Jet Lag and Babies
Travelling with a baby or a child overseas can seem like a nightmare, but it can also turn out to be a great experience! A lot of parents have questions about jet lag and how to get their baby to sleep on the plane and adjust to the new environment.
If you have a baby under three months old, check every 1.5-2 hours to see if they need some sleep. If they are sleeping on you and stir after 45 minutes, try to pat them back to sleep or feed them back to sleep so that they are well-rested.
If your baby is over-tired, assist them in sleeping. The plane is not the time to worry about sleep associations or "bad" habits. A dummy, feed to sleep, or a front pack and a walk up and down the aisle can help them sleep and break that over-tired cycle.
When you arrive at your destination, try to manipulate your baby’s day so that they are ready for bed at a reasonable time. For instance, if you arrive at 3pm, don’t let your baby have a three-hour nap until 6pm, or they won’t sleep until 9 or 10 pm. Instead, let them have a short afternoon sleep and a nice bedtime routine before bed.
If you arrive in the morning, and your baby didn't sleep well on the plane, allow them some catch-up sleep. However, try to structure their naps with some wake time, or the cycle will continue.
Stick to a bedtime routine similar to the one you have at home. A bath or shower, the same song, some sheets from home that smell like home (don’t wash them!), your baby's sleeping bag and cuddly, the same white noise or song from mom, etc. Give your baby three days to settle down.
When your baby wakes up at night (as they will), keep them in a dimly lit room with little interaction and try not to overfeed them. Allow them the short awake period, and then put them back to bed.
Remember that to entrain a biological rhythm, we control the external cues like food, sleep, light, dark, and social interaction. Therefore, regardless of the time difference, nighttime should be dark, with little or no feeding (depending on the baby's age), and very little social interaction. Avoid loud tickly and chase games at 3 am for two hours.
Wake your baby at 6 or 7 am and try to take them outside or near a window for some sunlight almost immediately. This is a strong cue that tells their body it is morning time. Stick to regular nap times and feeding times similar to what you do at home. Food is also a strong external cue for retraining their internal clock.
Awake in the night for long periods?
If this is happening once you arrive, this isn’t the time for sleep training. Instead try treating bed time as a nap for few days, then give them a few more hours awake time before 10pm, and a much later bed time than they’re used to. Use that sleep pressure to help combat jetlag without having them completely over-tired.
Tips from the facebook community
Katrina Lassey I used to be a flight attendant and always found landings were the hardest for litlees, especially with colds etc. If baby is due a bottle/feed in the last hour of the flight, try to wait until the plane descends, and offer it then. The sucking will help baby’s ears to equalize and also distract from the discomfort of changing altitudes =)
Natalie Shane Andrew Sedatives? Lol. JK. Well not really, but we haven’t done more than 4 hours yet so hasn’t been an issue. But we’ve flown a lot, so here’s my 2 cents:
Try get on board last so you’re not sitting around in a confined space for longer than you have to. I made the mistake once of accepting an offer to board first… won’t be doing that again! More play-time=less bored time (and hopefully less energy)
Katrina’s so right about landing, always the part we have to be prepared for. I find that having a little box of sweets (marshmallows or jelly babies are good, or lollypops so they don’t choke) or other chewables like sammies is fantastic, as the chewing and swallowing has the same effect as sucking, plus it distracts them when they’re bored.
I know some people are anti-kids-and-sugar, but I’m not so PC and it makes travelling much more fun/exciting for them. When she was too little for lollies she had a dummy which I held in her mouth to force her to suck it (she never used a dummy otherwise, didn’t like them) or gave her a bottle during descent (either milk or water, doesn’t matter). I also always explained to her as best I could that if she didn’t chew/have a drink her ears would get very sore.
