This summer I traveled back from Asia with my husband. Like the other trips, this involved a long total flight time of about 16 hours with an additional 2 hour layover in Japan. This time though, I traveled with two children, one being just four months, and the other being three and a half years old. That was a challenge in itself, but I was preparing myself for the bigger challenge: that of adjusting my four month old to the time zone changes, and readjusting my infant’s bio-clock. In a previous post, I had described the excruciating process (involving nearly 2 weeks) of converting my oldest daughter (then 4 months of age) to Eastern Standard Time (EST) after we returned from Singapore in 2013. What my husband and I ended up doing was to move our child’s bedtime half an hour to one hour later every night, so that her long stretch of night-time sleep could be preserved each night. Eventually after about 12 days we got her bedtime to where we wanted it (see post Baby Jet Lag…It’s Real). However this method meant that we as an entire family had to follow her schedule, down to eating our meals at night and having black out curtains.
This time, traveling back with our second daughter to the western hemisphere, I was open to trying a different method. The baby would be sleeping in a crib in the master bedroom and the idea of the whole family following our infant’s pace of time adjustment just didn’t seem feible with a toddler. The toddler would be used to playing in daylight hours, so would be very noisy and may interrupt the baby’s sleep during daytime. It is also likely that the toddler won’t be able to sleep with a baby crying several times at night. So I decided to try a different method: going cold turkey.
So what happened? The first day we arrived home, as our baby ended up staying awake most of the daytime hours. Then that first night she woke up at least 4-5 times at night, about once an hour. Each time she started to cry I had to quickly scoop her up out of the crib and then shush her by feeding her, as I was afraid to wake up my toddler. She would feed a little bit each time and then go back to sleep. In the end I put her in the same bed as me, as it was easier to breastfeed that way since I felt so exhausted from the day’s traveling. In the morning the baby passed some gas so I suspected she was waking up and crying at night more from gas in her tummy, and was really feeding more for comfort since she didn’t feed for long each time she woke up.
The second night she woke up about 3 times. Once it was about an hour after she had slept and seemed to be more from gas or an unresolved burp. I was able to quickly pat her back to sleep. Then she woke up again about 2 hours later. This time I made sure she drank at least 10 minutes on both sides in the breastfeeding session before putting her down, in the hopes that this would settle her the rest of the night. However, I really felt I needed a place to put baby without having to worry about the baby’s crying waking up our toddler. I ended up using a spare room that was away from our toddler’s room and putting an infant bath tub with a pillow for the ‘mattress’ cushion at the bottom. When the baby then woke up a few hours later, I was able to then scoop her up quickly and take her to this other room. I could then close the door. Even though I still fed her via my breast, I noticed she didn’t seem as hungry. The spare room (in this case we used a storeroom) provided some insulation of her crying from our toddler and other neighbors in the surrounding apartments.
The 3rd night, baby woke up about 2 times. The moment the baby awoke and started crying, I took her to the spare room. There I breastfed her only 5 minutes on each side as I wanted to slowly wean her off of being fed breastmilk at night. This seemed to satisfy baby and baby went back to sleep for 3 more hours.
The fourth night was when I went cold turkey. I decided she needed to cut out feeding altogether. I made sure I fed her a lot during the day (about every 2 hours and offered both breasts each session). The baby ended up sleeping quite well, though she did wake up with brief crying spells twice in the night. When she did wake up, I put her in the bed in the storeroom, and closed the door. She cried about 10 minutes the first time and then went back to sleep. Then she awoke briefly an hour later but was able to put herself back to sleep with only a few cries before waking up another hour later this time wide awake and hungry. So by the 4th night, our infant managed to sleep a 7 hour stretch relatively well, and was able to put herself back to sleep without much intervention on my part. In the end our infant got over her jet lag in just 4-5 nights…truly a miracle! The dark storeroom and the white background noise I created likely also helped.
The rest of the family survived relatively unscathed. My eldest daughter managed to get over her jet lag within 3 days. This involved some intentional steps of not allowing her to have an afternoon nap or a minimal one at best, lots of physical activity and waking her up in the mornings at the desired time. I think she would have gotten over it faster if her sister didn’t wake up wailing at certain times in the night the first few nights causing her to wake up and then have difficulty falling back asleep. My husband had broken sleep the first few nights but was able to sleep well by the 4th night, and quickly resumed his working during the daytime. As for me, I ended up just having a few sleepless nights!
I am writing this post to share my experience. Of course every baby is different and the age of the baby as well as the traveling circumstances (e.g., how long the flights are and the duration of travel) will also affect how quickly he/she gets over jet lag. Hopefully as you travel during this winter season, your baby will be able to adjust smoothly to each location and time change! Merry Christmas!