When you travel to far flung destinations you have to deal with the dreaded jet lag. While this can be annoying for adults, it gets a little more complicated with baby travel. We are frequently asked how to avoid jet lag in infants, baby, toddlers and kids. It’s most travelling parents worse nightmare, so we’ve tried to put together our best jet lag tips and advice.
We have certainly flown to far flung destinations with our kids, both as babies and toddlers and had to deal with baby jet lag fairly often. We’ve done the dreaded Europe to Oceania (11 hour time difference!) in one hit a couple of times. However, it should not be something that you get stressed about. That said, there is no perfect cure to beat jet lag and sometimes you and your kids will just have to adjust but here’s what you can do to make it easier.
I want to start off with positive vibes here, I’ve had some of my best travel experiences with my kids BECAUSE of jet lag. We’ve seen some epic sunrises in beautiful destinations because they were up and at it in the middle of the night, so we decided to make the most of it. Whilst that’s fine on the outbound trip, I appreciate it’s a pain in the ass when you are on the return home to reality, possibly back to work!
ABOUT JET LAG IN BABIES, TODDLERS AND KIDS
WHAT IS JET LAG?
Lets jump into the basics here, what exactly is jet lag? We have something called a circadian rhythm aka body clock, that controls biochemical, physiological and behavioral processes in our body. These processes control a number of things such as sleep and appetite. Passing through daylight and darkness at times when our body is not used to it, de-synchronises us!
As a result we are awake and feeling hungry at different times. A number of hormonal changes take place to get us use to the new environment. There are a few things we can do to help ourselves and the little ones along.
One important thing to remember is flying east is harder than flying west. We don’t have as long to adjust to the new environment since the timezone is ahead. Flying west is generally easier as there are more hours in the day to recover. Keep this in mind when choosing a flight time.
BABIES AND JET LAG
A jet lagged baby or newborn can actually be the easiest to set back on the right schedule. They nap so much during the day it’s not such a big deal to change their routine. You may have even done it before as many babies deal with day/night confusion in their early months anyways!
HOW TO PREVENT TODDLER AND BABY JET LAG
CHOOSING A FLIGHT TO REDUCE JET LAG
I often feel the most painless way to fly long haul with a baby or toddler is during the night. It’s less work for us as parents to keep them entertained for hours on end. The most seamless way to join a new time zone is to arrive somewhat rested, albeit with slightly broken sleep on a plane.
Booking a night flight is the first step to combating jet lag! As we know, the lights are off on night flights and they are generally a lot quieter, meaning when you wake up, you can get on with it. Think about sleep when you are choosing your seat, ask at check-in for any spare seats to be allocated to your little one, especially if they don’t have their own seat. More about sleeping on the plane in a moment!
If you are travelling a mammoth distance, for example from London to Auckland, I highly recommend a stopover. Some airlines give you a free stopover, yes that’s right, including a nice hotel for the night. Passing through multiple time zones worsens the effects of jet lag.
All of the usual airport hubs have a tonne of things designed for people passing through. From airport butterfly gardens in Singapore, to watching animals roam in the park across the road in Nairobi, it’s always been worth the rest. Two massive flights back to back is pushing little ones too much in my honest opinion. I’ve tried both ways and I certainly feel a stopover is a kinder way of doing it.
ADJUST THEIR SCHEDULE EARLY TO AVOID BABY JET LAG
If you’ve followed Travel Mad Mum for a while, you will know I’m a big fan of preparation. I firmly believe that family travel does not have to be stressful. I think that everything from the flight, to the trip itself is just so much easier with a plan. As your trip gets closer you can start preparing by adjusting their routine slightly a few days before your flight.
Try making bed time a little earlier or later depending on where you are heading. You won’t be able to change their routine completely but changing it little by little will help minimise kids/baby jet lag and make the transition to the new time zone easier once you get there.
Think about trying to move your own sleep routine as well. The hardest part in my opinion is trying to keep ourselves awake in order to help your kids do the same. If we end up falling asleep, they of course will too. It’s a process the whole family have to do together.
AVOIDING JET LAG – SLEEP TIPS
We like to make sure our kids are dressed in PJ’s for a night flight, this helps them wind down and feel comfortable. If you are flying with a baby we like to bring a shade that goes over the bassinet which eliminates distractions, helping them sleep better. If you haven’t managed to secure the bassinet on the plane this SkyBaby travel mattress seems like a really good option for the all important baby sleep!
For toddlers and older kids we like to bring a JetKids BedBox. This turns their seat into a bed and makes them sleep a million times better! Having them sleep well on the plane has done wonders in minimising baby and toddler jet lag in my experience. Of course, for this to work you need to make sure your flying time makes sense for their routine taking into account the time change.
If all else fails, I find having my carrier is the best option for cuddles and hopefully sleep. I use the i-angel carrier as it lasts from 7 lbs to 44lbs. It’s my number one piece of baby paraphernalia.