She seemed to understand and be more cooperative with a bit of talking about it, but it is hard. Be prepared to work hard and entertain them. Try learning lots of nursery rhymes/songs, Allie really enjoyed us interacting with her in that way, even pretending a soft toy was saying them, kind of a puppet show type thing. Your talking and chanting and singing constantly may irritate the people around you, but they’ll hate it more if your child is bored, grizzly and crying.
Take a few favourite toys in hand luggage and be prepared to play with them with your baby, no in-flight magazines or book reading – don’t even hope for peace and you won’t be disappointed. Just try to have fun with the baby, it’s much more rewarding if you totally invest yourself in it.
Point out things of interest like baggage trains, people on the tarmac, flashing lights, how little cars look on the ground, being above the clouds etc. Talking about where you’re going, who’s going to be there and what you’re going to do when you get there can be a great diversion.
Getting up when you can to take them for a wander up and down the aisle when they get grizzzly/wriggly is good, and letting them chatter to other babies nearby can ease everyone’s nerves. Pens and paper are always a good thing to carry, and a favourite book. Other parents may appreciate your having an extra piece of paper, too!
Try not to growl and be grumpy with the little ones, unless they’re legitimately being naughty, it’s much more pleasant to try charm them into cooperation. It’s so hard and exhausting for everyone involved but we need to have compassion for the poor things being dragged around by us, we are the adults, after all!
And finally, when you get to your destination, acknowledge that your baby/child is probably a little wary of a strange place, so give them time to adjust (bath them, give a bottle or a feed, let them play around in the room and explore with you present) before leaving them alone to go to sleep, as they may feel very insecure. I find that if it’s possible, making sure you keep the routine daytime nap before bed time makes it easier to settle bubs later.
Courtney Porter Front pack 🙂 great for waiting in line and sleeping. Hands free is useful!
Donna Sorsa Kiwi herb has a great kids calm liquid that worked wonders for our wee ones. We got it from unichem pharmacies. Other than that don’t get worried about everyone around you and how your children may be annoying them with their noises etc, you need to remember you haven’t told your child to be disruptive on purpose and everyone needs to get somewhere, somehow!!!
Lucy Lowndes If you’re travelling alone and have the bassinet seat have a small bag inside your big bag for the things you need for take off and landing because all bags need to go up in the overhead locker as you’re in a bulkhead seat. I had a 4 mth old so had a bottle, dummy and a toy in a small plastic bag that I could get out one handed while holding bubs
Kate McHardy-nyman I have done France to NZ on my own twice with kids often 40 hrs door to door, my mantra was ‘ we will get there, this isn’t forever’ ! I expected the worse so was stoked when actually it went well! The first time was with son 15 months I bought him a seat rather than on lap so I put his car seat on it and it was brilliant . When asleep I put blanket over tops on seats to create a tent and he slept well. I also wrapped up many little $2 shop presents that filled the time in between eating sleeping and watching TV.
The second time I did it son was 3. 1/2 and daughter 7 months… Again on my own and was dreading it! However everyone was so helpful and I learnt to accept help when offered rather than my usual ‘ that's kind but I’m ok thx!
We unfortunately had 4 stopovers where we disembarked with all our hand luggage so a lot of thought went into what amount of stuff we took with us making sure I could carry all of it and have the children…
Ergo carrier that either child could use, quinney zapp stroller that either child could sit in, small backpack for me, over the shoulder nappy bag and trunky suitcase that son rode on …
If all kicks off keep calm and don’t worry about other passengers they have probably been in your situation before!
Air hostesses are amazing, at the beginning of my flight once she asked how I drink my tea.. And like an angel in the night a cup with a lid would appear at my feet! They will often in quiet times take restless toddlers and hang in the galley which is a great break!
Angela Lawrence I always book an aisle seat which means it’s easy to get up to take bubs up the front (or down the back) if they need a jiggle, a trip to th bathroom or some time out of the confined seats. A front-pack is great but I found it a bit of hassle when travelling alone as they can be difficult to get on and off without an extra set of hands in a confined space.
