My social life and sleep schedules were the least of my worries (well, the sleep schedule was up there) when I became pregnant. Being frequent travellers, our main concern was how having a baby would affect our travels. The most advise given (alongside “sleep while you can”) by fellow travellers was “get your travel done now, because once that baby comes…”.
Half the stress of travelling with children is simply getting there. Once you’re at your final destination, it all seems to fall into place. (At least, until you have to do it all over again on the return flight.) Does it have to be like this? No doubt, planning is required – those days of booking a flight on a whim and packing a carry-on with your essentials are over for a while – but it must be possible to make it an achievable and, potentially, even an enjoyable experience!
We called on Paediatrician, Dr. Harvey Karp, creator of the SNOO – the Rolls-Royce of nursery accoutrements, as well as being a life-saving device for babies and new parents – to get his advice on travelling with a baby. For the uninitiated, the SNOO Smart Sleeper is an offshoot of Dr. Karp’s 2002 bestseller: The Happiest Baby on the Block, which sold more than one million copies. By studying ancient parenting techniques of various tribes and cultures, Karp popularised simple methods to calm crying newborns and help them sleep better. Here’s what he had to say on the topic of travelling around the world with a baby…
How do manage the actual plane journey, Dr Karp?
Firstly, this applies generally. Once you’re on the plane, wipe down your surroundings. Germs spread through touch. Use a disinfecting wipe or hand sanitiser to clean the seat, tray table, seatbelt, armrests, and if you’re flying with a baby, anything else your baby can get their hands on.
Encourage sucking at take-off and landing. The change in air pressure may hurt your baby’s ears, but sucking on the breast, a bottle, or an eyedropper can help. Swallowing intermittently will help equalise the pressure in their ears. The key is to time it right. If you offer a bottle at take-off, it might be gone by the time you get to the altitude when pressure really starts to change. Offer the bottle about three to four minutes after wheels are up and about 30 minutes before you touch down.
Schedule is key for a baby. How do we deal with time changes?
If the time change is just an hour or two, and you’re only gone for a few days, stay on your home schedule. If you’re jumping three or more time zones, or are staying more than five days, you’ll need to help your baby adjust to the new time zone. Before your trip, gradually shift your schedule, by 15 minutes each day or two (this means moving up naptime, bedtime, wakeup time, and mealtime). Once you’ve arrived at your destination, try to get sun first thing in the morning. This will help reset your baby’s internal clock (and yours too).
And what about sleep routines when we are abroad?
We all sleep better with consistency… for infants, this is even more true! Familiarity reduces stress, and routine helps prepare a young child for what to expect next. They remember the rituals associated with going to bed: the way it feels to cosy up with mom; the sound of their favourite lullaby; what it’s like to have their cuddly bear next to them; the cadence of their favourite book. They think, “Ah… I remember this – it’s bedtime!”
At home, we childproof our homes. What do you suggest we do in our accommodation (hotel or otherwise)?
Baby-proof your hotel room or vacation home. Get on all fours – like your baby – and crawl around to find hidden choking risks. Cover over all electric outlets with little outlet stoppers or paper medical tape. Hide dangling cords and give furniture a tug to make sure it won’t topple over. And don’t forget to write down the number of a local doctor or hospital you can call in case of an emergency (ask your provider for recommendations before you leave).
As part of our packing, what do you suggest we bring with us on our travels to make the journey easier?
Your hotel or rental home will have unfamiliar sights, sounds, and even smells that babies can be very sensitive to. Try to have as many reassuring constants on hand as you can. Bring along your white noise machine so they can hear the special rumbly white noise they’re familiar with (SNOObear is perfect for on-the-go white noise) and pack their cosy sheets to make an unfamiliar bed look, smell, and feel like home and be generally more inviting.
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As long as your baby’s needs are met, they’ll usually be thrilled by all the things to look at. Babies and toddlers don’t have fierce ideas about what they want to do on holiday, so, in fact, it couldn’t be a better time to travel with your little one in tow!