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Friends with a new baby traveled from the east coast to Alaska. The baby did great on the plane (flight attendants remarked he was the best baby traveler ever!).
However, on his return:
Baby K is having issues with sleep–we have been trying to put him in the light but because it was light 24 hours a day in Alaska. I am not sure it is helping–he still likes to be up until 1-2 am and sleep until 10am and he now hates to nap. How can a baby not yet three-months old give up day naps? Because of his schedule mom and dad are also having troubles converting time zones.”
Alas, travel and disruption of routines can cause havoc with infant schedules. This is why it’s best to avoid travel unless there is a good reason. (Taking a baby to meet grandparents is a good reason.) On the other hand young babies travel well. They sleep a lot on the plane and generally adjust to new locales as they spend so much time in the arms of Mom or Dad (or the grandparents).
So what’s to be done for a jet-lagged baby?
Keeping the baby in the light during the day is a very good idea. Light works on the brain to tell that organ the difference between night and day. But it doesn’t work instantly.
There are other things to be done to get across the first lesson Baby must learn after he figures out where milk comes from. That lesson is that day and night are different. One is light and bright and that’s when we play and eat. The other is dark and that’s when we sleep. It takes the average baby about three months to begin to get settled and spend more time in the waking state during the day and more time sleeping at night. But the lesson is not completely learned until night feedings are no longer needed. Also jet-lag throws the learning process off.
What else can be done? Less play and activity at night. Don’t hold him until he falls asleep. Instead create a bedtime routine like wash face, change diaper, croon for a few minutes in the rocking chair, then put the baby in his own crib in his own room. You may have to hear a few whimpers or even cries (gasp!) but at this age Baby has already learned that living with Mom and Dad is a pretty good deal so he is developing a sense of trust in the world.
Now that he can trust his parents to meet his needs he has to learn a new lesson: how to create sleep associations so if he wakes up at night he can get himself back to sleep. This is also a process and it takes time.
Probably nudging a jet-lagged baby back into his own time zone will just take a few days of patience. But the parents, who are jet-lagged themselves and sleep-deprived from being parents of a newborn are also tired. My sympathies, I well remember those sleepless nights.
However the parents must be careful to not, in their own sleepiness or desperation, do things that are counterproductive like giving the baby too much holding or playing time at night or putting him to sleep in the parental bed. The idea is to let him stay awake until his jet-lag is over but minimize the attention.
Naps should come back when Baby figures out night and day are different and is awake enough to play and get tired during the day. Nap time in a newborn can be anywhere and most parents love to watch their sleeping offspring so they bring the bassinet with them wherever they go. But at three months nap time should be in the baby’s own crib in his own room. In tiny babies, whose ears ignore ambient noise, it doesn’t matter but now he will hear you and want to be awake for the action and fun.
Also all caregivers should follow the same routines, locations etc. The baby already knows that each person who cares for him is different but the routines must be similar when dealing with jet-lag no matter whose watch it is.
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