Some travelling parents totally spaz over getting their baby to nap (on schedule or not). On point, I stressed over this issue for nights leading up to our first family trip.
Throughout our travels, my husband and I tried many different methods to get our son to sleep in transit. Here are some tips that helped us succeed:
(1) Bring a pillow
This tip could change your entire travel experience. When my son was three months old he slept on his breastfeeding pillow on our laps. We created a stable, cozy platform and he drifted off. Depending on your baby's size you can also try putting a pillow on your table tray. They're tedious to carry through the airport but it's definitely worth it.
(2) Mimic familiar routines
Whatever you do at home do on the plane -- especially if you are on an overnight flight. If you read to your baby before bed, read a book quietly in your seat. If you sing, sing. Simple. Babies thrive on routine so the more cues you can recreate while traveling the clearer your baby will understand what is expected of him/her.
(3) Create a cozy space
Breast feeding cover ups (I prefer Bebe au Lait because of the little vents) make great privacy curtains. Over-stimulation from the airport and on planes can detract from sleepy-time cues so providing your baby with a little private, quiet space will help set the mood.
(4) White noise
We downloaded a baby white noise app onto my cellphone to provide soothing sounds on the go. The travel size sleep sheep is another great option as are portable white noise devices. When you've created the necessary sleep space for your child, drown out the sound of the food cart, coughs, pop cans, and surrounding chatter with a little white noise. It gives the baby's ear something to focus on that is close to them which helps prevent sudden noises from waking them up.
(5) Embrace the carrier for stomach sleepers
My son went through a phase where he could only sleep on his stomach. Recreating that on a plane seemed impossible. After some trial and error, I realized the act of being on their tummy is best mimicked by the carrier (especially brands like Ergo baby and Infantino which wrap the infant's legs around your waist and hold them in snug).
Use your time pre-boarding to pick up your pace and lull your little one off to sleep. The more movement the better. The only issue with the carrier is that very few (if any) have been tested for flight safety so even if your baby is fast asleep, most flight attendants force you to remove the carrier before take-off. If in flight with little opportunity to walk the aisle, try doing lunges at the back of the plane where the attendants hang out -- most will allow you back there if it means a quiet baby.
(6) Business class beds
If you're fortunate enough to travel in business class (or get a bonus upgrade) recline your seat into the bed position and get cozy with your child. My son passed out for a solid two-hour nap by lying down with him. Use your resources. If you can make a firm bed out of the seats, do it. Even an empty middle seat in economy class can work in the same way.
(7) Don't rely on airline bassinets
There's a lot of excitement over airline bassinets. Many parents get frustrated or disappointed when their flight doesn't have one or when they can't get access to them. But, honestly, unless you have a new born, they're useless. We have a tiny baby and some bassinets are so oddly shaped and sized, there's no way I could get him into one. On our last flight, it was triangular shaped. No thank you. However, if you do manage to get the traditional style bed that hooks into the wall in front of you in the bulk head seats, there is a bit more room, but again, they're generally tiny and only small infants can fit. If your baby can pull him or herself up, sit or roll, there's a good chance you cannot use the airline bed. And along with the tiny size, there is a little mesh screen that snaps them into the bassinet in case of turbulence. It's considered the seatbelt but seems a bit odd.
(8) Car Seat Crib
Although I often write about packing light on my travel website, if you're lucky enough to bring a car seat with you and the flight isn't full, you're golden. Ask at check-in if there's room for the seat. They'll assess the situation then and there with up to date information. If there's no room, just check the car seat at the gate. If you can take the car seat aboard the air craft, strap it into the seat and at nap time make the surrounding environment as soothing as possible. Create some darkness with some sort of cover over the seat, turn on some white noise and cross your fingers. Our little guy has slept through nearly an entire journey with the car seat option.
When all is said and done, worrying about your child's sleep schedule (or lack thereof) while travelling tends to be pointless. When they're tired enough, children and babies will sleep. In some instances our six month old stayed up for more than 12 hours while travelling and there was nothing we could do about it except support him through tired moments. It's not always easy but when you arrive at your destination it's definitely worth it.
Share your sleep tips below. It takes a village to parent and your comments could totally change someone else's experience.
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