Summertime is almost here and that means many of you will be traveling with your little ones. Some of my clients get nervous about traveling with their babies and toddlers for fear of upsetting well-established eating and sleeping routines, which is certainly understandable. My phone tends to ring a bit more than usual after holiday or summer travel with families at their wit’s end from lack of sleep. However, with a little forethought and planning, and some extra attention paid to your child’s needs, summer travels will yield treasured times with family and friends.
First, be aware that if you are still breastfeeding, you may need to protect your breastfeeding relationship with your child. I’ve heard many stories of mastitis, plugged ducts or lowered milk supply during busy travel times. Some older babies will even wean. Moms get busy and distracted, feedings get skipped, and babies gets entertained and fed by others. In addition, some moms experience dehydration from long flights, which can affect milk supply short term. Be aware of the potential for this to happen and delegate other duties so you can tend to your most important one! Look at it not as an inconvenience that will pull you away from the festivities but as special time for just you and your baby to reboot for a spell. It may be challenging to get Grandma to release her grasp on your little one. Assure her that baby will be back after he’s fed and rested, which will make for a much happier baby and experience for everyone in the long run.
To help prevent dehydration and lowered milk supply, drink plenty of non-alcoholic beverages during and after flying and avoid caffeine as well as taking the time to feed your nursling. I'm proud to say that the airport in my area - Raleigh-Durham International - now has Mamava lactation pods where moms can nurse and pump in a clean, private space that's NOT a restroom. Hopefully you'll find something similar wherever you travel.
Plan ahead before hitting the road or skies by talking through the details of the trip with your toddler. Tell her who you will be visiting and where you will be staying and how you will be getting there.
Pack a couple of new toys and books just for the trip. This might be a good time to use technology. Some episodes of “Sesame Street” on an tablet or an interactive game might be just the thing to keep little ones from getting bored in their seats.
Before boarding the airplane, run off some steam in the airport. I’m sure you’ve seen it in action - a parent cruising up and down the terminal with a toddler ahead of them. Some airports even have areas for children to play.
A trip to an observation deck to watch planes take off and land might be a worthwhile adventure before your travel date, as well. I used to love packing a picnic and taking my little ones to watch the planes. We found it fascinating and entertaining.
Have a plan for carrying your child, too. I love slings, wraps and carriers. I used them with my children for years and they are tools of my trade now. They allow you to be basically hands-free, which then allows you to easily pull a travel bag. A carrier will come in handy for tired little ones after an active day with the family, too.
Whether you’re traveling long distances or staying close to home, keep your baby’s sleep routines as close to normal as possible. This means, as mentioned above, you may find yourself trying to convince well-meaning family members that baby’s need for sleep is more important than their need for baby time. To put a positive spin on it, the quality of their time together will be much more enjoyable if baby is not melting down from too much stimulation and too little sleep. Bring along white noise, which works for both lulling baby to sleep and for drowning out the sounds of partygoers. You can buy apps for an old iPod or phone (bring a docking station) or purchase a portable white noise machine like a Marpac Rohm. Either way, pack one along with a special bedtime toy, book and bath toy. Don’t forget a nightlight, too.
All the changes and stimulation may indeed affect sleep habits but only temporarily. When you return home, don’t waste any time getting back to routines. If possible, give yourself at least two days to settle in before returning to work. I give you permission to take other things off your schedule in order for you to make returning to healthy routines a priority.
Wishing you safe and happy travels!