• Laura

Jetting through Jetlag

One of the more demoralizing parts about traveling with a baby is that the things that are annoying about traveling on your own become borderline insufferable when you are responsible for someone else’s experience of them. Long plane flights are bad. Jetlag is bad. But when you are staring down not just your experience of those things but a tiny human’s, the dread can be overwhelming.

Before the flights...

In pre-baby life, I knew how to handle jetlag, when to nap, when to strategically use espresso or Tylenol PM. In baby life, the idea of drugging myself to sleep just gives me visions of being wrenched from a stupified slumber by screaming/crying, then having to figure out to how keep myself from falling asleep while standing up and holding a very awake and very mad child.

So on this last flight, after 11h from SFO to FRA then another 2.5 to FCO, and a 9h SF to Rome time difference, I figured I’d have to wing it (hah!) and follow WP’s queues. All told, from door to door we left our place in SF around 4pm on Sunday, and arrived in Rome about 8pm on Monday, roughly 20h of travel.

On the layover...

We slept a bit on the trip, a few hours each, so we were fried but not zombies when we arrived, and of course our bodies felt like it was late morning. We got settled in our new apartment around 830pm and then popped out to pick up pizza. We put WP to bed around 930pm and then ate.

After arrival...

My issue with West to East jetlag is I fall asleep great and then my body is like “nice nap!” and I’m up in the middle of the night for a few hours before falling into a deep, exhausted sleep around 5am when my body’s like “cool, bedtime!” and then it’s basically time to wake up.

This is basically what we went through with WP. She had been sleeping through the night (~7pm-6am) for a few weeks before we left San Francisco so we knew she could do it, but now we were totally flipping her schedule. The time difference meant now she was supposed to be up in the “middle of the night” and asleep all “afternoon”. And while we’d gone to great pains to wean her off any overnight eating a few months earlier, this time change trickery meant that several meals she was accustomed to eating now feel in the overnight hours.

So those first few days my main strategy was patience and naps. We did go back to feeding her when she woke up those first couple nights since we figured her body was like “lunch!” and we just hoped it wouldn’t stick. I was nervous because I did NOT want to reintroduce night feeds, but it also seemed totally fair that she was hungry and confused so we hoped a few ozs wouldn’t cause a backslide.

I will note that my therapist (who weirdly seemed to know a lot about baby sleep training) was very helpful here. Her position is, if a baby knows how to sleep through the night, she knows. There’s no such things as a “regression”, it’s just that sometimes they need something overnight. Like adults.

Like, I can sleep all night and most of the time I do it (brava!). But sometimes I’m up in the middle of the night. Maybe it’s because I need to pee. Maybe it’s because I had a bad dream or my back hurts. Maybe it’s jetlag! It’s not a regression. It’s just a bad night. Same with baby. So if your kid knows how to sleep but gets sick, gets jetlagged, or whatever, don’t stress. Yes, they are up in the middle of the night. Tend to their needs and they’ll go back to normal in a few days, they’re not broken. This approach worked with us back in SF with a few nights of teething so we sort of crossed our fingers and went with this approach for jetlag too.

So this was our routine for the first three nights: bed around 930p, middle of the night wakeup around 1a with a snack, an hour of soothing, back to bed, up around 830am. As I mentioned I was kinda scared that we were re-introducing a night feed, but we dropped the snack on night three once we were confident that she was eating enough during the day that she shouldn’t need the food overnight. And we kept her in a dark room with an emphasis on going back to sleep during the overnight wakeups. By night four WP would wake up, babble, and resettle herself, and by the end of week one WP’s jetlag was gone, she was sleeping through the night, and we’d also reset her bedtime to 930pm (which would enable us to eat dinner out since restaurants here don’t open til 7pm or later).

Of course naps were a big part of this. We were lucky that WP had completed the awkward transition from three naps to two a couple weeks before we left because it meant she was in a real routine for a few weeks before we screwed it all up with the time change. So we kept the two-long-well-spaced-naps daytime routine even as the nights were screwy and we spent lots of time in sunlight when we weren’t napping/sleeping and I think that helped get her onto the new schedule quickly.

I will say that, I think because WP’s bedtime is so much later here (930p in Rome vs 7p in SF) that she does allocate her sleep a little differently. More like 10.5h at night and 3.5 during the day across two naps (whereas it was 11h at night and 3h via naps in SF). But she seems to be getting enough sleep total, and that’s what we’re focused on.

Of course all this strategy and technique was premised on the fact that we are now in our new time zone indefinitely. It did make me think that I don’t know if it would be worth it to take a baby on a multi-time-zone-crossing trip for less than a week. We had done three time zones (PT to ET) with WP in the US and it was no problem, but a 9h time change is a lot to adjust to in less than seven days -- not to mention the return. So if I were planning a vacation (rather than a weird year of travel thing) I would probably try to use the rule of thumb that you should go for at least as many days as hours of time change (e.g. nine days for a 9h time difference) so that you can really enjoy your vacation. Of course this sort of applies to adults, too.

Happy jetting!

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