My approach to my own personal jetlag has always been simple and ungracious: Get over it. Drink coffee, set alarms, don’t think about the time zone I came from, and keep myself occupied. I don’t nap, I don’t sleep in, I get out and exercise and I keep myself busy when I know I might get tired. Oh and caffeine. Mucho mucho. (Disclaimer: I also don’t really suffer from jet lag, so I get to have this attitude with myself!)
On our last trip to England (update at the end for our second transatlantic trip, at 9 months!), traveling alone with a baby, I thought and prepared overtime for the actual flight (which was then a breeze just out of luck and I didn’t even pull out my secret new toy stash that all the blogs and mums had assured I’d want to have up my sleeve). However, I didn’t give a moment’s thought to the more relevant issue: Jet lag. Oops.
Next stop, no sleep in a lot of hours, no luck getting Clayton to love the travel cot (pack and play), and I’m standing in my parents’ kitchen scrambling eggs for him at 2am. One handed. His attached to the other arm. He thought he’d won the lottery, and five minutes later I was frantically googling ‘Babies and jet lag’ while I watched the eggs go overboard from the highchair to the family dog.
Three days into the trip, we found our new groove, a love (or at least acceptance) for the travel cot, and we didn’t look back. I’m not going to claim that after one trip and one child I’m an expert but I thought I’d give you some of what we tried for travel and the first few nights. It’s a roundup of what I researched, and used, so that you hopefully don’t have to google one handed while scrambling eggs. Unless you’re reading while doing just that, in which case, thumbs up to you mama, this too will pass.
10 Tips for
Beating Helping Baby Jetlag
- Jet lag is real. You can’t just beat it so if you’re like me you’ll need to start by helping your attitude into the right place! Babies aren’t just going to slurp down an extra espresso and ‘mind over matter’ the timezone switch. It’s going to take time, so go in with your eyes wide open (no pun intended!), and a plan, and a ton of grace. (Note: If it’s a short trip and small time zone change consider staying on the old time zone or only moving half way – this is what we do on Texas trips with a 2 hour change and it’s perfect!)
- You could consider changing sleep schedules by an hour or more before you travel, and taking a day off after you return to adjust back. These are great ideas but we didn’t end up doing either of these things this time. I figured the 24 hour journey was going to disrupt schedule anyway and we’d just readjust in one go when we arrived. Coming back I had a light schedule for 3 days but as it is with me, Clayton found coming home and going West easier and slotted straight back into this normal schedule the first night.
- Do what you need to do well. Sleep when they sleep if you can, trade ‘wake time’ with a partner, friend or family member so you can get rest – you’re going to have more patience if you’re taking care of yourself.
- Try to keep a schedule, and slot into the new timezone. At home we feed at roughly 4 hour intervals (see HERE) so we tried to keep that when we arrived. On the first two mornings I gave him an extra hour in bed but after that I woke him up at his usual time.
- Our awareness of a time zone is affected by social interaction, light, and hormones, so if you can make meal times at the local time – even if you also add in eggs at 2am!
- For the same reason, keep it light during day, and darken the room at night to help regulate the body clock and bring it onto the new time zone.
- Get out in the fresh air. We got out in the morning to get some early morning sun and set that body clock, and then at least once more before bed when we were sleepy but it wasn’t time to sleep yet, to give another burst of energy, light and social stimulation.
- Different people have different thoughts on this and it may depend on the age of the baby but I took time to tell Clayton what was going on. Before the trip we talked through the journey and at each stage I told him whether it was a nap or the night, and what I needed from him. (“Now it’s nap time, I’m going to come back and get you after a nap, you don’t have to sleep but you do have to take a rest – here are your toys to play with if you want them.”) This is as much for me as it is for him. If nothing else, it helps for me to map out and imagine exactly what each stage is going to look like and how he might respond.
- Keep crib/put down routine familiar (sleep suit/book/toys no blanket). At home he sleeps with a few toys, so I took those toys with us for sleep association. At home they go in and out of the crib and we rotate them but while we were traveling I reserved those toys just for the crib to create more of a routine with going down.
- Do what it takes, and what you need, even if it’s not normal! Be flexible! To my shock, I found myself climbing in and nursing in the crib, I nursed him to sleep, let him sleep on me, in my bed, and added white noise. All those are regular ‘no no’s’ for us but sometimes giving him sleep is more important. The was I saw it was that I was the one who is interrupting his normality with a trip, so I’m going to be the one to help him adjust and fix it. I didn’t do those things as a new habit, but when for one day sleep became more important and I didn’t want to wake the rest of the family in the house up – I was willing to ‘break’ my norm.
How it went! Our first 72 hours post flight:
We arrived at the middle of the afternoon local time (early morning back home) and after a 6 hour ‘night’ on the plane. I’d fed at intervals on flight to help him sleep, making sleep the top priority, then a full feed at the end. I chose not to use any sleep aid in case it had adverse affects, and so he had probably 6 hours on the 9.5 hour flight.
2pm Full feed as we landed
3pm Landed and drove home
6ish Arrived and fed milk and solids
Midnight: Milk feed and second feed right after in his crib to try and get him down!
2am: Milk feed then eggs to try and stop the hunger.
3am: Fell asleep in my bed
3.45am: Woke up and milk feed
4.30am: 2 failed transfers to crib
5.45am: Slept on my chest
7.45am: Woke up
8am: Morning feed
8.15pm: ‘Final’ milk fed
9.15pm: Asleep in his crib
10.30pm: I got him up and fed, he went back down but protested
11pm: tried to let him cry but he just wasn’t sleepy
11.15pm: Handed to grandpa and I slept!
1am: He had a baaaad diaper, changed.
1.26am: My dad put him down
2.15am: Awake again, a long full feed and easy transfer (I was really hungry, protein bar for me!)
5.00am Fed for 20 mins and transfered (had to try a few times) but he slept
8.45am Woke him for the day and gave a full feed.
Night 3: After good day naps:
8.30pm: Final feed
10.30pm: Woke, played for an hour then briefly fed – mostly to get him to sleep easily.
7.25am woke up by himself (there was no white noise)
UPDATE! Last month, at 9 months old we took an unexpected trip back to England from California again, so I re read this and tried to take my own advice! I felt much better set up, and more ready to be flexible. I did everything pretty much the same, and he got 6 hours on the plane and landed at 3pm local time (7am home time). I kept on the 4 hour schedule of feeding and wake time and shot for his ‘last’ feed of the night being around 8/9pm. After that he woke up once at 1-2am and just fed and went back down, and then slotted onto a normal schedule from there.
Coming home he took 3 naps on the plane and arrived home midnight local time (8am where we’d come from) – I put him down and woke him at 7am. For the next few days he definitely thought his afternoon naps were the night (groggy babe!) but aside from that we had a smooth run.
I don’t think that came 100% from what I did, I think I have a very easy mellow baby who loves sleep – but following these points definitely helped!