or at the home where you are staying). Send someone out for a coffee run, plan out your day, or just enjoy some relaxing quiet time, all while allowing your baby to get that restful nap.

Starting the day rested can allow future naps to happen in the car seat, in grandma’s arms, or in the stroller.

Remember, traveling can be tiring!  You’ll need to be flexible when it comes to how your plans fit into your baby’s nap schedule. If your baby is under 5 months, sleepy cues are important to keep your baby from becoming overtired. If one of your baby’s naps is short or on the go, you may need to make bedtime 30-60 minutes earlier than usual.

Our travel includes a time change, how do we help our baby adjust to a new time zone?anchor

If possible, keep your baby on his own time zone. Holiday travels and even most vacations are often short trips, and shifting times can be difficult—even for adults!

If you’re traveling west to east, the time difference can actually make your life easier. The few hours you get traveling east will allow you to put your baby down for a “late” bedtime, even though it will feel like the same bedtime to your baby. So if your baby’s bedtime is typically 7 p.m., maybe it gets “moved” to 8 p.m. And the added bonus is you won’t have to leave your fun evening plans in the middle of dinner!

If you are traveling east to west and the time difference just isn’t feasible to maintain your same time zone, try adding in a catnap in the late afternoon to help your little one make it to bedtime.

Other parents find just pushing bedtime an hour or so later helps when the time change is just two hours. With all the new surroundings and constant activity, your baby may do okay staying awake for a bit longer. This “splitting the difference” works for many babies.

When adjusting to a different time zone, make sure to use light to your advantage! During your baby’s awake time, be active and exposed to as much daylight or even bright indoor light as possible to adjust to the local time. As for early morning wakings: please be sure to keep the baby’s room as dark as possible. This will help to keep your baby from waking up quite as early in an unfamiliar environment. (Here are some fabulous travel blackout shades (use code Cara for 10% off.)

Help! My baby won’t sleep on vacation, what should I do?anchor

First, take a deep breath. Vacations can be tricky for baby sleep. Read through my tips above and see if there are any tweaks you can make. 

Just remember, vacations are temporary, and you can leave any tricky sleep behind when you return home. If you need a plan to help you when you get back, check out my 5–24 Month Collection.

If you have been consistent at home with your baby’s sleep and you’re having a bit of trouble, now is the time to let go a bit. Relax and have fun; enjoy your family time. You have a great sleeper, so don’t stress over how much (or how little) sleep your baby is getting. This is a short-lived time with your family and friends. Your baby will get back on track when you return home. Yes, your sleep consultant is giving you this advice!

Please Note: If you took my newborn class, you don’t have to stop implementing your newborn tips during your travels! The same techniques can certainly still be applied on your trip. Remember—you can even let your sweet little one nap in your mom’s arms most of the day without ruining the night sleep you’ve established.

Where should my baby sleep while on vacation?anchor

Take a look at tip #2 above. My general recommendation is to have your baby sleep like they do at home. If they share a room with you at home, they should also share one with you on vacation. If they have their own sleeping space at home, try to give them their own sleep space on vacation – as much as this is possible. Just keep in mind that even on vacation all of our same safe sleep rules apply.

How do I help my baby sleep on a plane? anchor

Bring anything you might need to make your baby’s sleep on the plane successful: sound machine (if it’s portable, but your phone can work in a pinch), sleep sack/ swaddle, books, pacifiers, bottle.

Whenever you expect your little one to sleep, take your baby through a mini version of their normal sleep routine. If your sleep routine includes a bath, skip that part but still change their diaper, offer a feeding, read them a book, or whatever your routine steps are shortened down.

At the end of the day, all you can do is try your best. It’s your job to offer the nap, and it’s your baby’s job to take it, so don’t stress about it. Remember, what happens on vacation stays on vacation.

What do I do when I get home from traveling with a baby? anchor

Once you get back from vacation, return to your normal routine and leave any tricky vacation sleep behind. To help you get back to your normal routine, refer back to the information you have from the 5–24 Month Collection. Pull out your sleep plan, read it again, watch your class, and get right back on it. Be 110% consistent. Typically within 3-5 nights, you’ll have your great little sleeper back.

Case in point: Remember that 9-month-old whose mom was considering canceling their travel plans?

She admitted it was the best trip ever; her family simply fell in love with her daughter! Now, the trip wasn’t 100% blissful: Naps were rough on a few days. They had some middle-of-the-night wakings and twice fed her in the night (even when Mom knew she wasn’t hungry).

Guess what?!? Within just 3 nights of returning home, they were back to 10.5-12 hour nights simply by following their plan.

If your nights are tough before traveling, you can still apply the tips above to help you survive your travels. When you return from your trip, I can help. The 5–24 Month Collection gives you a step-by-step plan to follow. It’s a balanced approach to teaching your little one to sleep in her crib while still providing hands-on reassurance. It’s a plan to restful nights AND peace of mind knowing that your baby can quickly recover from an exciting vacation. 

Whatever happens with sleep while you are traveling with your baby, I know it will be worth the memories. You’ve got this. 

Are you ready to have a great little sleeper?

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