Question: I will be flying with my son solo from Sydney, Australia to Vancouver, Canada when he’ll be 5 months old. Can you tell me how Veda adjusted to jet lag and the different time zones each time you traveled? Can you give me tips on how to adjust my son to the new time zones? I’m starting to get very anxious about how he’s going to adjust. I’ve heard of some very bad horror stories about this!! We’ll only be in Canada for 2.5 weeks and I’ll be returning to work 5 weeks after we return back to Australia.
Answer: The short answer to this is that you, and your baby, will survive the time zone change. I promise. And it really doesn’t have to be horrifying. However, I am sorry to tell you that there is no magic bullet to make baby easily and quickly adjust to a completely new time zone which is on a schedule that is the exact opposite of his current sleep and wake schedule. Babies do have an inner clock and they aren’t going to understand that they’re supposed to switch it up all of the sudden- it’s not natural.
We just got back home from South Africa on Sunday night, which is 7 hours ahead of Chicago. By Wednesday night Veda has been back to her usual sleep schedule. As she gets older, she seems to need less time to adjust. But, when she was 5 months old, it took her a good week and a half to adjust to the new time zone. In my own experience, 2 weeks max should be sufficient for a baby to adjust to a new time zone (just in time for you to leave back home), but every baby is different. After playing with my poor baby’s circadian rhythm over a couple of dozen times, I’ve learned that the following can really help everyone involved, both baby and parents, depending on your circumstances and what you are able to do:
1) Accept that you will inevitably be up in the middle of the night with a wide awake baby wanting to play or eat. Once you’ve got this first step down, we can go from there and try to work o how to make the trip as easy as possible.
2) Slowly put baby to sleep a little later (or earlier) and wake up a little later (earlier) starting one week before the trip. If it’s a smaller time change you can be on schedule by the time you leave, and if it’s a big one, like a 12 hour time difference, it can help get you a little closer to your goal when you arrive.
3) Be patient. Know and accept that your baby is NOT going to automatically adjust- it’s not his fault the clock is being changed on him. It is not helpful to force baby onto a schedule when he’s not ready.
4) Plan accordingly. Don’t pack a bunch of traveling plans and outings into one day, especially the first week, when baby would usually be sleeping back home. Take it slow and easy.
5) Be very flexible with sleep schedules. If you normally have baby on a schedule, consider not worrying about it for short (e.g. 2.5 week) vacation or travel periods. Loosen up and let baby sleep when tired and be awake when not tired. You’re throwing baby’s schedule to the wind already.
6) Be very flexible with eating schedules. Your baby is still going to be hungry when he usually feeds when it’s 3am in your new time zone (because back home he was feeding at 3pm in his normal time zone). Feed baby. Breastfeeding makes life easy, but if you are bottle feeding, keep bottle prep close to you, and for older babies keep healthy snacks and easy food prep (like cereals or oatmeal) close to you for middle of the night feedings.
7) Sleep when baby sleeps so that you are rested and able to be up with baby at 3am when he will inevitably be up, especially the first week of a new time zone. Make time if you can to take naps during the day with baby.
8) Use a baby wrap or soft baby carrier. During the day time when you are out and about sight-seeing, walking, or traveling, baby will sleep on you more snugly and comfortably. Especially when you are transitioning slowly, this will help baby get the rest he needs while you are going about your day. A stroller could work well, too, depending on where you are traveling, although I find my own baby sleeps deeper and longer when I wear her. We also used this when Veda was younger when she woke in the middle of the night to lull her back to sleep.
9) Spend time outdoors in the sunshine and fresh air during the day time which will encourage wakefulness.
10) When baby wakes at night, which he will, keep lights dimmed low or a lamp on and play quietly with him, singing and speaking to him softly. Keep quiet soft toys nearby to let baby play gently.
11) Sleep with baby close to you, whether in bed or right next to your bed. This will not only help baby be more calm and see that you are also sleeping, but will make your life much easier for the numerous times baby will wake during the night.
12) Stay calm– if you get irritated, angry, or frustrated when he’s up in the middle of night, he’ll sense that and that will agitate him more– if you are patient, flexible, and rested, you will be less likely to be irritated when you are up with him, and it is likely that after an hour or so of quiet play he might get tired and you can lull him back to sleep
Sorry, there is no magic bullet to get your baby on a new time schedule quickly. It is really challenging- we’ve been through it over two dozen times with our daughter. We’ve just learned that it does take time, and like you with a 2.5 week trip, you will find yourself saying, “Oh great- he’s finally adjusted the time just when we’re going back home only to readjust back!” Just know that he will be up in the middle of the night, and the best thing to do is just accommodate him as much as possible. Patience, sunshine and baby wearing are your comrades!