Sarah Douglass When travelling with my 4 and 2 yr old alone I went for the ‘assistance’ option which was a great help getting through customs, on and off the plane and bag collection. I even managed to go to the bathroom with my kids while the lady assisting stood outside with my bags. Lots of snacks and something to suck when taking off and landing.
Emma Johnstone-Gill A big stretchy top that you can stretch over baby to feed if you are still breastfeeding.
Brigitte Hawkins A front pack a must! Hands free to do other tasks!!
Lindy Oosthuizen Strickland Buy them a few new games/books/etc and wrap them up, every hour or two I gave my toddler a new present to unwrap:) kept her entertained for ages. Front pack, stickers, lots of snacks and milk!! Some airlines don’t provide infant/children’s meals unless you specifically request it beforehand.
Pack balloons for connecting terminal, blow them up and toddlers can play whilst you tire them out:)
Natasha Page Just did two 20 hour trips to South Korea. Boob boob and more boob. Lots of snacks, fruit and easy foods. Favorite toys that aren’t noisy. Magnadoodle type thing was great. Books.
Favorite blanket to snuggle in. I fed ferg on take off and landing (if he wasn’t already asleep) to help with any ear probs. I had my wrap carrier to pop him in for airport transfers.
Seek help when needed, ask flight attendants for water, snacks, blankets, pillows. Air New Zealand were terrible on the way over. No options for anything for him to eat. But i planned ahead anyway and bought lots for him. Got the bassinet seat, which was great as we had lots of space and they moved the person sitting beside us so we had the row to ourselves.
Japan Airlines and Korea Airlines were amazing. Got us charter bus, transfer and personal escorts through the airport to our gates. Opened new counters for check in and customs as well. Air NZ refused to help at all, wouldn’t transfer our baggage or help with transfer between terminals in china or Auckland. Was a nightmare.
I was really lucky ferg was so amazing, very proud as its a huge trip for such a little person. I’m still recovering, I’m sick as a dog and still in bed… But he’s coping well.
Yvette Summers-Gervai I’ll let you know. Off to the UK soon with 8 month old & twin 4yr olds. I remember when we travelled with the twins at 8 months to the UK I entered the plane (was Bottle Feeding) and got attendants to fill up any empty bottles with boiled water ready for next feed.
Don’t bother about ‘day clothes’ – just use footed AIO’s or easy slip off trousers. Take a little change wallet just with 2 x nappies, wipes and change matt for easy trips to the toilet.
Eat food quickly and get to the toilets before others so no waiting in lines. Will continue thinking.
Donna Sorsa Oh and night flights, kids in pjs with a change of clothes a if your breastfeeding DONT stop before the trip it’s worth continuing for the ease and peace!
Louise Main I have found using saline nose spray to make sure wee baby’s sinuses are clear (which helps with their ears) really useful. It often makes them sniff helping with the equalisation. 🙂
Vivienne Wood Honestly wouldn’t do a long haul flight with a baby/toddler mainly due to the discomfort of others and ourselves, unless really really necessary. But we have done wee trips and my guy has grommets which make it great for take off and landings!!!!
Wouldn’t recommend it as a solution though hahaha. I would ideally book out the row or seats either side too just for everyone’s comfort too.
Kate Brown sticker books are great. Keep my 2 year old amused for ages
Marcella Trebilco Breastfeeding and frontpacks and dummy if your baby takes one 🙂
Johanna Larjala-Grosheny I had a nightmare when travelling from Marseille to Helsinki via Paris. The most astonishing thing was when I needed to go to the loo and asked the flight attendant what people normally do in this kind of a situation (Nina wasn’t walking or standing yet) and she said she didn’t know!
She didn’t look like it was her first flight either. She actually said you should ask at the check-in! Kind of late for that now, lady!
In the end, after pondering what to do (eerr… I guess we can’t leave her on the floor? me: eeer…no. Or on the seat? me: eeer. no.) she gingerly said she could sit down and hold the baby in her lap. Apparently it’s to do with insurance…
Nicky Sweetman Lots of snap lock bags for storing different toys, stickers, snap lock bags for containing mucky clothes, iPad with tons of family photos on!
