Jet Lag and Babies

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Many travellers dread the presence of babies on planes, and few more than their parents who have to help comfort and placate their child while he or she undergoes jet lag and the other discomforts of air travel. Babies are susceptible to jet lag, and parents who are already stressed by travelling with a young child and coping with their own jet lag will often struggle when it comes to managing the jet lag of their young child. In this article we look at the prevention of a baby’s jet lag and the various means by which parents can cope with the condition should it arise.

Preventing jet lag in babies

The first point to make about the prevention of jet lag in babies is regarding the use of artificial melatonin for the condition. Melatonin can be used medicinally amongst adults to help prevent jet lag, and there are strong indications that the drug, when used appropriately, is a potent tool that can help avoid the condition altogether.

One of the contraindications for the usage of this drug is that it is not suited for Children under the age of 13, and some sources state that it should not be used amongst children under the age of 18. Either way, it is recommended that you not use the drug for your baby’s jet lag. This is because the melatonin drug mimics the actions of a naturally occurring hormone of the same name, and this hormone has many functions beyond its roles as a biochemical time keeping agent. Many of these roles are to do with the regulation of growth and development, and the disruption of the natural workings of melatonin through the use of the drug can lead to serious developmental issues.

Fortunately there are still a number of strategies you can employ to help prevent the onset of jet lag in babies, and these include adjusting your baby’s feeding and sleep schedule towards the new timing of your destination in the weeks before you travel. This is applicable to adults as well of course, and can help prevent or at least hugely reduce any jet lag. Because baby’s don’t have many other commitments beyond their eating and sleeping, it can be quite easy to shift their meal and sleep times. If you do perform this adjustment in your baby’s schedule, it should be done gradually in the weeks before you travel and not quickly in the time before you leave. A sudden change will leave your baby tired and irritable, and make your travels (and that of your fellow passengers) considerably less pleasant.

If your baby needs rest on the plane, it is imperative that you ensure that he or she is equipped with all the toys and blankets needed for good rest. Making sure that your baby gets the rest he or she needs on the plane is absolutely critical to their good health on arriving at your destination. To this end, requesting a bassinet is often a good idea. Many airlines provide fittings for these that can offer more comfort for both yourself and your baby.

During the flight itself making sure that your baby is well hydrated and fed can hugely improve their state upon arrival. The atmosphere of an airplane can be quite dry, and it is important that you make sure that your baby is getting enough water to avoid both a foul mood during the flight and upon arrival.

While it is important to adjust your baby’s schedule to the time of your destination, it is also important that you adhere to your child’s own schedule of meal and naps. If a meal time or nap time happens to coincide with your flight, then you should do your best to make sure that your baby is fed or put to sleep as appropriate. If you are breastfeeding then it may be a good idea to speak to your flight attendants who are often more than willing to make accommodations for your privacy where possible and necessary. Breastfeeding often offers comfort which can also help your baby get much needed rest during their flight.

Ultimately the most effective prevention strategy is adjusting your baby’s rhythms so they are closer to the timings and schedule of your destination.

Coping with a baby’s jet lag

A jet lagged baby is irritable and, in most cases, loud and disruptive, definitely not what you need when you are recovering from a long flight and looking to enjoy your family holiday. In this section we will look at measures you can employ to help yourself and your baby adjust to jet lag.

If you arrive during the day then it is often recommended that you keep your baby awake until it is night time, this helps your child adjust to the rhythm of their new location. This can be tricky if your baby is tired, but putting up with an irritable baby for a few hours can be preferable to dealing with your baby’s jet lag for several days after arriving for your holiday. If you do let your baby take a nap upon arriving, it is a good idea to keep your hotel room well lit and to make more noise than usual, this prevents your baby from falling into too deep a sleep which would only exacerbate his or her jet lag. You should also make sure your baby doesn’t get more sleep than she would during a standard nap.

Upon arrival you should also make sure your baby is exposed to plenty of sunlight. Natural light is one of the key regulators of the hormonal system dictating our body clock, the system disrupted by travel and responsible for jet lag. By keeping your baby exposed to sunlight you help your child’s system recalibrate itself to its new surroundings.

While it is important to keep busy during the day and avoid unnecessary naps, all so that your baby can adjust to the new schedule, it is also important to ensure that your child gets enough sleep at night. Part of this is to perform all the usual pre-bed rituals that babies can be accustomed to. Warm baths can help relax your baby and promote a good night’s sleep. If your baby is suffering from jet lag then his or her sleep will probably be disrupted for the first few days of your trip, but if you persist and act according to the timings of your destination, you will help your child overcome his or her jet lag quickly and effectively.  

The sleep disruption experienced by babies during the first few days of a trip can mean that they wake up at night, and if this happens the best thing you can do is help your child get back to sleep. Again, this will help set their biological clock to the rhythms of your destination. Keep the lights dim and the room quiet, if necessary feed your baby a snack, but don’t do anything to stimulate or wake your child up. In some cases it may be very difficult to get your baby back to sleep, and in these instances you can get your baby playing to expend their energy as a last resort.

Following these strategies can save you a lot of upset and help you make the most of your trip or holiday.

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