We have experienced several long haul flights, crossing numerous time zones to arrive in our chosen destination. And have learnt that there is no cure for jet lag, despite what others may claim. However, there are things you can do to minimise disruption to your baby and their routine.
Be prepared and ready to go the distance, if you need to. As someone who has taken a baby and toddler around the world, I will let you in on a few of my baby jet lag secrets to help you survive. The aim is to transition as smoothly as possible from one time zone to another. My longest flight was 14 hours with a 14 week old baby and I lived to tell the tale 🙂
Table of Contents
WHAT IS JET LAG?
Let’s start with the basics. Jet lag, also called jet lag disorder, is a temporary sleep problem. It can affect anyone who quickly travels across multiple time zones. Our body has its own internal clock. It sends signals to our body for when it’s time to stay awake and when to sleep. Jet lag occurs because your body’s clock is still synced to your original time zone. Instead of to the time zone where you’ve travelled! The more time zones crossed, the more likely you are to experience jet lag.
JET LAG AND BABIES
Flying with a baby is very different to flying with a toddler! As is the effect of jet lag on your routine. I found it easier to manage the jet lag in George when we has a newborn and a young baby. Babies sleep a lot so it works in your favour, if you choose the right flights. You can easily get them on track with the new time zone, quicker than yourself sometimes! As George has gotten older, we’ve adapted and changed the way and times we fly to suit him.
READ MORE: Complete Guide to Flying With A Baby
CREATE A PLAN
The key to stress-free travel with a baby is preparation. It doesn’t always go according to plan but it helps significantly. Before choosing a flight, it’s helpful to have an idea of when and how often your baby eats and sleeps. Every baby is different. The goal to overcoming jet lag is to reset your baby’s body clock to sleep, wake and eat at new times- with minimal fuss. So if you don’t yet, keep a notepad and make note of feed and naps a week prior to take off. You may notice a pattern or some consistencies.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT FLIGHT
We found day flights to be the easiest when flying with a baby. They work really well with our routine and result in everyone having a good nights sleep upon arrival. I know parents who swear by night flights, which are ideal for toddlers when flying long distances. We’ve flown to Singapore with a baby and Thailand with a toddler – it is very different. This post is aimed at parents with children under 1.
We approach choosing a flight backwards! Our main focus is the arrival time at our chosen destination. Ideally you want to land within an hour or two of your baby’s normal bed time (early evening). This allows ample time for security, transport to accommodation and check-in etc. We found this to be the least disruptive to our baby’s routine and sleep/eating. If not possible, we then look for afternoon landings.
We booked a 14 hour flight at 2am from Singapore, because it was the only available flight. And managing the jet lag for George and for us, was really REALLY horrible. That was towards the beginning of our travel gap year. We learnt quickly not to do it again! For us, we work better if everyone of our family has had a good sleep.
If you are flying for less than 4 hours, you can be more flexible in your approach. Planes create the perfect setting for sleep. The white noise, temperature and lighting. But an airport can often be loud, bright and don’t forget the tannoys!
If you have the option to break up long haul flights do it! Central hubs such as Bangkok and Dubai are popular stop over hubs and accommodation near to the airport is a lot cheaper than you would think. We stayed at a hotel in Dubai for under £30 and that included collection from the airport. It was also connected to a mall so provided us with something to do whilst we adjusted before moving on to Bangkok.
It’s also a great opportunity to explore, albeit a snapshot of a location. But mainly, it provides a rest bite where one adult can have some sleep. A shower, some down time before embarking on the next leg of your journey. Travel days can be really exhausting and having some privacy is a good nights sleep can be a game changer.
We got a free stop over and hotel stay in China, on our way to Thailand when flying from L.A. Free transport to and from the airport AND breakfast! There is no harm in looking at this when choosing your flights, some companies do offer them, especially if you stay with the same airline for flights over 11 hours.
NAPS ON THE PLANE
This is where having an idea of your baby’s routine really comes into its own. Keep to your normal naps times on the plane or at the airport, as best as you can. This can be difficult at the airports due to the brightness and noises. We always try to find a quiet corner somewhere and use a blanket to create a dark space to assist George in successfully sleeping. Use your car seat, bassinet or your arms.
On the plane, everything lends itself to create the ideal sleeping space. But this is when you have to put in the work! I always travel with an analog watch so I can keep track of the existing time zone. When you approach normal bedtime, you can decide how long you want them to nap for. I’d recommend no longer than 2 hours.
You can then feed, play and stimulate your baby. Remaining in control of nap times, allows everyone to join your new time zone awake and not too tired. In the beginning I would make notes on my phone and roughly work out naps times. If you are landing at an earlier time of day, you might choose to allow a longer nap on the plane (4 or 5 hours).
