Updated: Dec 10, 2020
The leaves are falling and the weather is getting cooler. Turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie are right around the corner, and then it won't be too long before Santa comes to visit! Many people travel during the holidays, whether it's an hour drive to grandma's house or a long flight home for an extended visit. Traveling with young children can be a challenge, especially when it comes to naps and bedtime. (This post also applies to any vacation.)
It is important to follow your child's schedule so he doesn't become overtired or create new sleeping issues. Many little ones also have a certain sleeping arrangement they are used to. If they only ever sleep in their own crib with blackout curtains, a sound machine, and their special pacifier, then it can be challenging for them to sleep when even one of those pieces is missing. Even if you aren't traveling, a busy holiday schedule can have the same impact on their routines. So how do you enjoy your activities while respecting their routines and schedule?
With these simple tips, you can still enjoy the holidays and make sure your children get the rest they need!
Before I talk tips, something helpful to keep in mind is that children only take multiple naps a day for a short while. Somewhere around a year old, they will be ready to transition to just one nap a day. That one nap is much easier to work around. So, if you're dealing with multiple naps this year, remind yourself that next year will be much easier (assuming you don't throw another child into the mix by then)! If you find that one nap is challenging too, try to use it as a time for yourself to rest halfway through the day as well. Sometimes we need to give ourselves an excuse to stop and take a breath too!
Now for the Tips!
Try your best to keep to the schedule.
Let's say your mom has planned a lunch with Santa Claus for all of the grandkids, and you have to leave the house at 11:00 a.m. to get there. Oh no! Your baby usually takes a nap from 10:30 -11:30 a.m., so what should you do? The best thing to do is let him get at least a 30-minute nap when his normal nap isn't going to happen. Your options in this case would be:
let him sleep from 10:30-11 at the house and get him up right before you need to leave,
let him sleep in the car on the way there- if he is a good car sleeper and the trip is at least 30-minutes, or
take a stroller and walk around when you get there to try and get him to take a little nap there.
You know your baby best. If he's one that falls asleep as soon as he's moving in the car or stroller, then that would be a good option. You could even leave a little early and take the "long way" to get a drive-thru coffee and maximize his sleeping time. If he's not a good car or stroller sleeper, then your best bet would be to let him sleep as much as possible at the house before you leave. You can even try to put him down a little earlier than usual so he has more time to sleep.
It's easy to feel like you're missing out when you want to go to dinner or another activity, but you have to be home by 7:30pm, for example, to put your little one to bed. If you're in a situation where you may not be able to make it home for bedtime, try these options.
Get him in bed as close to normal bedtime as possible. A half hour later for a special occasion isn't going to completely derail your good little sleeper. However, after an hour or so past his bedtime, you are probably going to be fighting a cranky little one, which isn't enjoyable either.
If you are at an event late, take his pajamas and anything else portable and familiar (pacifier, blanket, etc.) with you. Change your child and do a mini version of his bedtime routine, then put him in a stroller or carrier and try to get him to sleep at his normal bedtime. *This will work best with little babies, but is likely not going to work as well for older babies and toddlers.
If you have a good car sleeper, you can put him in his pajamas and leave around bedtime. He will then fall asleep in the car, still near his bedtime. Then quietly transition him when you get home. Even if he wakes up in the transition, just get him calm and back to sleep, and he won't skip a beat.
Ask a party host if there is a place that you can put your baby to sleep while you're there. Bring a travel crib and a SlumberPod (see below) and you're good to go! Getting them some sleep and then having to transition to the car seat and crib at home will be better than them just being up way later than their bedtime.
Invite the party to come back to your place. You could offer dessert or coffee after a dinner out, game night and snacks, or just some simple conversation. Tell your guests to make themselves at home while you excuse yourself to go put your little one to bed, then come back and join the fun! People will often understand needing to get your child to bed and won't mind a change of venue to continue with your company.
Make the environment as familiar as possible.
Take everything you can to help make your child's sleeping environment as close to normal as possible. If he is used to sleeping with a sound machine or specific pacifier or blanket, take it with you. If he is used to sleeping in a dark room, don't assume Grandma's guest room will be as dark. A SlumberPod is my favorite product for this! It's a pop-up tent that fits over a travel crib, like a Pack n' Play, or toddler mattress. That way, you don't have to worry about trying to make the room darker. It also helps if you will have to share a room with him. It can be harder for them to sleep if they see you right there. You can even have the room lights on while they are sleeping in there and it will still be dark!
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Make sure to account for spit up, diaper leaking, or potty-trained accidents and have enough of everything with you. If he is going to have to sleep in a Pack 'n' Play while away, have him take some naps in it at home before you go so it isn't completely foreign to him. If his sleeping situation is set up there for you, make sure to give him some time to get acquainted with it before bedtime. Don't forget your monitor so you can put baby to bed and spend time with your family and friends.
If you get away from your routine, just get back to it as soon as possible.
We went on vacation when Gideon was four months old. He was sleeping really well at night at that point. However, I was so worried about him waking everyone else up that I quickly grabbed him and inserted his pacifier every time he made even a peep. I got no sleep that week, but the people we were with weren't bothered!
Things happen. If your child screams at bedtime because he's not used to his surroundings, then give him comfort and help him get to sleep. Just get back to your normal routine as soon as you can, either the next night or when you get back home. If you've sleep trained your baby and the holidays or a vacation get him off-track, you can always revisit your training to get him back on track.
You can enjoy the holidays, or a vacation, while still respecting your child's sleep needs. It takes a little extra thought, but in the end it will all work out!
~Ashley Bell, pediatric sleep consultant