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4 Tips to Survive Baby Jet Lag

It was 2 a.m. and I was crying. It wasn’t just me either. My 5-month-old and my 3-year-old were also crying. We were tired, and that was putting it mildly. We had just traveled half way across the world to Switzerland to visit friends. It would be the first stop on our five-week adventure around Europe. And it was the worst night of my life.

Why you ask? Jet lag.

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Jet lag may be the number one deterrent for parents who want to travel abroad, or even across the country, with their kids. Anyone who has ever traveled knows that it messes up your sleep schedule, can make you cranky and also screw up your appetite. There is no exception to this when it comes to kids, especially babies and toddlers.

My first night in Switzerland, after almost 20 hours of travel with a baby and a toddler, was about as close to parenting hell as you can get. I learned a lot that night as we huddled in my friend’s guest room, desperately trying to not wake up her own little girl in the room down the hall. Here is what I picked up during those wee hours of the morning.

1. Eat something

The reason we were all up at 2 a.m. is because my children’s bodies were telling them that they had missed a meal, probably dinner, at some point during our travels. We were on a nine-hour time difference. Although we arrived exhausted, their bodies told them it was time to eat. My toddler had a bowl of cereal, while the baby got some extra nursing that night. You can’t fight it. You need to listen to your children’s bodies. No matter how much you tell them to go back to sleep, if they are hungry, you need to feed them, even if it means you have to get out of a warm bed to do it.

2. TV is your friend

My toddler had slept only a few hours on our night flight to Switzerland. This wasn’t good for anyone, especially mom, but there is only so much you can do when you are on route. When both of my boys were up in the middle of the night, I grabbed some food and popped on a Curious George DVD. I lay down on the floor with the baby to let him kick and squirm like he wanted to while my toddler was quietly entertained. I let this go on for about an hour or two before we tried to go back to bed. That hour or two was what everyone needed to remind their bodies that it wasn’t quite time to be up yet.

Everyone was up the next morning by 8 a.m. The sun coming in through the curtains was all my boys needed to reset their clocks. We would all have to take a nap that day, but we were on the right track.

Kids are more resilient than we give them credit for and they can bounce back from jet lag faster than us.

3. Get into a routine

Plenty of parents will tell you how they handle jet lag, and there really is no one perfect way to approach it. Every child is different, just like every parent is different. Some parents will tell you to start putting your kids to bed early before you even leave on your trip. This has never worked for me. My children are up with the sun and back down with it. International travel also does a number on your body clock no matter how much you try to prepare for it.

For my kids, we simply face that first night and get through it as best we can. The following morning I make sure everyone is up at a reasonable hour so we don’t sleep in too much, although I can’t always stop the kids from getting up too early. Every day I get us into our normal routine a little more. The younger my children were the faster they acclimated to the local time zone. Their bodies naturally synced, so much so that I was still trying to figure out which way was up when they were figuring out that they should be in bed by 7 p.m. wherever we were in the world.

4. You’ll survive

If you haven’t figured it out by now, kids are pretty amazing. They are more resilient than we give them credit for and they can bounce back from jet lag faster than us. Maybe we are more afraid of our own jet lag than our kids, and that is why so many people won’t cross time zones until their children are older?

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Obviously I survived that first night in Switzerland. It was brutal, and honestly, I’ve blocked a lot of it from my mind, but I can say this. We were gone for 33 days. Thirty-two of them were incredible. One of them was what fills my nightmares when it comes to traveling with kids. If I have to have one bad night in Europe to experience 32 awesome ones, you better believe it is worth every second of crying at 2 a.m.

Image via Flickr/Tricia

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