Sleep tips when travelling with baby

We often look forward to a holiday because it’s a break in our usual routine. However, a change in routine isn’t always ideal for most babies (particularly those over 4-6 months), and can affect how much sleep they get on holiday.

Naturally you’d like to get back from holiday a little refreshed, so you’ll want to stick to your baby’s usual routine as much as possible without feeling too restricted by it. After all, you want to have some fun, and not be entirely obsessing over your baby’s sleep. Otherwise you may as well stay at home, right? Here are our tips for optimising your baby’s sleep while travelling.

Sleep tips when travelling with baby

Even if you can’t always keep to your baby’s sleep routine, there are several things you can do before and during the trip to make it more likely they’ll sleep when on holiday:

Before the trip

  • If you plan to use a travel cot on holiday, you could encourage your baby to have some naps in a portacot at home to get them familiar with it.
  • The same goes if you would prefer your baby to nap in the pram or baby carrier so that you don’t have to keep rushing back to the accommodation. Get them used to anything new up to two weeks before you leave.

The journey

  • Plan flights or road travel at nap time. This won’t necessarily ensure a long sleep, but even a short amount will help to reduce overtiredness. If possible, long road trips might work better in the evening so that your baby will hopefully sleep most of the way.
  • If you plan to be in the car for a long period, stop occasionally so that your baby can lie down on a rug to stretch and kick to help wear them out.
  • You probably won’t want to arrive right on bedtime as your baby may be harder to settle because everything’s new and strange. Allow some time to unpack, unwind, play, and show them around.

The destination

It’s normal for your baby to be unsettled in new surroundings, so it helps to have some familiar things from home to make them feel safe and secure, and do what you normally do, including:

  • Follow your usual bedtime routine. For example, bath, story, feed, and bed.
  • Bring your baby’s pyjamas, sleeping bag/swaddles, their favourite books and bath toys.
  • Don’t forget to pack their comforting items (with backups!), and you may even like to bring their sheet from home. A bonus tip is to pop that sheet in your clothes during the journey so that it gets your scent on it.
  • Bring travel blackout curtains and a white noise machine to keep the bedroom dark and block out any surrounding sounds.
  • Show them where you’ll be sleeping (if it’s separate to your baby). You might need to go to bed beside them when your baby does for the first couple of nights to reassure them.
  • Pack a nightlight so that you can keep lights dim to help minimise fully waking them for night feeds or nappy changes.

The holiday

  • Try to plan your activities around naps, but don’t be a slave to them. It can be good to be flexible about where your baby naps, but if your baby only naps in a cot or on you, you might choose to take it in turns with your partner or other trusted caregiver.
  • Remember that this type of change can be overwhelming and confusing for some babies, so as frustrating as it may be, try to be patient and provide your baby with plenty of reassurance.
  • If it’s taking more than half an hour to get your baby to sleep, you might want to take a break and try again in an hour or so. Their routine will be out of whack for a few days while they adjust to all of the new sights and smells.
  • Schedule in time to yourself to recharge if possible, or nap with your baby some days. Have some quiet days as well, you don’t want to return home even more exhausted.
  • Remind yourself that your baby’s sleep is probably going to go pear-shaped on holiday, so for now you might need to go with the flow more than usual. You can get back on track when you return home. Any new habits aren’t permanent—you haven’t broken your baby’s sleep!
  • This holiday is about making memories (don’t forget to take photos), so take lots of deep breaths, outsource what you can, ask for help, prioritise your rest as well, and enjoy your baby.
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