Travelling With Babies and Young Children
A lot of parents worry about how their child’s sleep will be affected when they travel but if your child sleeps well at home, he will be likely to sleep well on holiday or staying with family. If you have recently gone through a sleep coaching process with your child, it is advisable to have three weeks in your new routine at home after sleep coaching is complete, before travelling. This gives your child the chance to get fully adjusted to his new routine and well practiced at his new skills before expecting him to manage these in a new environment.
When you travel, your child may slip back and show a few old sleep traits but try not to undo any of your hard work, for example by going back to whatever sleep crutch you have just eliminated or by feeding in the night when you had weaned from night feeds. You may want to do a bit more soothing and comforting than you do at home but find a way to soothe your child that does not bring back the problem you began with. If you let your child do something on holiday (for example, sleep in your bed), he will be likely to want the same treatment when you get back home. If your toddler does sneak into your bed a few times and you are happy with this, just make sure he knows it is only okay in your holiday home as a special holiday treat, that way he won’t expect the same treatment at home.
What to Take
Take everything you need to make your child’s sleep environment as similar to home as possible. Make sure you have the teddy or lovey, nightlight, wake-up clock, and even your child’s own pillow and blankets if you have room to pack them – unwashed so that they have the familiar smell from home. You’ll need their favourite bedtime stories and bath toys if possible. You want your child to have as much familiarity as possible, especially around the bedtime routine. It is also a great idea to take your baby monitor with you so that you feel assured that he is settled and you can perhaps relax on the veranda?
A sleep shade for your pushchair is great for blocking out the sun at nap time and acts as a great mosquito net too! You can also take a travel blackout blind if you think sunlight might be an issue in the bedroom.
Make sure the accommodation can provide you with a suitable cot or bed for your child. Not all countries have the same safety standards as we do so make sure you check over any cot provided. I would also suggest taking some antibacterial wipes for the cot sides and mattress
Where to Sleep
If you can separate your sleep space from that of your baby that would be ideal so that she does not wake up and see you straight away and want to play. With apartments you often get a separate bedroom or two and in hotels, interconnecting rooms are great and some family hotels even have a kids room within the hotel room. If you are all in one room, try to be creative and make some sort of division between your bed and the baby’s sleep space. I have even heard of mums hanging a sheet up to create a partition! Ideally you want to have your child sleep in the same place for the duration of the holiday.
If you are on holiday you are not likely to want to sit in your hotel room from 7pm every night while your child is tucked up in bed. While it is ideal for your child to be in the room where they are going to spend the night, it is not a big problem to be flexible for a short time while you are away but try to make your ‘holiday routine’ a consistent one so that your child knows what to expect in this environment. So here are some suggestions that will depend on your child’s age…
Young babies are very portable and if you take your lay-flat pram, you could do the bedtime routine and put baby down in the pram. Once she is settled to sleep you will find you can wheel her into a restaurant and possibly even enjoy some entertainment without her disturbing. It is advisable to stick to the quieter areas if possible and not park her right next to a speaker! But you will find she will sleep through a fair amount of noise. The older they get the less likely this will work and if you find your baby does not stay asleep like this and is frequently disturbed, you may need to make this time short and get her back to the room in the quiet and look at some of the other suggestions below.
If your baby is too big for a pram but you have a reclining pushchair, you can do your bedtime routine and get your child into pyjamas and then settle them to sleep in the pushchair. Later you should be able to transfer your sleepy child, with little fuss, into the cot or bed as long as you minimise the interaction with them at this time.
If you have no luck with taking a sleeping child out in a pram or pushchair and you feel he really needs to be in the room, you may choose to take turns with a partner to stay in the room and read or if you have a balcony and whether permits, you can enjoy your evening on there with your children just inside.
Travelling into a different time zone need not be as big a deal as you might think. I am not a big fan of the gradual method, adjusting your child’s schedule in gradual increments – If you only have a week away or less, you do not have time for this. Also, the time you spend travelling is likely to throw your child’s schedule right off, meaning you have a reasonable ‘blank canvas’ to work with when you get there. The fact that the sun is up or down will also signal to your child what time of day it is and begin adjusting their circadian rhythms (internal body clock) so you might as well move to local time as soon as you arrive and vice versa when you go home. As long as you have your consistent ‘holiday routine’, you will see your child very quickly adjust. Just keep an eye on your child’s sleepy cues and allow your child any extra naps needed after travel or bring bedtime forward a little if they need to catch up.
Whilst it is not easy travelling with small children, it can still be a lovely way to get a break away and enjoy some quality family time, so enjoy it. Yes, routines and consistency are important but not to the extent that it ruins your holiday. Your child will soon get back to normal when you return home and if you do need to do a little bit of re-training in the sleep department, it will be much quicker and easier than first time round.