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3 Tips for Navigating Jet Lag with a Baby

After 2.5 long months of solo parenting, my children and I finally reunited with my husband in Japan two weeks ago. The reunion was sweet, but the jet lag that accompanied it was no fun. This was my first-time experiencing jet lag with a baby my son’s age, so I didn’t quite know what to expect.

Navigating Jet Lag with a Baby

Japan is 13 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time. That means that our schedule here is basically completely opposite to what it was at home. We had to get used to sleeping when we would usually be awake and vice versa. This big of a time difference is hard for many adults to adjust to, so imagine what it must feel like to a baby who is in a completely new environment on top of feeling out of sorts. Needless to say, navigating jet lag with a baby is challenging.

While navigating jet lag with a baby can be challenging, it is not impossible.  It’s also not something that should stop you from traveling and seeing the world. If you have an international or cross-country trip coming up with your little, these 3 tips are sure to help:

Solidify your bedtime routine before you travel

The key to navigating jet lag with a baby is to have a solid bedtime routine before you leave home. A baby that is used to a certain bedtime routine will sleep just about anywhere as long as that routine is followed. Whether it be in their nursery, in a hotel crib, or in a pack n play that’s stuck in a corner, the bedtime routine is what matters most.

A large part of successfully navigating jet lag with a baby is ensuring that your baby will sleep in a different environment than he or she is used to. Setting up your baby for success with strong sleep habits helps with this. Regardless of where we are in the world, we keep our bedtime routine consistent: bath, lotion and pajamas, story, song, into bed with white noise playing throughout the night.

Thanks to a tried-and-true routine that he was already accustomed to, my son fell asleep independently at bedtime and for naps starting our very first day in Japan. While his sleep was definitely interrupted due to the jet lag, knowing that I could put him down and that he would be able to put himself to sleep using the same bedtime skills that he used at home was very helpful.

Shop Sleep Items We Rely on During Travel & Jet Lag

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Allow for flexibility in your daily schedule

While having a solid bedtime routine is helpful when navigating jet lag with a baby, you have to let go of your usual schedule and accept that your baby’s internal clock is off. For the first few days after we arrived in Japan, my son was treating bedtime like an extended nap. He would sleep for 6 hours, then be awake for an entire wake window in the middle of the night before I put him back down. He was also taking 3 naps instead of his usual 2.

Regardless of the daily schedule that you typically follow, you must allow for flexibility when navigating jet lag with a baby to give your child a chance to catch up on sleep and adjust. This may mean allowing your little one to take a random nap on the go when you usually strictly opt for naps in the crib or responding to a middle of the night wake up that you would typically ignore. When navigating jet lag with a baby, his or her daily schedule will shift for a few days, but it is only temporary.

Remember the 1 day per hour rule for jet lag

When navigating jet lag with a baby, remember that it typically takes 1 day per hour to adjust to a new time zone. This means, for example, that for the 13-hour time difference between Atlanta and Japan, I anticipated that it could take up to 13 days to get fully acclimated. In my experience, little ones get over jet lag much quicker than adults, but you should still give your baby grace and keep this time frame in mind.

I know that it probably isn’t realistic for you to sit still for days while your baby overcomes jet lag. I get it. Just like I did when we arrived in Japan, you have errands to run, places to go, and people to see. However, you should mentally prepare yourself for a fussy, clingy baby for at least a few days.

To combat the extra fussiness and clinginess you are sure to experience while navigating jet lag with a baby, I recommend two things: feeding on demand and babywearing. Babywearing is a great way to keep your baby calm and comfortable while you are in a new environment. It also allows your baby to sleep on the go with ease without you having to put your day on hold. As a breastfeeding mom, I nurse on demand whenever my son needs extra comfort, and it was immensely helpful during our trip to Japan and after our arrival.

Navigating jet lag with a baby isn’t easy, especially when you are jet lagged yourself. Try your best to stick with your baby’s normal wake windows (i.e. if your baby is generally up for 2.5-3 hours between naps, try to allow those windows, even if it means that you’re up with your little one from 1-4am). Although it does generally take a few days, it is something that will pass, and you will find that nighttime sleep regulates and gets back on track. Utilize your usual bedtime routine and allow for extra daytime naps, when necessary, and before you know it, jet lag will be a thing of the past and both you and your baby will be back to business as usual so that you can enjoy your travels (or, in our case, home away from home).

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