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Some babies are great little travelers. You could take them across three time zones and they’ll just smile and snooze.
Other babies…not so much.
It’s Dr. Jekyll and Hyde. Dr. Banner and the Hulk.
To them, WE’RE the ones causing all the hubbub. Taking them all over the planet, away from their happy places, forcing them to smile at all kinds of strange-faced “relatives” who want to slobber and pinch and poke all over their fat rolls.
The indignity of it all!
Jokes on you, pal, because no one is sleeping. Not the other guests in the hotel. Not the in-laws upstairs.
I can remember rocking Elena (my Travel Terror) in the basement in a beat up old lazy-boy at my parent’s house, trying to reassure her that all this was temporary and she could just settle her sensitive self all down and go the *bleeeeeeeep* to sleep!
In the memory of that gosh-awful evening, I thought I’d write this post detailing the things Amy and I’ve learned in our sleep coach training that I wish I had known way back then.
So here goes!
The Do’s of Helping Your
Baby Sleep Away from Home
Do #1: Keep A Sleep Log
Grab some scrap paper (or an app) and start jotting down the times she sleeps. This way you’ll have a “normal” to compare her to when you’re away from home.
Do #2: Pack Smartly
There are a few things I would make sure I have on hand:
- Her lovey, swaddle, or other sleeping aid she uses at home.
- A pair of crib sheets from home (because smelling them will comfort her).
- A good noisemaker to drown out those noisy cousins!
- A dark sheet or suction-cup blackout blinds to help with naps. (If you’re in a pinch, tin foil on the window also works.)
- A good travel bed. I really like this one by Baby Bjorn – it’s easily packed and easily unfolded. For older babies, a toddler cot will come in very handy. (Toddlers on the floor = roam around.)
If you’ve not already seen it, I do have a free packing printable here you can use. All you have to do is check things off!
Do #3: Watch for Sleepy Cues
Before you leave, use that sleep log to help you spot your baby’s sleep cues. Those cues are your first defense against approaching melt-downs!
If you’d feel more comfortable watching the clock, every baby has an average “waketime window” between waking up and needing to go to bed.
Missing this window means she’ll have a brain full of cortisol. (Think Red Bull for babies.)
The cortisol makes it hard for her to settle down and fall asleep, so catching her before that happens is an essential for good naps and bedtimes!
Check this article to find your baby’s waketime window. Then set your phone alarm to remind you of when to start the naptime routine and get her to bed!
Do #4: Spring for a Suite
If you are going to be staying in a hotel, see if you can upgrade to a suite over the standard double-bed room.
It will help your psyche (and your marriage) to be able to put her down at 7pm and leave! No more staring at black walls at 7:30 to avoid waking her up!
Do #5: Continue to Use Your Bedtime Routine
The familiarity of the bedtime/naptime routine will be a big help to your baby in knowing sleepytime is approaching in this unfamiliar place.
She doesn’t recognize the room,but she does recognize that you read 2 pages of a good bedtime book, cuddle, and sing a few songs before bed.
This routine doesn’t have to be 30 minutes. It’s the rhythm of what you do that matters, not the amount of time you spend doing it.
Let your baby’s cues be your guide on when it’s time to wrap the routine up. Remember, rubbing eyes and yawning is often the last signs of sleepiness!
If you see that, hop to it! Your baby is minutes away from a cortisol rush! Get her to bed asap or risk a skipped nap and a rough night!
Do #6: Manage Expectations
There are two expectations that need to be managed here:
- Everyone else’s
Regarding your expectations… it’s always a good idea to expect the worst and then be blessed by the best.
I always knew that the first night with my Travel Terror was going to be rough. This expectation helped me avoid getting frustrated when it was rough, because it wasn’t a surprise.
You should also expect to take a few power naps the next day. Closing your eyes for just 10-15 minutes will do you WONDERS.
Regarding your family’s expectations, let them know ahead of time when bedtime is, so they can plan dinner and other activities ahead of time. You may also want to let them know you’ll need to step away for 30-45 minutes in order to help that bedtime go smoothly.
This way when you go missing, everyone will know why. 🙂
Do #7: Set Up a Contingency Plan
Cameron and I always had a contingency plan in place, just in case Elena had a particularly rough night. Our arrangement was whoever did the night, the other person handled the naps. This way each person was getting a break (and hopefully a little rest).
