How to manage jet lag when traveling with a baby or small child.

As a first time mum to a 3 month old baby I was, perhaps unwisely persuaded to go on a round the world trip.  The reason for this trip was twofold.  One – the extended family had been planning a holiday in Italy for thee years.  Second, it provided an opportunity for my far-flung family to meet their first grandson and nephew.  The strain that this trip placed on both my husband and myself, largely as a result of my son’s jetlag provided the impetus for me to begin this blog.  Part of the problem was of course that I was a new mother.  Also, travelling with such a young baby meant I was still getting to know my son including what has turned out to be a strong need for routine.

Jet lag is caused by disruption to our internal body clock, which resides in our brain, and results from crossing three or more time zones.  Symptoms of jetlag include sleepiness, night-time wakening and disruption to bowel functioning.  Jetlag can also influence production of breast milk, as a woman’s milk production is different at different times of the day.  It can be particularly difficult for babies and nursing mothers (as I found out!).  Unfortunately there is no cure for jetlag.  Bodies tend to reset eventually to the destination time with jetlag lasting about half to two thirds of a day for each time zone crossed.  For those undertaking long journeys with a baby or small child this may mean a week of angst.  Understanding a little more about jet lag, and some practical ways to manage it would certainly have improved the situation I found myself in as a new mum.

Here are a few practical measures that may assist families to deal with jetlag;

  • For time changes of 3 hours or less consider keeping your children on home time. I routinely do this when travelling out of Queensland in summer to states where daylight savings is in place.
  • Sleep when your baby or child sleeps.  This may provide the extra rest you need to keep coping.
  • Schedule around jet lag.  Expect to have an unsettled baby or child in the first few days at your destination so arrive early if you are travelling for an important event such as a wedding.
  • Sunlight.  The internal body clock in intrinsically linked to the amount of sunlight we receive so have your children out in bright light (while avoiding sunburn) as much as possible.
  • Schedule layovers.  Break the trip up into more manageable time zone blocks.
  • Eat at local meal times.  If your baby or child wakes at night, feed them if they are hungry but take big meals at the appropriate destination time.
  • Encourage napping at the local napping time.
  • Stick to your normal routine.   We try to continue it as we travel.  For us this means bath-time, story book and bed occurs even if this means a bath in a hotel sink and bed on a pull out couch.
  • If you child wakes during the night try to soothe baby back to sleep.  Patting, singing and rocking may all help with this.
  • The direction you travel impacts on how your body responds.  When travelling east try to keep your child up as late as possible so they go to bed closer to the destinations travel time.  When travelling west, your child may have trouble falling asleep that first night. Work out a plan to entertain them if they have trouble getting to sleep – such as books or a DVD.  Ensure that you wake your child up at local time the next day though, even if they have had a late night.
  • I am often asked about using medications such as anti-histamines to help little ones get over jet lag. While doctors differ in their opinion, I tell parents to avoid them as they may have a paradoxical effect in children.  The results are a hyped up little one when you were hoping to get some overdue snooze time.  As well as this there is also a more sinister risk.  In rare cases the sedation may reduce a baby or small child’s drive to breathe.   If you are determined to use them speak to your doctor first and a trial at home before you travel is wise.
  • Timeshare the parental duties.  If you are travelling with a partner or other adult family member ensure they are on board to manage overtired little ones.   It is an easy trap to just pass an unsettled, overtired bub to the breast-feeding mum.
© Copyright 2012 Danielle, All rights Reserved. Written For: Bubs on the Move