Traveling with a 9 month old: Dealing with Jet Lag
Ok, so anyone who’s ever traveled overseas knows that it can be painful and slow to recover from jet lag. Most people advice that you plan on taking 1 day to acclimate to each time zone crossed. So, for us flying from Prague to Hawaii this time, we’ll cross 11 time zones and should plan on it taking at least a week for us to adjust. After three and a half years of living in Prague and flying from Europe to the states twice a year each year (not to mention countless other long haul flights before we moved here) my husband and I have learned a few things about jet lag. Today I want to share with you our normal tricks for dealing with jet lag and a few things we will be doing differently or in addition to our normal tricks this time since we will also be traveling with a 9 month old baby.
How to Deal with Jet Lag as a Parent with a Traveling Baby:
- Stay Hydrated. Flying can be very dehydrating, so plan to make sure that you drink plenty of hydrating liquids.
Dehydration can reduce a nursing mama’s milk supply, and it can also take your body a while to adjust to producing milk on the new schedule. Because of this it’s important for nursing mama’s to be especially careful to stay hydrated while traveling. One little thing I plan to do to help with hydration is to make my own electrolyte drink to drink on the plane. I will mix a little bit of unrefined sea salt with a little bit of unrefined organic cane sugar in an empty water bottle. Once we get past security I will fill this water bottle with water from a drinking fountain and have this as a mineral rich drink during the flight.
- Avoid alcohol and caffeine. It’s tempting to drink these things on long haul flights – the caffeine to help keep you awake or the alcohol to help you sleep on the plane, but it really is best to avoid both of these substances when flying. Both caffeine and alcohol can dehydrate your body more and put stress on your adrenal glands, which will make adjusting to the time change at your destination harder in the long run.
Obviously my baby won’t be having caffeine or alcohol, but since I’m nursing it’s all the more important that I don’t have these things as being dehydrated could affect my milk while traveling.
- Eat light, fresh meals that are easy to digest and don’t tax the body to much.
I plan on bringing our own healthy snacks and meals made from real food. This will be helpful for my husband and I, but also for our baby. Thaddeus has just started solids and is still nursing a lot, but I will bring a few veggies and healthy finger food snacks for him on the plane.
- Eat more protein dense foods. The stress of travel may slightly increase the body’s need for protein. Eating protein rich meals can also provide your body with the nutrients needed in order for it to produce melatonin and serotonin, both important hormones for healthy sleep.
This time I’m making my own protein bars to take on the flight for my husband and myself. I am also planning on trying to make some quinoa teething cookies for my baby. I may also bring a little bit of meat such as chicken that he can snack on during the flight. You can read more about my plan for eating real food while traveling HERE.
- Upon arriving at your destination, eat at the local meal times - even if you don’t feel very hungry.
This might be hard to get a baby to eat on a new schedule based on the local destination. I won’t worry about this too much with him, but will instead offer him food and breast milk as often as possible and let him eat when he wants.
- A relatively new study suggests fasting for about 16 hours before your flight can help elevate jet lag.
We personally will NOT be trying this. Fasting is NOT a good idea for babies and definitely not for breastfeeding mama’s either, so this is one option for dealing with jet lag that I will be avoiding and I don’t recommend for parents traveling with infants. However it is worth noting as an option for healthy adults.
- Keep your feet warm. Ok, so I’ve never tried this before, but I read something recently (sorry I can’t remember where) that said that wearing socks to bed and keeping your feet warm can help people to fall asleep and stay asleep. The logic behind it has to do with blood flow and circulation as well as how heat is distributed in the body before and during sleep. I thought this was interesting and worth a try.
I will be sure to put socks on myself and my baby during the flight, since we are taking a red-eye and want to be sure we sleep. And I will also try putting socks on my baby’s feet for sleep once we arrive in our destination (even though it will be plenty warm there for him to go barefoot). I figure it won’t hurt anything to try out this technique.
- Practice yoga. I always like to do a little yoga before flights and during layovers. I hate the stiff feeling that my body feels during and after flying so I like to stretch and warm my muscles up a little bit. I was recently reading that there are a few yoga practices and poses in particular that can help with jet lag. Sun salutations and shoulder stand can be particularly helpful for reviving, balancing, and rejuvenating the body during and after travel. Alternate nostril breathing is also a yoga practice that can help to balance the endocrine system and bring balance to the body after experiencing the stress of time change.