Sarah Douglass Ohh and get the children into the new time zone as soon as possible and ride out the sleepless nights for 3-4 days when you arrive. I find leaving on a late evening flight is the best for the kids. Dubai has free strollers available in transit in racks when you get off the plane which is really handy in the middle of the night.
Tessa Gillett Have flown between France and Nz 6 times. Qantas, Singapore airlines and Air NZ. Bubs was 4 months then 6 months, 13 months then 15 then 20 months. Really comes down to individuals, some of the attendants were awesome, most awful. Have heaps of tips if anyone wants them, all except once was on own.
Buying extra seat and having approved carseat best tip.
Carol Herbert That would be awesome travelling soon with 11 month old to South Africa from Auckland
Alison King I flew to the UK when my son was 4 months old. We went with Emirates. I carried him in a front pack, transferred into the baby seatbelt and when we were allowed moved him intot he bassinet.
He was a fantastic traveller. For our final flight home he was asleep when we boarded at Melbourne, slept all through the flight and only woke when we dismbarked in Auckland. He was grizzly for only our first flight out of six total (return) and that was because it was new. He sucked on my finger at take off and landing.
Lindy Oosthuizen Strickland Oh and if all else fails peppa pig on the iPad! – LOVE THIS!
Fiona Boodee Definitely babies dummy, and Sleepytot helped heaps during our recent trip to Australia 🙂
Tamra Robinson Agree with pretty much everyone elses comments, and also – Check before you book that the airline you are flying with still has bassinets. (Some airlines don’t have them for the shorter trans tasman type flights any more). Take a bag of activities!!!!! Pens, paper, books etc etc.
Do a nappy change just before you board, as can be a little tricky mid flight. With older kids, fork out the extra $$ for the meal and T.V if necessary, they keep them entertained for aaaages!!
And lastly – completely ignore any and all rude looks or comments you may get from people around you if baby gets upset. Just do your best, keep calm, and know if you saw someone in your position you wouldn’t be rude or ignorant, you would offer to help!! 🙂
Tanya Amiet I flew a few times with bubs and found either using a dummy or feeding during take off and landing kept him settled. We also used our baby carrier through the airport for ease.
Shana Perez Always book the bassinet if your baby is young enough. Lots more leg room so theres space to play on the floor and somewhere for them to rest. Pack loads of favourite foods and snacks, my boy wouldn’t eat the plane food on a long haul, thank god we’d taken heaps for him to eat! Always go to the front of the queue, they let families on the plane first 🙂 slip on shoes for the whole family when going through customs, they even make your kids remove there shoes!
1) Breastfeeding or other comforter for the young, dummy or bottle I guess, but I let mine feed lots and always at take off and landing;
2) Take lots of extra Take an extra blanket it’s always cold at the bulk head (is that what’s its called?)
3.) Front pack makes life easy for walks and getting on and off with lots of bags. Toddlers – take plenty of entertainment, books toys special new toys too that they get during the flights.
Amber Douglas Our last flight was 14 hours and found booking a night time flight worked best as our daughter at 14 months slept 9 hours but didn’t on the daytime flight. Pack Favourite books, snack food, and cuddly. Also book either an extra seat to sleep/play on or a sleeping cot on the plane.
Sophanna Parsons Something to suck on during take offs and landings, as it’s hard on their poor wee ears e.g. breastfeed, bottle, pacifier etc. Front pack is handy too, so your hands are free. 🙂
Emma is the owner and founder of Baby Sleep Consultant, she is a certified infant and child sleep consultant, Happiest Baby on the block educator, has a Bachelor of Science, and Diploma in Education. Emma is a mother to 3 children, and loves writing when she isn't working with tired clients and cheering on her team helping thousands of mums just like you.
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