Flying with a baby
I’ve had a few parents going overseas for the British summer and flying long-haul with their babies and toddlers. So, I thought it was timely I helped you prevent a sleep problem when you arrive at the ‘other-end’. The last thing you want when you’ve flown 26 hours with an overtired baby and you’re past it yourself, is a baby who is zing-wide awake at 1 am and then decides to go back to sleep at 6 am.
My 5 top tips for flying with a baby and toddler and preventing jetlag
- Self-settling – Whenever I’ve flown long-haul to Europe or the USA I can spot a baby who is not sleep trained vs. one that is. A flight with a baby, who is not sleep-trained, especially one over 4-months-old, is far more challenging. You are unlikely to get sleep yourself if your baby cannot self-settle. It really can make the difference between a great flight and a nightmare one. Babies who cannot self-soothe are more stressed and have higher cortisol compared to a baby who can self-soothe without any sleep crutches. True self-soothing is where your baby can put themselves to sleep from being fully awake, without patting, rocking, a dummy, feeding to sleep etc. They are then able to resettle and sleep for long periods without help from you to resettle. A baby who can self-settle, emotionally and physically self-regulates and calms themselves down.
- Solids – Between 4-6 months of age, your baby can start on solid food, as per the ASCIA guidelines 2018. Starting solids can make a huge impact on preventing and reducing jet lag. Melatonin, the neurotransmitter helping you get to sleep and staying asleep can reduce jet lag. Giving foods high in tryptophan helps the baby naturally make more melatonin to help adjust their circadian rhythm.
For older babies and children tryptophan is your friend to help increase melatonin production for sleep. See this blog below on diet. Tryptophan is highest in turkey, chicken, chia seeds, porridge oats, Weet-bix, banana’s, avocado, cheese etc. Giving a balance of low glycaemic index carbohydrates will make a huge difference to sleep and preventing and managing jet lag. It takes about an hour for tryptophan to reach the brain, so plan the timing of your baby’s meal for optimum performance. Include low GI carbohydrates and you’ve got a perfect evening meal to induce a lovely long sleep. Giving these foods on the flight and after you arrive for meals and naps are the key to managing sleep and jet lag.
- Feeding – With an older baby, over 6 months – avoid replacing solid food with many milk feeds. Milk has far fewer calories than solid food has. A baby 6 month plus needs calories for development and brain growth. Try not to be tempted to use breastfeeding as a way to put the baby to sleep if they are waking at night from jet lag. A one-off extra milk feed isn’t going to cause too many problems but frequent night waking and resettling with a breastfeed each time could bite you on the bum. Jet lag will settle down within a few nights.
- Darkness – Once you get to the other end, of your long-haul flight, try and expose the baby to natural sunlight in the daytime and hopefully there will be some!!! It helps reduce jet lag and helps reset their sleep circadian rhythms.
- Time zone and routines – Try to book flights that will fit in with your baby’s sleep routine. This will make travelling as pleasant as it can be, but you will still have to cope with jet lag when you get to your destination. In that sense, a night flight may be ideal. Baby’s cope with the change in time zones so much more than ‘us’ adults do. So don’t worry too much about routine, just try and go with them. Try and stick to nap times and bedtimes as much as possible. Routines create security and reduce cortisol, increasing serotonin and melatonin naturally. Making up for lost sleep during the day will reduce tiredness at nighttime and perpetuate the night waking and sleeplessness. You need to ensure baby isn’t overtired but it’s a fine balance between giving too much and too little of sleep in the day and then impacting on your nights. Food and giving food high in tryptophan and low glycaemic index carbohydrates and nourishing fats will help manage day naps and night waking.
And most important – it may only be 26 hours or so out of your life. Most toddlers and babies are not a problem for that amount of time. It may only be an hour or two and you may find a helpful passenger to give you a break. We are out there…
Flying with a baby may be a wonderful adventure. Hopefully, you’ve got family and/or friends at the other end to see you through any jet lag when you arrive.