Boarding a flight that crosses one or more time zones? Ugh, jet lag here you come. And if you’ve got a bambino tucked under one arm, you might be wondering if your little squirt will share your sleepless, draggy misery upon touching down on a fresh continent.
The answer is Yes, your kid can get jet lagged just like you do. Any trip you take that involves more than a two-hour time change messes with your circadian rhythm, your body clock that’s synched with the light and dark cycles of night and day where you live, as well as your typical patterns of waking and sleep.
Your baby has one of those body clocks too — and it can also go topsy-turvy when you arrive at your destination. How you manage it can make the difference between a good trip and very, very bad one. Here are a few tips for tackling the monster (the jet lag, not your little love bug):
A few days before you leave home, try adjusting your child's schedule to get closer to your destination’s time zone. Start his or her bedtime routine 15 or 20 minutes earlier or later (depending on which direction you’re traveling), and move meal times accordingly. This is actually a good plan for grownups too.
Fly by night
An evening flight (or a departure that coincides with your kid’s typical nap time) might have your child sleeping peacefully and a little more rested when you touch down. This is a bit of a crapshoot, however, since not all babies will sleep comfortably on planes no matter what time you’re up in the air, but it’s worth trying. And of course flight times often depend on the destination.
If you’re flying cross-country, think twice about booking a red-eye. Cheap fares are alluring, but you run the risk of being totally zonked when you touch down. Not to mention being in no shape to deal with a jet-lagged toddler who’s wailing and rattled by their new surroundings.
Ditch the Benadryl
If you’re tempted to dose the little noisemaker with some OTC antihistamine — don’t. For one thing, the meds may not work (some babies get revved up on Benadryl, not calmed down). For another, the after-effects may only make it harder for baby to adjust to a new time zone once you get where you’re going.
Do as the locals do
At your destination, try to put your baby to sleep at the new location’s bedtime. Also adjust your feeding schedule for the new time zone if you can. Some experts suggest feeding on demand as the best strategy.
Despite the time change, try to keep your kid’s schedule and routines as close to normal as possible. This creates consistency and helps them adjust. Follow the same steps and rituals you usually would around mornings, naptime and bedtime.
Get out in the sun
Same as for adults, exposure to sunlight is crucial for getting your baby’s body clock back on track. For the first few days after your arrival, plan to be outside in natural daylight as much as you can. If possible, plan some outdoor activities and encourage your kid (if he or she is toddling) to be active. This will help them wear them out so they sleep better.
Keep calm and carry on
Be prepared for your kid to have trouble sleeping, or a few middle of the night awakenings, especially if there’s a sizable time gap. If that happens, try to soothe your baby back to sleep with some quiet activity or mother’s milk, and keep the lights dim.
And don’t worry about permanently disrupting your child’s sleep patterns. Establishing good sleep habits is an ongoing effort, with setbacks that include teething, illness or going through phases as they get older. Jetlag is just one more adjustment that you’ll both get through, and then on to your travel adventure.