Your little bébé has only just started to sleep over three hours in a row at night, giving you what now seems like the best night of your life. You feel like a million bucks compared to the early days of sleepless long, sometimes endless, nights.
But, lo and behold, in only a couple weeks, you’re taking off to the U.S. where there is a six hour time difference with where you are now.
Never in your life did anything ever prepare you for this situation. I mean, yes, you’ve dealt with jet-lag before, but having to ease another human being into a new time zone, so you can manage to get a few hours of sleep? Never. Does this mean going right back the sleepless long nights, the phase you just got out of and hoped to never, ever, have to experience again (until bébé numero 2 comes along!)?
How to get bébé to adapt to a new time zone is a question that comes up time and time again in Club Bébé Voyage. Whether we’re talking about newborns, six month olds or 18-month olds, it’s a constant pain point for traveling parents.
But as Club member Laura’s pediatrician (in France) says, “Babies get over jet-lag much more easily than we do.” We’ve often found that the anxiety of having to deal with jet-lag is often times worse than actually going through it.
After having talked to Club Bébé Voyage members and having done this a few times myself, we realized there do seem to be a few tactics that, for the most part, lead to a more restful vacation and return. I wish I’d known these rules for baby jet lag before my first very disastrous transatlantic flight.
1. 80% routine + 20% flexibility = success
I personally have had to get my baby to adapt to big time differences three times so far. Once when he was just two months, the second when he was six, and the last one up to date, when he was 18 months. Eighteen months has been by far the easiest, and I’m convinced that has a lot to do with his routine being more firmly instilled. Probably also, because I learned from experience.
If you instill a sense of routine in your bébé’s life, you are already a step ahead of the game. Babies typically love routine, because it’s reassuring and calming. If you inculcate the same sense of routine that bébé is used to once you’ve arrived at your destination, bébé will feel reassured and, chances are, bébé will adapt relatively quickly.
Bébé Voyage co-founder, Marianne, relates, “We are super regular with [Simon’s] schedule, especially the bedtime routine. He always has dinner at 6:30PM, then sits on the potty, then bath, then toothbrushing then bedtime. He seemingly knows that if he’s going through this sequence, the next thing he has to do is sleep 11-12 hours. So my best advice for jet-lag is get your baby on a regular sleep schedule and have a consistent bedtime routine.”
While routine is key to get your bébé to adapt, an important element of flexibility is key. This also has a lot to do with mindset. Be relaxed about the situation. Accept that (depending on how severe the time difference), bébé might have two dinners and more snacks than usual. Accept that maybe the first two nights bébé will wake up. Also — during actual travel, this mindset is particularly important.
As Club member, Alex Kaplan comments, “Our trips to Europe and back from DC have followed a similar pattern. I do try and keep them on schedule according the new time zone but am flexible as one has to be.”
2. Get out and into the sun
When bébé thinks it’s night time, there’s nothing better than to take him or her out in the daylight to get some fresh air. The sunlight is key to get his or her circadian rhythms on track and the fresh air wakes them up, but then makes them feel tired later. Bingo!
3. Try to choose travel times wisely
Perfect flight times are subject to being completely ruined by delays or other x-factors, so we know this doesn’t always work. Ideally, if you’re traveling far, you want to pick a flying time that arrives in destination when it will be time to nap. That is not necessarily true for shorter distance.
Here are two examples.
1. If you are flying over six hours, whether it’s a night flight or a day flight, whether baby has slept or not, baby will arrived exhausted and usually will be pretty happy to go to bed. This is perfect, because chances are you’re tired too. So you get to nap too! Win.
2. If you are traveling less than six hours, say three, booking a flight during nap time is pretty ideal. In other posts, I’ve focused on this because bébé hopefully sleeps, giving you a bit of freedom. But the other reason a nap time flight is useful when dealing with time-zone easing, is because after arriving in destination, all you really have to do is keep your little one up for a few more hours, before putting bébé down again, whether for a nap or his or her night night. So if you booked during his or her afternoon nap, by the time you arrive in destination, you give your little one his or bath, dinner, and night night. If you booked during a morning nap, by the time you get there, give him or her her lunch, play around maybe a bit, bébé is ready for afternoon nap.
4. Make travel fatigue work in your favor
This point really goes hand in hand with the previous one. The idea is that your bébé is so tired upon arrival, that he or she will be thrilled to sleep. The key is to follow the 80% routine rule and not let him or her oversleep at times when he or she should be awake. You basically want to accumulate maximum fatigue for night time.
5. Enlist someone to help
As in all topics concerning bébé voyage, if you have help available, spouse, grandmother, a sister, a friend, use it. I don’t mean to sound ruthless here. But you need all the sleep you can get, so that if things don’t go to plan, and my friends, the x-factor could always have it’s way, you’ll need to be prepared for it. And the more sleep and extra hands you have, the stronger you’ll be. And, if you’re going on vacation, the more you’ll be able to relax and actually enjoy where you are.
