Traveling With A Baby Or Toddler? Read This.
Written by Angelique Millette
Photography by Daniel Kim
The holidays are here, and traveling with your baby or toddler might very well be topping your list of anxieties. Rest assured, we’ve recruited help in the form of esteemed sleep consultant Angelique Millette (the same lady behind our much-read baby sleep-training guide). Below, she’s listed some of her top tips for traveling with a baby or toddler, as well as adjusting sleep habits accordingly. Good luck, mamas and papas!
General Tips for Traveling with a Baby/Toddler:
-If you will be using a travel crib, the week or two before your trip, practice setting it up and having your child nap in it.
-Good travel crib brands: BabyBjörn, Lotus Travel Crib, or Graco Pack N Play. Be sure to check limits on age/height, as well as airline restrictions for size/weight of the travel crib.
-Check out baby gear rental company Baby’s Away. It rents items such as playards, highchairs, cribs, pack-n-plays, and bouncy chairs and will deliver and set up in most major cities.
-Always bring your baby/toddler’s sleep sack, lovey, snuggly sleep items, PJ’s, blankie, and bedtime books. You may want to pack these in your carry-on, in case you anticipate weather delays or cancelled flights.
-Think about packing a food bag with your baby or toddler’s favorite foods, snacks, and meals. (For more insider tips on entertaining a toddler on a plane, click here!)
-The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) encourages parents to only travel with as much juice, breastmilk, formula, or baby food as needed to reach your destination. It may be helpful to store it in a separate “food bag” and tell the TSA agent about the food bag. You do not need to store it in a zip lock bag and it can be in quantities greater than 3.4 oz. It will make it easier for the TSA to inspect the contents in the food bag.
-Try to schedule a flight or long drive during your baby/toddler’s naptime. Or, for a cross-country or international flight, schedule the flight for your little one’s bedtime.
-When flying, plan to offer the breast, bottle, pacifier, or sippy cup for toddler, for take-off and landing. This will help to equalize the pressure in the middle ear, which can cause a lot of pain for little one’s since they can’t “pop” their ears like we can.
-“Lap babies” (ages 2 and under) fly for free, however the FAA recommends that babies under 40 pounds be secured in car seats on airplanes, but it is not required. Most airlines have special rates for infants, so check with your airline ahead of time. Not all car seats are approved for use in airplanes, so be sure to check your car seat beforehand.
-If you book an extra seat, you will be able to bring your car seat on the flight and install it in the plane seat. Or, if you don’t want to pay for a seat, try to book a flight during a time of the day or week when there might be open seats. However, you will not be guaranteed a seat, so if you want to be sure to have a seat for your baby to toddler, you will want to pre-purchase.
-If you decide not to purchase an airplane seat for your baby, plan on bringing a sling or baby carrier. However, baby carriers and slings are not approved by the FAA during take off and landing, so be prepared to have a flight attendant ask you to remove baby or unhook a strap from the carrier.
-You can also use an FAA-approved Child Harness Device (CARES) for children that weigh between 22 and 44 pounds. The CARES is an alternative to using a hard-backed car seat and is only approved for use on an aircraft.
-Be prepared with the proper identification to verify that your “lap baby” is less than two years of age. Appropriate ID includes: Passport, birth certificate, and some domestic flights will accept your child’s health insurance card.
-If flying, take advantage of pre-boarding or family boarding. Check with your airline to find out specifics. Also, try to fly non-stop flights when possible since it will mean less travel time.
-If flying, you can check your baby/child’s car seat and stroller at the gate. But do check with your specific airline to find out about getting a gate check ticket before the flight.
-Most importantly, give yourself a lot of time for packing, getting to the airport, and driving to your destination. That way you will be prepared in case your toddler has a messy diaper or your baby is on a growth spurt and more hungry than usual.
Traveling Sleep Tips for Babies 0-4 Months:
-Most newborns don’t have a sleep schedule and will sleep every few hours. For this reason, flying with a newborn may be a lot easier than flying with an active toddler.
-Since newborns are not eating solids, you can easily breastfeed or offer a bottle of pumped breastmilk or formula. A quick tip for heating a bottle on the plane: Pour hot water into a clean barf bag.
