Traveling with a baby (especially if it’s your first trip as a parent) can be intimidating. But, if you plan ahead and prepare for the unexpected, you can enjoy your trip just as much as you would without a little one in tow. One of the biggest challenges in traveling with babies is adjusting to time changes. If you’re just going to another time zone for a day or two, this isn’t too big of an issue.
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However, if you’re traveling somewhere significantly different from your normal time zone, this can be a problem for you and your baby. You’ll have to adjust your schedule accordingly so that neither of you is up at dawn or trying to fall asleep when it’s light out.
This might mean rescheduling naps or feeding times to align with the new time zone. It also means changing any routines that your baby is used to—such as playtime or bedtime—to coincide with the new schedule. This can be overwhelming because babies are susceptible to changes, and they will require you to help them adjust and adapt to time change travel. Overwhelmed on how to adjust a baby to time change travel? Don’t be!
Here are some steps parents can take before and during their travels to help ease the baby’s adjustment and improve their own experiences as well.
9 Tips on How to Adjust a Baby to Time Change Travel
1. Arrive at the right time of day
When traveling with a baby, it’s vital to arrive at the right time of day. But, of course, what’s “right” for your child will vary depending on their age and how they handle certain situations. For example, babies who nap in the car might not be able to get to sleep if you arrive at your destination during their regular naptime. At the same time, older kids might be excited (and thus, energized) by seeing new faces and exploring a new place—especially if they’re visiting family.
Traveling on the weekend is usually better than a weekday since it can help you ease into the trip over two days rather than one. If you have that luxury, get away early enough on Friday to spend a couple hours at your destination before bedtime. Have Saturday to relax and play, and then leave Sunday morning when children are usually ready after a good night’s sleep.
If your children haven’t travelled very far or stayed in one place for more than one night, plan your activities and meals around their nap schedules to avoid disruption in their routine. Try to keep them on their home schedule for as long as possible. If their nap time is approaching and there’s something fun going on, try to keep them up for a little longer by letting them run around or play out their energy until they’re ready to sleep.
While it may be tempting to let them stay up late just so you can enjoy an entire day with them, the time difference will already be messing with their schedule enough. So don’t prolong it any more than necessary by letting them stay up later at night since they’ll be awake earlier in the morning.
2. Dress the baby in layers.
Airplanes and airports are notorious for being chilly, so it’s best to dress your baby in easily removable or added layers. Even if you’re headed for a warmer climate, the temperature will likely be different from what your little one is used to at home, so you’ll want her to be comfortable no matter where she is.
Also, keep in mind that the temperature in a car seat can be hotter than outside since the sun beats down directly on the car seat through the window. So if you’re traveling by car with an infant during warm weather, make sure your baby is wearing as little as possible, and consider dressing her in light-colored clothes to reflect sunlight.
3. Make sure the baby has lots of sunlight.
Daylight is a natural regulator of the circadian rhythm, letting our bodies know when to sleep and wake up. Because of this, it’s vital that your baby spends as much time outside in natural light as possible a few days leading up to the time change—especially during the middle of the day.
If you can’t get out for a walk or playtime all at once, try breaking it up into smaller blocks: when you go shopping for groceries or run errands around town, let your baby stay in her car seat in front of you where she’ll have direct access to sunlight through the windshield. The more time she spends looking out at daylight while you’re driving around, the more quickly she’ll adjust.
4. Keep a consistent schedule for sleep and food.
How to adjust a baby to time change travel? Be consistent with their schedule. Consistency is key when it comes to naps, bedtime, and meals, so do your best to stick as close as possible to your baby’s usual routine. Here are a few easy ways to maintain a regular schedule:
Try to stick with the same times for naps and bedtime when you arrive at your destination. If your baby takes a nap at 11 and then goes down for the night by 8 p.m., try to ensure that this happens on the first day of travel.
Try to provide meals and snacks at regular intervals. This will help regulate your baby’s digestion and sleep cycle, which can be disrupted by travel.
When you’re on the road, look for rest stops that have changing rooms so you can keep diaper changes on schedule. The routine activity will make your little one feel right at home no matter where you are.
5. If you’re flying internationally, bring a favorite toy
If your baby is especially attached to a certain stuffed animal or doll, take it with you. The familiarity will make him feel safer and more at ease during the flight. On the other hand, consider buying him something new before leaving if he’s not too attached to anything. The purchase of a new toy might not excite your child as much as it would have when he was a toddler, but it can still help distract him during the flight and maybe even help him sleep.
6. Give your little one a bath when you arrive at your destination
One of the best ways to help your baby adjust to a new time zone is to give them a bath when you arrive at your destination. If you’re traveling by plane or car and it’s not convenient for you to provide them with a bath immediately, do it as soon after arrival as possible. The water will relax your baby, and bedtime will come sooner than with no bath.
Even if you’re staying at the house of a relative or friend, it can make this person’s home feel more like your own. Your baby probably goes to bed after their bath. So an immediate bath when you arrive is an excellent way to put them in the mood for bedtime. All you need is a towel, some soap, and a washcloth, which are easy enough to bring with you on your trip.
7. Keep your baby hydrated and well-rested.
It’s a misconception that babies need to be diapered, fed, and changed on the clock. In reality, the best way to keep them healthy and happy is to focus on their needs, not the clock. During your travels, this means staying aware of when they’re thirsty and giving them a bottle or breastfeeding as necessary; keeping an eye out for cues that they’re ready for a nap, even if it’s not time for their regular naptime; and changing their diaper whenever it’s time (even if it’s right before bedtime).
This can be difficult to remember when you’re working to keep yourself hydrated and rested, but if you set a reminder, you’ll have a better chance of remembering to take care of the baby’s needs and your own.
8. Be patient and sensitive.
When traveling with a baby, you have to be ready for every possibility. There will be plenty of bumps in the road, and losing an hour of sleep can mean more if you’re already tired. Be patient and sensitive. If your baby isn’t used to sleeping in the car, you might find yourself dealing with some tears on the way to your destination. Try to keep a steady routine as much as possible—bath or shower, reading or singing, whatever works during regular life will most likely work after travel.
If you can’t help but get frustrated by all the fussing, remember that your little one is confused and overwhelmed by everything they’re experiencing. It’s up to you to ensure they’re safe and comfortable while still getting used to being in this world.
9. Ask for help!
The final point on how to adjust a baby to time change travel is support. Reach out for help!
Your friends and family want to be there for you, so lean on them if you need to. If you’re a breastfeeding mom, have your partner stay up late with the baby the first night after you get home to get some rest or ask a family member if they’re willing to jump in. If you’re not breastfeeding, have your partner take the night shift while you sleep through the jet lag.
Also, consider asking older children if they’d like to take on any extra responsibilities during this adjustment time. For example, they might love being in charge of entertaining their younger siblings for a few days or being able to help out by getting diapers or picking up toys around the house.
You don’t need to travel far to experience a time change. All you need is a cross country or even an international flight, and then the time change will be just as extreme. Traveling with your baby can be stressful, but traveling through time zones can increase that stress tenfold. The tips above on how to adjust a baby to time change travel will help decrease the stress of traveling and adapt them to the new time zone faster.
We hope this guide helped you prepare for your baby’s first long plane ride. If you have any other tips for adjusting a baby to time change, please share them in the comment section below.