So there you have it, these five rules lead to the ideal mindset for the baby jet-lag quandary. That said, I find it difficult to truly grasp the nature of these rules without concrete examples. Here are a few, starting with my own.
Juliet’s story – taking Felix from Chicago to France:
I flew with Felix, who was 18 months old from Chicago to France .
Booking my times wisely: We took an evening flight, so Felix slept for most of it. That said, it was still a much shorter night than usual.
Making travel fatigue work: By the time we made it to our final destination (there was also a train journey involved), Felix was absolutely exhausted. He went down immediately for a nap. That was perfect, because it was noon in France, and Felix usually naps right around that time.
On sticking to the routine: The combination of planning the flight at the right time and Felix being so tired when we arrived, meant that he took a “routinely” afternoon nap, which set him on the right path for adapting to the French time zone.
On being flexible: I let him nap longer than usual (I woke him up after 4 hours) that first day because he was absolutely exhausted poor thing, and so was I! I also put him to bed later than usual, because I suspected he’d not be tired as early given the time difference. But going back to the point about making travel fatigue work for you, Felix was so tired from traveling that he was thrilled to hit the sack 🙂
On taking him out in the sun: We woke him up from his nap and took him out to the pool to get some fresh air and some sun, which helped get him back into a rhythm by tiring him out and making him ready for his night-night.
On enlisting help: I was lucky to have arrived at my grandparents’ home in France, where my parents and some younger cousins of mine were staying too. They were all so excited to see Felix and take care of him to help me rest and recuperate.
Felix got onto French time and into his rhythm almost immediately. I’ll admit this is the easy direction, west to east, but Felix fell into his rhythm coming back also. I pretty much followed the same rules, and after a couple days, he was not waking him in the middle of the night anymore.
Caroline (From Sweden, living in Australia) on sticking to your routine:
Our baby was 5 months when we flew from Sweden to Australia. It was unfortunately pretty exhausting for us parents as it took 30 hours with three stops. But our baby arrived happy and adapted quite quickly to the new time zone . It took a couple of days only for her to adapt. We fed her according to the arrival time zone once we had arrived. On the flight, she got food and sleep as she wanted (there’s that 20% of flexibility!).
Vanessa on making fatigue work for you, and sticking to the routine while allowing for some flexibility:
We just took our 9-mo old to France and being tired from the trip helps. It’s key to try to follow the same routine and not let them oversleep in the morning and during nap time. She adjusted really well to European time – we put her to bed at 8 pm vs 7 in the US. She woke up at night, but if I let her be, she ended up going back to sleep.
Laura (Paris, France) on 80% routine and 20% flexibility:
When going to New York from Paris, my daughter has at times fallen asleep slightly earlier, starting her night at 7PM rather than 8PM. Try sticking to the baby’s schedule, but be open to slight adaptations if necessary.
Marianne (co-founder, French–American, living in Mozambique) on sticking to the routine and a drop of flexibility:
We always try to get Simon on the new time zone in the plane. He doesn’t usually sleep as much, but we try to get him his meals according to the new time zone and the first day we land, we let him have slightly longer naps (and we nap then too), but we’ll wake him up after 2.5 hours so that he then will sleep a full night. So far, he’s always adapted within 24 hours.
Tip: We also try to keep him as hydrated as possible.
Adrienne, (Michigan, U.S.A, with strong ties in Europe, traveled from U.S. to Europe) on making travel fatigue work for you, and getting out in the sunlight:
Our baby didn’t sleep much on the plane rides there or back, which I think helped with getting over jet-lag. He was so tired by the time we arrived that he fell into the time zones pretty quickly.
The first couple nights, he did wake up in the night and we just had to get up and play with him for a while to get him tired enough to go back to sleep. We also made sure to get him out in the daylight as much as possible to get his circadian rhythm on track. After those first couple nights he was back to normal.
Jackie, (Sydney, Australia, traveled to the U.S.), the inspiration behind 80% routine and 20% flexibility:
When travelling, I would say try to stick to your routine. We did this 80% of the time and it was great.
At the same time, your new surroundings can make it difficult for full naps/sleep so be flexible during actual travel.
Once at your destination, get on that routine and be strict about nap times for the first few days and they will adapt easily! First night, he woke every two hours. Second night, he slept nine hours, and by the third, he was back to normal.
I also recommend getting outside in the sun to re-adjust their body clocks.
For more blog posts on how to handle baby jet-lag, Club member Beth Ertas tells us how she managed jet-lag with her ten month old on her vacation to Croatia, from Chicago, IL.
Want to learn more travel tips and help contribute? Club Bebe Voyage is our exclusive community of traveling parents based around the world who exchange travel and destination tips all based around bebe. Join us!