-If you are concerned about breastfeeding in public, be sure to get a window seat or use a blanket or nursing cover.
-While on your trip, sleep and feed baby on demand/as needed.
-If you are a breastfeeding mom, be sure to keep hydrated since dehydration can effect milk supply.
-Most importantly, be sure to speak with your baby’s doctor about traveling with a baby under four months and any necessary vaccinations pre-trip.
Traveling Sleep Tips for Babies 4-12 Months:
-If needed, bring a sound machine. Curious and social babies four months or older may have more trouble sleeping if there are a lot of interesting new sounds.
-Babies may have a more consistent sleep-feed schedule starting around 3-6 months, so when possible, try to plan feed and sleep times around travel times.
-If you are planning on making sleep changes or using “sleep training,” try not to do it right before departing for a trip. It’s better to give your baby 1-2 weeks or more before the trip. Or, after returning from a trip you may need to delay sleep training to adjust for time zone.
-Take into consideration your baby’s separation anxiety, which can begin as early as six months old. If your baby is particularly clingy in a new environment, spend more time snuggling your baby and plan on rocking, holding, feeding to sleep to help your baby to feel more secure. You can always “fix” new habits when you return from your trip.
-When possible, aim for 60-70% of the naps to happen in the travel crib (i.e. non-movement naps). The rest of the naps (30-40%) can be flexible or movement naps. That way, you ensure that your baby continues to have restful nap times.
-Movement milestones, developmental phases, and growth spurts don’t just stop because you are traveling. Count on your baby cutting teeth, learning to crawl or walk, or being more hungry during a trip and adjust your response. Without fail, babies seem to like to do some of their biggest changes while traveling, so make adjustments to sleeping, feeding, and schedule as needed.
Traveling Sleep Tips for Toddlers:
-Talk to your child about travel day and what to expect. Explain to your child ahead of time about the safety of sitting in the seat during the flight. Talk to your child about the place where you will be visiting, including visits with special family or friends.
-Bring your child’s favorite toys or books (think easy and portable) and consider purchasing one new toy or book for the flight.
-If your child is newly potty trained and you will be taking a long driving trip, pack along the portable potty like My Carry Potty.
-Some toddlers may not do well with new surroundings and may resist going to sleep or may be scared by new surroundings and faces. Try to help your toddler get used to a new sleep space by spending time together in the new room before bedtime.
-Try spending an additional 10-15 minutes with your child at bedtime the first few nights. This will mean that you want to start bedtime a little earlier than you normally would at home.
-If you have not been bed-sharing at home, but find yourself bed-sharing with an anxious or scared toddler while traveling, the first night home from your trip, plan on moving your child back to his bed.
Time Zone Considerations:
-If traveling West to East, and staying for five days or less, keep your baby/child on the same time zone. This is called “vacation time” and looks a little like this: For a trip to New York, put your child to bed at 10pm (7pm PST) and your child will sleep later in the morning 9am (6am PST).
-You may need to darken the room since the morning light may wake up your baby/child early. One great tip is to travel with black trash bags and painter’s tape. You can hang the trash bags in the windows to darken up the room.
-If traveling West to East, and staying more than five days, move your baby/child’s body-clock to the new time zone. Your child’s body-clock (circadian rhythms) will naturally adjust on its own from the sunlight and you don’t have to make this adjustment before the trip.
-If traveling East to West, it may be more difficult, since your baby/child will naturally want to wake up earlier. The first full day in your new destination, try your best to stretch out your child’s naps and push out bedtime. Do this each day that you are there, and after a few days your child will be adjusted.
-When you return from your trip, your first night home, do your same bedtime routine and try to help your baby/child adjust back to her regular bedtime. Remember that the time that it takes for your baby or child to adjust back to her natural clock and schedule depends upon the length of your trip and the total number of time zones traveled. For most babies/children, it takes approximately three days to adjust.
Best Travel Tip for Families:
-If possible, schedule a few relaxing and restful vacation days in between busy, activity-packed vacation days. This is especially helpful after a busy travel day and right before a busy travel day. Remember to enjoy the time together making memories.
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