How early is too early to take a baby on a plane? That’s a question that does not have a universal answer, as every baby is different. However, the longer the traveling time, the harder it gets for babies from 3 months to a year old.
When I decided to take my first baby boy to see my parents on the other side of the ocean, he was only 4 months old. Most friends and health professionals assured me that that’s an ideal age for a baby to bring on the plane, since they will be sleeping most of the time and mainly they can’t walk or even crawl yet so I won’t need to chase him around. I was lucky I got a baby bassinet assigned, which made the trip much easier. And yes, he slept like a “good baby”. However, once at our destination, things got really hard. Before our trip he already slept 8-10 hours through the night, but a 6-hour time change and a drastic change of climates (from tropics to freezing winter) threw his schedule completely off. For 3 weeks I wasn’t able to get a good night sleep as he would wake up every 2 hours crying and it would take me at least an hour each time to get him to sleep again. When we came back home he no longer slept through the night. It took us about 2 months to fully overcome the jet lag and get him back on his previous routine. I promised myself not to ever do that again.
Five years later, we have another baby and our first boy-now 5 years old-begs to take him to see his grandparents for Christmas. Since they live in one of the most magical cities, especially during the Christmas time, we agreed to do it. Not that we had forgotten the last winter trip there, but our second baby would be 9 months old by then, which should make it easier for adjustments. Plane ride was-once again-a piece of cake. But once there, it was a déjà vu. Baby would wake up almost every hour, did not want his previously favorite pacifier anymore, and the only way he would calm down was by being carried around on mommy’s or daddy’s arms. We tried several different tricks, some of them worked right away, some partially, others only for one of us.
Below is a list of tricks that worked for us the most. Of course, every baby is different, so what worked for our babies might not work for yours, but sometimes any advise in a desperate situation is good advise:
1. stick to a your daily routine even while in a different time zone: as soon as you land, try to adjust your daily routine to the local time. Although it takes normally an adult about 3 days to adjust, if you start the very first day, the transition can be faster.
2. baby’s bed: most babies are very sensitive to any change in their familiar environment. Making baby sleep in a unknown baby crib in a new place can stress them out. Try his baby car seat or stroller first. Not only is he familiar with it, you can easily place it next to your bed and rock him to sleep if he wakes up. Then slowly introduce the new crib during the day. You can also have your baby sleep along side with you in your bed. However, if you don’t practice co-sleeping at your home, you might create a situation when he will demand to sleep with you even after you return home.
3. bring extra pacifiers: on top of his favorite pacifier(s) bring few extra with variety of shapes; and after his bedtime feed (whether breast or bottle), try to slowly exchange the nipple for a pacifier. If he doesn’t accept it or fusses around, dip the pacifier in warm formula, breast milk, or juice before inserting it in the baby’s mouth. That might help him accept it.
4. baby doesn’t want to take pacifier: if your baby is overtired and irritated with jet lag, continues crying and refuses pacifier, blow in his face gently until he slowly closes his mouth and calms down.
5. baby cries uncontrollably and can’t go back to sleep. Sometimes the baby is simply half asleep and can’t put himself to sleep. You will notice this when the baby is crying but not really opening his eyes or reacting to you calling his name. Bring him to a room with light or turn a light on in your bedroom and wake him up. Or you can even use a new object that he might be attracted to such as an electrical toothbrush to wake him up. Once he is awake and calmer, you can go back to the bedroom and try to put him back to sleep either with breastfeeding, pacifier or rocking while singing or doing shhhhhh sounds. Once he’s awake again, it can be quite easy to put him back to sleep. Of course, if he’s too awake, or if it’s almost time to wake up, there’s always a chance he will prefer to stay awake and play.
6. room temperature: make sure your bedroom is not too warm or too cold. And don’t use excessive blankets in winter, cooler air keeps babies sleeping better (just not too cold).
7. breastfeed in bed so you can rest and keep your arm around your baby’s back so if he wakes up suddenly you are right there and can slowly rock him back to sleep with gentle motions of his back or belly along with shhhh sounds in his ear.
If you have discovered other tricks that worked for you and your baby, please share them with others in our comment section below!