Traveling with a 4 Month Old, Part II: Surviving the Sleepocalypse

TravelNOTE: Traveling with a 4 Month Old, Part I: Packing can be found here and Part III: Car Hell can be found here.

My daughter A. has never been a very good sleeper. First she had her days and nights mixed up (common for a newborn), then she cluster fed like crazy and wanted to eat all night long, then she had tummy issues, and right as we were finally resolving those she hit the 4 month sleep regression. Suddenly she was fighting sleep like crazy and all naps topped out at 45 minutes again.

This week we finally got some relief as she settled into one night waking (yay) and her naps started to lengthen again (double yay). And so, of course, this is the week we are traveling for Thanksgiving.

Along with packing for the trip, I have been desperately researching and planning ways to avoid completely screwing up my daughter’s sleep. Here’s what I’ve come up with:

1. Prepare for travel sleep conditions in advance. My daughter had been primarily napping in the swing, which worked great, except that we can’t squeeze a swing into my Toyota Corolla for the trip. So even though A. is a little young for swing weaning, we tackled it anyway. My original plan was to have her nap in the pack and play
at home, then move the pack and play downstairs, then try a nap at Grandma’s house in town. We didn’t get that far. Oh well.

2. Bring along as many positive sleep associations as possible. Unfortunately, my daughter won’t take a pacifier, but we have a number of other props we can bring with us that she has hopefully started to associate with sleep: her sleep sack, her white noise machine (which also helps me sleep!), and a little blanket I have started trying to introduce as a “lovey” or a transitional object.

3. Have a routine and stick with it. Research supports the idea that a consistent bedtime routine helps babies sleep better. Our bedtime routine is: say goodnight to Daddy and visitors, change the diaper and put on PJs, get in the sleep sack, read 1-2 books, take medicine, nurse, sing a few songs, kiss goodnight, get in the crib, and pat on the back. Hopefully doing the same things in the same order on the road will help her recognize when it’s time to sleep.

4. Keep regular naptimes and bedtimes. We’ve been working hard to get on a schedule and we’ve finally managed to settle on a 7:30 pm(ish) bedtime and a 7-7:30 wakeup in the morning. Naps are harder, but we’re working on pinning down a 9 am nap, a 1 pm nap, and a 4:30 pm catnap. It will be much harder to keep these times when we’re on the road, but I won’t hesitate to throw some elbows and knock down some nearby relatives on my way to snatching up A. and putting her to bed.

5. Break out the old sleep props if necessary. When A. was younger I sometimes brought her into bed if that was the only way for us to get some sleep. She also only slept in the swing or carseat for the first two months. As much as I don’t want to bring these habits back, we all need sleep and I’ll do it if I have to. We can work on breaking the habits when we get home again.

6. Make sure those naps happen, whatever it takes. If I have to drive around in the car for an hour, so be it. If I get really desperate, I might go out and buy an automatic Rock and Play – it’s like a swing, but we can fold it up and bring it home with us.

7. Enlist help if necessary. There will be plenty of hands around to play with A. – some may be willing to help with rocking, bouncing, walking, or driving her around as well.

Readers, do you have any tips for helping a baby sleep while traveling?

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