These are all things I plan on doing during this upcoming trip. My baby can’t really do Sun Salutations or alternate nostril breathing or anything like that, but I can do some gentle baby yoga with him. Pumping his legs and giving him a little baby massage will probably be among a few things I try to do with him during our travels.
- Exercise in general can help your body to adjust to the time change. Get out and take along walk, or go for a run (if that’s your thing).
I plan on walking up and down the aisle on the plane at least a few times to keep my body limber during the flight and to help entertain my baby. Since he’s just starting to pull himself up and walk when holding on to our fingers Thaddeus will also probably enjoy walking the aisles with me. I will also give him lots of time to crawl and move around once we get to our destination. Physical activity like that will help wear him out so that hopefully he will sleep better.
- Some people recommend changing the sleep schedule by an hour a day for the few days before traveling. This can be a good technique if you are only crossing a few time zones, but when crossing a larger number of time zones this technique becomes less effective.
I personally feel it is better for us and our baby to be well rested before we go. I will keep our schedule and my baby’s schedule the same as normal up until the time we leave so as to disturb him (and us) as little as possible before the dramatic change of the trip.
- Sleep at appropriate times for the local destination. Keep yourself awake until a normal bed time for your destination and wake yourself up in the morning at an appropriate time.
Although this seems to help us adjust very quickly, this is one things that I won’t hold to as much this trip. With a baby I feel like it is more important that we all stay well rested and healthy then that we adjust quickly. I will try and give my child naps and put him down for the night at appropriate times for the destination. But, if Thad is exhausted I’m not going to force him to stay awake. I know some people would recommend keeping a baby from taking naps during the day in the hopes that they will sleep better at night, but I know from experience that this rarely works and often it will just leave you with a child who’s immune system get’s run down resulting in a sick, cranky, overtired little one.
I also will allow myself a bit more flexibility. Normally I wouldn’t let myself nap when trying to adjust to jet lag, but would keep myself up until bed time at the destination, but with a baby I may allow myself to sleep when he’s sleeping. It’s more important that have the energy to deal with Thaddeus when he wakes up in the middle of the night then that I adjust quickly. We will be in the states for 6 weeks and have plenty of time to allow ourselves the whole first week to adjust slowly if necessary.
- Take magnesium and or melatonin the first few nights at your destination. Melatonin can be a bit controversial, but we have used it in the past and feel like it does help. Magnesium is a simple thing to find and take with no side effects (although you may have some loose stools if you take too much of it).
Melatonin should NOT be taken by nursing mothers or given to babies. I don’t think any of us will take it this time.
Magnesium is safe for nursing though so I will take a bit of magnesium the first few nights to help me relax and sleep. I won’t give any to Thaddeus though since I’m not sure about how his little body would handle it, or whether it’s ok to give to babies, but I figure if I take it he’ll probably get a little extra magnesium boost in my milk, right?
- Use your normal routines and habits. Staying with your regular routines as much as possible can help you adjust from jet lag. These routines can be subtle cues for your body about what is about to happen and can help your body figure out its new schedule.
Routines and habits help young babies to understand the world around them. Since we always read a story and sing a specific song to Thaddeus before putting him down for the night we will continue to do that at our destination and while traveling. I also have a little rhyme I say to him while I’m changing his diaper, and a song that I almost always sing when he first wakes up from naps. All of these things will help him to know what is going on when in a strange environment and it will be important to continue these things.
- Upon arriving at our destination spend as much time in the sunlight as possible, as soon as possible. This is perhaps the most important thing you can do to help your body adjust from jet lag. The pineal gland, which is responsible for regulating your sleep wake cycles is very significantly affected by sunlight, so spending time in the sun shine can help your body to shift its natural cycles to your new time zone.
This trick works with babies and with adults, so we will all be making sure to get lots of sunshine, which won’t be hard since we’ll be at the beach our first week in the states. At night time we will also try and keep the lights low, the curtains closed, and have little to no TV or internet time at night, which can both effect sleep cycles.
If you are interested in more info about flying with a baby I recommend that you check out Delicious Baby. It’s a great site packed with information about traveling with babies, toddlers, and kids. Here is her wonderful article about Jet Lag with Babies, Toddlers, and Kids.
Well, even with all those tips and tricks I’m still super nervous about how my son will do with jet lag, but I’m hopeful that some of this stuff will help him and us.
Do any of you have any additional advice for dealing with jet lag? How about for dealing with a baby who is jet lagged? I’d love to hear your suggestions!
Rejoicing in the journey - Bethany Stedman