Travelling with a baby
Travelling with a baby is very different to travelling alone. The main difference is you will need to plan things well in advance. When clients of mine contact me with concerns about travelling, the
first thing I always tell them is that they will need to get their baby settled into a good routine a few weeks before the trip. I have clearly observed over years of sleep consulting that children in a routine adapt faster and more easily to any new environment. This applies equally to children that are travelling across time zones or within their usual time zone.
It is also important that your baby feels safe and secure wherever you ask her to sleep, so I recommend you always bring your own portable travel cot. If you don’t have one then try to borrow one off a friend or rent one a week before you go so you can test it and take it with you. Believe me, it is well worth it. The last thing you need is to find the hotel has run out of cots or your baby can jump out of one that is supplied. I advise that you put your baby into the travel cot two nights before your trip so she can get used to it. This will lessen the impact of the new environment.
Travel by car
If you are going to travel a long distance by car, it is often easier to begin the journey at your baby’s sleep time. I find the easiest plan is to set off at 6.30 pm, just after your baby’s last feed for the night. Your baby should happily sleep for most of the journey. The driver should try to get a nap in before leaving. Longer journeys should be broken up with a stop at a motel for the night. If your baby has become familiar with the portable cot, this will not be a problem. Another good option for younger babies is to get underway first thing in the morning and drive through the morning and midday sleeps, stopping for baby’s feeds and your lunch to break up the journey. If your baby is still having a dreamfeed, don’t worry about stopping for it right on the scheduled time – you just need to do it within the hour it is due. It is much more important to find a safe place to stop rather than watching the clock. When travelling by car, always pack a small bag that is easy to get to rather than having to stop and go looking in the boot for something. Remember, some babies can get sick on long journeys so be prepared. Travelling by car is generally easier than planes, trains or buses because you can bring a lot more of the accessories you need to keep baby happy.
You will need a car seat every time you put your baby in the car, it doesn’t matter how short the journey. Don’t under any circumstances put a seat belt around you and your baby: if you are in an accident your body weight pushing against your baby and the seat belt could kill her, even if it is just a little bump.
In Australia, a baby seat must be fitted in the back, not the front, and you must meet the Australian Standards safety requirements. If you acquire a second-hand baby seat, try to find out its full history – if it seems damaged or has been involved in an accident, don’t use it. Car seats should be purchased and updated depending on your baby’s weight, not age. Always double check what weight your baby or child is and the weight guidelines on the car seat you are thinking of putting them in.
I am always surprised at how often I see car seats fitted incorrectly. If you are not sure how to fit your baby’s seat, have a professional baby restraint fitter install it. Sure, the chances of being involved in an accident are relatively small, but if you are then the chances of being injured are high.
Travel by aeroplane
Travelling on aeroplanes can be challenging and needs a lot more planning. Make sure to call the airline before you travel and book bassinet-equipped seats for younger babies, but also be prepared to not have access to these. Airlines often have to change plans at the last minute, so don’t be disappointed if for some reason the bassinet is no longer available. Always remember to keep your baby very warm during the flight as this will help her to sleep in the air-conditioned air.
As far as routines for babies go, I generally recommend giving your baby a milk feed two hours before the plane is due to take-off or land so that she will be hungry enough to take breast or bottle on the plane (a sucking baby’s ears will be more comfortable during take-offs and landings). For example, if you are booked on a 4 pm flight, feed your baby at 2 pm rather than the usual 3 pm feed so when you offer your baby milk after take-off at 4 pm she will take it. With a younger baby, try to check your pram in with your luggage as having your baby in a sling or backpack frees up your hands to get organised when boarding and trying to put cabin baggage away.
If your baby is on formula, it is a good idea to bring the water and powder separately as it is not always possible to keep prepared milk at a cool enough temperature on a plane. Even if you give it to cabin crew to keep in the fridge, I have seen it left out for long periods while they are serving food. You should also bring extra formula or food in case of delays, or your baby may waste more than usual if she is feeling a bit funny on the flight. If you are breastfeeding then bring some extra food for yourself and bottles of water.
When you get there
Irrespective of your mode of travel, when you get to your final destination you may have to keep your baby awake for a little bit longer on the first night if she slept well during the journey. It is very important that you follow your normal routine at bedtime so your baby recognises all the sleep cues. If you are staying with friends or relatives, ask them to make themselves scarce on the first couple of nights so your baby doesn’t get over-stimulated. On the first morning, put your baby straight back onto her normal routine at local time if you have crossed time zones, regardless of how often or how early she woke the previous night or that morning. If you find your baby is waking a lot more at night, try to settle her with some water and a cuddle, but if after a couple of nights this is starting to look habitual, try leaving your baby for ten minutes before you go to her.
Once all is settled and your baby is happily into her routine again, you can adjust the routine to help you enjoy your holiday more. The key to altering my routines is to try to avoid doing so two days in a row so your baby doesn’t become overtired. If you find you have adjusted things without causing a problem, try it for two days in a row. And remember that your baby doesn’t have to be in her cot at sleep times, just in a comfortable sleeping place, but do try to give him a comforter at all sleep times. If you find your baby is taking short naps rather than full sleeps while on holidays, don’t worry; try putting her to bed at night a little bit earlier. Quite often parents find that their baby sleeps much better away from home if they are in a warmer climate, as the additional heat tends to assist them to sleep. If you plan to take your baby out at night so you can enjoy a meal, try to encourage an extra nap in the late afternoon as this will make him happier while you are trying to eat.
Finally, don’t worry too much if your baby gets totally off her routine. It will only take a couple of uninterrupted days when you get home to sort things out.
• If you need to sterilise, just take some soluble sterilising tablets and buy a cheap bucket when you get there that can be left behind afterwards.
• I advise putting your baby into the portable cot for two nights before your trip so she can get used to sleeping in her new cot. This will lesson the impact of the new environment.
Le gach dea-ghui, Tizzie