HOW TO DEAL WITH BABY AND TODDLER JET LAG
If the preventative measures don’t work, we’ve still got you covered. Here’s the best way to recover from jet lag in kids once you’ve got it.
MELATONIN FOR JET LAG
Melatonin is a natural sleep aid that some people give their kids to try and make them sleepy at the right time. Some say it’s one of the natural jet lag remedies for toddlers and kids. While taking melatonin for jet lag may prove helpful we definitely would advise you to consult with your GP or pediatrician.
The first time I had to deal with jet lag I did a lot of googling and one of the most popular suggestions was to expose your baby or toddler to the sun. The idea is that exposure to the sun will help your baby adjust their internal clock naturally and get them back in sync with day and night.
I have definitely found that if we don’t close the shades the first couple days they adjust much faster to waking up at the right time. With a baby or infant just try and take a walk in the afternoon sun if the daytime sun is too strong for them. And of course, don’t forget suncream.
WHEN YOUR JET LAGGED BABY WAKES ALL NIGHT
If your jet lagged baby wakes all night, sunlight exposure can be especially helpful. They are waking up because their internal rhythm is off and they think it’s day time, so sun exposure can really help set them right. It’s also important to keep the lights off or dim when they wake up in the middle of the night, even if they are not able to fall back asleep for awhile. This will also help them understand that it’s night and time to sleep.
Mealtimes are important for two reasons. Meals are obviously part of most kids daily routine. If you can get them eating on the right timezone, it’s a step in the direction of getting them to sleep at the right time. The second reason is that most kids (and adults) fall asleep much faster on a full tummy.
We recommend bringing along, or making sure you have access to, lots of foods your kids love and timing it so they can have a meal before bedtime. I find having a meal at the airport rather than on board really helpful for night flights. That way you can settle them down quickly and don’t have to disturb them. We have a list of our favorite snacks to bring along on the plane in our flying with kids post.
It’s always important to stay hydrated especially when you fly, and even more so if you are a breastfeeding mum. Normally your body learns to produce milk faster around your child’s feeding times. Because you are going to want to alter your feeding times in accordance with the time zone change, you need to make sure you are producing enough milk to feed at the local time zone.
Making sure to hydrate well will help your body produce. We like to bring refillable water bottles with us when we fly. As long as they are empty, you can go through security with them and many airports now have filling stations. Unless of course it’s your babies bottle, in which case it’s fine to take liquid through security.
You can read more formula feeding travel tips here.
KIDS AND JET LAG: PUSH THEM – BUT NOT TOO HARD
Sometimes you are just going to have to push your kids to stay awake a little longer than they want. You know your kids and you know what’s too much for them. We find new toys or a pool is a great way to make them want to keep playing and not fall asleep. With infant jet lag it will be a little more hands on to keep them awake and stimulated at the right time but infants also readjust easier so you don’t need to worry.
WAKING UP TOO EARLY
If your kids are waking up too early then you are going to have to try and push them to not take a nap until later in the day. You may want to schedule a low key pool day or something of the sort that will keep your kids wanting to have fun for hours but close enough to the hotel that when they really need to go to sleep you can give them a nice quiet place to take a long nap.
GOING TO SLEEP TOO LATE
If you find yourself dealing with the other side of jet lag and your kids just won’t go to sleep, you need to be waking them up earlier in the morning. Try and find the sweet spot between too early that they barely slept and not too late that they will be up all night again. We find playing some fun music and the pool to be a winner every time.
MAKING THE MOST OF CHILDREN AND JET LAG
Baby and toddler jet lag doesn’t last forever so sometimes the best strategy is to just go with it. Just accept you’ll be awake at godforsaken hours and make the most of it! If your kids are waking up on the early side it’s a great way to get to places that are normally crawling with tourists and have it all to yourself.
On numerous occasions we have gotten up at 4am with our jet lagged baby and/or toddlers and gotten tourist free stunning pictures at sunrise. In Siem Riep we got to have the Phnom Bakheng Temple all to ourselves. The same happened in Canada, we got to see Banff all by ourselves before the masses descended.
Of course, if you are too tired to deal with your kids at 4 am you can always toss them the tablet and go back to sleep. No one is judging you – you are on vacation!
If you know your toddler is not going to fall asleep before midnight you can go ahead and take advantage of this. Lets face it, as parents with young kids we rarely get to see our holiday destination after dark. We love strolling around night markets, or looking for low key evening activities. You will always find something suitable.
HOW LONG DOES JET LAG LAST?
In our experience getting over jet lag doesn’t normally take more than a few days. Everyone always wants the magic trick to overcoming jet lag but if you plan ahead for your trip, keeping in mind that your schedule may be weird for the first few days then you won’t even need to worry about how to beat jet lag and you can just go with it.
Do you have any tricks for avoiding baby and toddler jet lag when you travel? Drop it in the comments below!
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