Talk through with your spouse, or a grandparent, or an aunt, or someone to help you so you can catch up on some Zzzz’s.
Do #8: Consider Temperament with Travel Times
Does your baby like to sleep in the car? Then taking your road trip during nap time is a perfect solution.
On the other hand, if your baby finds large groups of noisy people (like at an airport) overwhelming, you probably want to schedule that flight NOT when he should be napping, but when he is usually the happiest, having just woken up from a nap.
He’s not going to nap anyway. Wouldn’t you rather travel with a happy overstimulated baby, than an exhausted overstimulated one?
If you are planning on flying for the first time with your little one, the article What Every Parent Needs to Know About Flying with a Baby offers many helpful tips and trick, making to make the whole experience easier!
The Don’ts of Helping Your
Baby Sleep Away from Home
Don’t #1: Jump Straight into Nap Time
If you went to a rock concert, could you step out into the hall and promptly lay down and go to sleep?
It’s the same for your baby. He’s going to fight those naps! Especially if his very exciting cousins are in the next room making a ruckus.
Schedule at least 15-30 minutes (depending on how alert he is), to go through the naptime process in a dark room with a loud noisemaker or fan running.
Your goal will be to bore him to sleepiness. Speak in a lower voice, move slowly, and have the lights dimmed (or off). Then rock or walk him gently around the room, helping him to realize that he really is exhausted, just like Mom said! Imagine that!
Don’t #2: Attempt to Do Any Sleep Training
There’s a time and place for sleep coaching, and traveling isn’t it. Just get through the trip, and then if your baby is old enough, you can start your sleep coaching plan when you get back home. (If your baby isn’t older than 24 weeks, there are other non-training methods you can use. Click here for details.)
What’s that? You don’t have a Sleep Coaching Plan?
Good news for you, my friend! A Certified Gentle Sleep Coach (GSC) has been trained to spot all the things that could be going on and help you create a workable plan through the trenches. Click here to talk with someone about your baby’s sleep struggles.
“Dear Heather, can I just tell you how amazing Amy is?! I loved my session with her last night! She has literally been sleeping like an angel since Monday… and it has transformed our lives! I have my evenings back. Woohoo! Amy equipped me with some great tools should Ellie decide to regress again.” ~ Liz Vander Leeuw
Don’t #3: Become the Nap Nazi
Naps are important, absolutely. But so is the family that just drove 8 hours to see your baby for the first time.
If you can, try to keep her awake just a few minutes longer so they can see her before shuffling her off to bed.
That said, you can’t just say MEH to naps altogether. (I guess you could…but you’re asking for a rough night!) So shoot for a balance between napping and family. I will teach you how to stretch those catnaps in my online Napping Know-How Webinar. It’s cheap, immediate, and will is guaranteed to give you answers!
Don’t #4: Feel Guilty if You End Up Co-Sleeping
Obviously, this is a no biggie, if you already co-sleep. For others, though, it can feel like complete and utter failure to bring your baby into the Sacred Snooze Zone.
Just remember this: Nothing you do cannot be undone later.
This isn’t going to completely screw up her sleeping habits. It’s a short term solution.
Don’t #5: Jump Back to Work
If you can, take an extra day off when you get home.
It’s the perfect buffer to help you catch your breath, unpack, get some sleep, do some laundry, and, if you’re an introvert like me, emotionally recover!
I’ve found that as much as I love visiting family, if we don’t take that “Caboose Day” at the end of vacation, it takes us a full week to get back into the regular rhythm of life. (And I tend to get grumpier and grumpier that whole week!)
The Key to Keeping Your Cool Is…
As you are traveling, think of this process through the eyes and temperament of your baby.
If she tends to be clingy at home, can you blame her for being a little more needy while traveling? She doesn’t recognize the faces. She doesn’t recognize the place. She doesn’t recognize the smells. Everything is new, or at least “not the norm”.
She needs reassurance.
She needs to be reminded that she’s safe. That you are handling all this craziness. That you will protect her. Keep that need in your mind while traveling, and it will put all those “I don’t know what’s wrong with her!” emotions in patient perspective.
Persevere, my friend. Your familiar bed and routine is just around the corner.
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