As much as I’ll miss California and all of the people I managed to see in our short time out there (especially my mom), I’m glad to be back home. And while the baby slept wonderfully and soundly despite the change in time zones and new environments, I’m pretty sure she’s glad to be back in her room and crib.
Before the big trip, I spent hours poring over expert opinions and websites on the sole topic of helping the baby cope with sleeping while traveling. Some things worked out and others clearly did not, or had no effect. Of course, each baby is different and results will vary. Join me as I recount the surprisingly easy time my husband and I had with our baby on a week-long journey in California.
Routine Trumps Schedule
You’ve probably heard me tout the merits of routines over the static inflexibility of schedules before. I’m doing it again. Many sites– including The BabyCenter– suggested setting bedtimes earlier or later, depending on the time changes she’ll be going through, to train for the new time zone. As a family on EDT going to PDT, that would have meant putting the baby to bed close to midnight for a few nights before the trip. That also would have been one tired baby.
Our baby functions on two tangible things: sunlight and the sequence of events. As long as there is daylight, she knows things will inevitably happen and it’s not bedtime. The downside to this is her inability to nap on the plane because she thinks that something is happening and (if it’s daytime) she can’t go to sleep, lest she miss something. We kept her routine the same for the first full day of being in a new state and time zone: breakfast, lunch, nap, snack, dinner and stuff to do in between. We even put her to bed at the same time (~8:00pm) like we would back home. The relative sameness convinced our baby nothing was really amiss and her world wasn’t too shaken up.
The same goes for bedtime. Sticking to the nighttime routine really helps the baby realize it’s bedtime (along with the sky getting or being dark) and it’s time to settle down for some sleep. Read the same bedtime stories, flick on the same nightlight, cuddle for a little bit and then put her in bed like you usually would.
Coping with New Environments
One piece of advice I took from the experts was establishing a “home base,” or, really, a home-away-from-home, immediately. We broke errands and outings into small chunks so that we could return to where we were staying often– even if it’s a little inefficient and time consuming. The mass repetition of seeing one place over and over again made it familiar for the baby, classifying it as a safe place in her brain. Everything else was just “new stuff” and held little weight to her.
Of course, it helped immensely that we were staying with my mother, which meant that we just traded one house environment for another. Add some familiar toys and well-loved books and, voila! it’s almost like being home again!
Babies also take their cues from their parents. For my husband, it was only his second or third time in that house; but for me, this was the house I grew up in. I was coming back to a second home. It was so natural for me to be there that I’d like to think the baby saw it only natural for her to claim the house as her own as well. Seeing us in the kitchen, preparing breakfast like any other day, and conversing with my mother at the table, she hardly thought things were out of place.
So when it came time for naps and bedtime, our baby took to her new surroundings well. Whether your baby prefers a pack-and-play or some other portable sleeping structure, take these things along so your baby feels at home:
– Her favorite blanket(s)
– Her favorite sleepy-time stuffed animal
– Fitted sheet she’s used to sleeping on
– A nightlight
We thought it cost ineffective to lug the pack n’ play along and pay for additional baggage, so we actually went and bought a lightweight sleeping tent/pod that came with an inflatable mattress that fit into the fitted sheets we had (it also collapsed into a neat carrying case, ready to pop back up into a tent so it was perfect as a piece of carry-on). Our biggest concern with the baby was her tendency to roam about until she settled down for naps and sleep. We wanted something that could more or less keep her safely confined. The portable bed itself is a new environment so we actually took the initiative and practiced having her take naps in it for a full week before our trip.
When we got to my mom’s house, the bed itself was already a familiar environment where she could effectively sleep no matter where she was or what the room looked like outside of the tent. Once our baby saw the familiar glow of the nightlight coupled with her blankets and bunny, it never took more than five or ten minutes before she calmed down and was asleep.
Travel Weary Baby
Traveling can be a lot of fun for you and your baby, but it can also be tiring. With so many new things to see and do, your baby might have a hard time settling down even when tired. Pay attention to her cues and act accordingly. Some of the things we didn’t realize would help our baby sleep was the rental car and the car seat we rented. We thought she wouldn’t take to them because both were completely new and alien. Not so! Two long car trips to the Bay Area and South Bay resulted in many long and restful naps, which we were more than happy to see.
And sometimes a good nap is everything a baby needs to reset and adjust herself to a new time zone. Everything else just kind of falls into place. A good mix of new and old is always a sure deal for a happy baby on the go.