Look at the length of the flight and the estimated time of arrival. As soon as you arrive at your destination you should try to adapt/begin your routine to the new time zone.
ADJUST TO NEW TIME ZONE IMMEDIATELY
More often that not, you will be awoken earlier than normal! Roughly it takes 3 days to adjust properly. I mentioned earlier having an analig watch because you phone will automatically update to the new time zone. Your baby will running between both time zones now. Day light, new scenery and noises will keep them engaged. Use the analog watch to help make sense of their feeding and nap patterns. Assist them in transitioning over by limiting naps to little and often until you successfully get a full nights sleep which tends to be day 2/3.
CHOOSE ACCOMMODATION CAREFULLY
Those first few nights can be a little rough. Especially if you’re sharing a room with other family members or staying with friends. You are tired. Everyone is tired and you may not be guaranteed a full nights sleep. Where possible we try and book a hotel near to the airport for the first few days. Then we have privacy, can recover and adjust before our travel begins.
This isn’t always possible and isn’t essential. We stayed with friends in Dubai, landed quite late at night and George kept us all awake! But we hung out together, watched the sunrise and had a great time together. If you have just completed a 10 hour + flight, 2 hours getting through security and feeding, the last thing you want is a two hour taxi to accommodation. Even just one night can be a real game changer.
POPULAR ON GEMMA & GEORGE
LANDING IN THE MORNING
You’ll want to encourage your baby to sleep as much as they can on the flight. We bring a lightweight cotton blanket that smells of home and use it to block out light. You can also mimic elements of your bedtime routine on the plane. Give them a wet wipe bath and change into a sleep suit. You’re limited on space but, it’s still possible to send the ‘sleep signals’ to your baby to encourage sleep.
Once you land, throughout the day your baby try to limit the length of time per nap. Sometimes it simply isn’t possible and you have to adapt. But try to stick to 2 hour naps. Little and often works best. If they sleep all day, they won’t sleep at night and everyone needs to reset!
Towards the evening, you may need to start your bedtime routine earlier than normal. Just gauge how they are coping and they mannerisms. You know your baby best, follow your instincts.
It might be tempting to hang out in the hotel room because your knackered but try to get out! Explore. Take the pram and have a walk around the hotel or accommodation. Natural light will help everyone’s body clocks adjust.
LANDING AT NIGHT
As we discussed at the beginning of this blog post, try to keep your baby awake, happy and well fed on the plane. Walk the aisles, talk to other parents, passengers and crew members. Let your baby be stimulated naturally and aim to prevent any naps for the final 3-4 hours on the flight (add another hour for you to pass through security, collect your belongings and secure transport to your accommodation).
Ensure your baby is well hydrated during the flight. Avoid giving bottled water to babies under the age of 6 months old. It must be boiled first and then cooled down. Read here for more information about bottle feeding abroad. You can ask the crew to pour out water into a flask to cool down and then transfer to a bottle (do this at the beginning of the flight so you’re prepared).
Once you arrive at your accommodation, begin bedtime routine as close to normal as possible. Read my post for tips on how to maintain your baby’s bedtime routine whilst travelling. Bring along anything that baby associates with sleeping such as soft toy, sleeping bag or white noise app.
FIRST NIGHTS SLEEP
When your little one wakes in the night, try to sooth them back to sleep. Sing, rock or hold them. If they’re crying because they’re hungry, try not to give them a full feed. Instead try to feed them little and often to tide them over until their normal ‘morning feed’. If you are breast feeding and/or feeding on demand you can also limit the size of feed.
Try your best to do all of this in minimal light (sorry!) and avoid telephones and technology. You also want to be able to get back to sleep when your baby settles again. The first night can be the hardest, depends on when you landed and how how many time zones you have crossed. Night 2 and 3 will be easier.
JET LAG TOP TIPS
As I read through this I realise I’m making it sound so easy, it isn’t. But having a plan gives you a structure to follow and allows you to try and maintain some sort of routine. And babies LOVE routine.
- If your baby becomes upset, having and following a plan can help you identity the reason they are unhappy. If you a travelling with someone a plan can help them be involved and assist you.
- Roughly it’s takes 1-2 days to adjust. Our May need to feed half an hour or one hour earlier/later then normal but you can stretch or shorten this each feed or every day until you get back on track.
- Don’t plan on doing any massive exploring for a day or so. We always stay at the same hotel/location for 2-3 days so allow us to rest and focus on helping George adapt to his new surroundings/time zone.
- Be flexible and patient with your baby. They may be confused, nap for longer or at different times and not eat as much as normal. Don’t panic, this is totally normal.
- Nap when your baby naps and keep yourself hydrated. 3 days into your trip you should be feeling back to normal and if you struggle through and follow some of the advice above, your baby should be back on track and the exploring can be begin!
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