Get Your Baby to Sleep on Planes!

Many families explain their reluctance to travel with a baby as a fear associated with a break in routine – especially managing naps.  It takes us so long to create a rhythm that it seems unnecessarily disruptive.  Fortunately, we didn’t let our (or my) stress over Jack’s sleep routines keep us from traveling.


Jack at 10-weeks in Naples, Florida


My husband and I tried many different methods to get our son to sleep on route.  Here are a few tips that worked well for us:

(1) Bring a pillow

Whether a breastfeeding pillow or a firm pillow from your bed, packing a sleep surface could change your entire travel experience.  When my son was three months old we got him to nap on a breastfeeding pillow.  We propped it up on my lap and within minutes he was out cold.  Depending on your baby’s size you can also try putting your pillow on your table tray.  Yes – they’re tedious to carry through the airport but it’s definitely worth it in the end.


(2) Mimic your bed time routine

Whatever you do at home try to do on the plane, especially if you are on an overnight flight.  If you read before bed, read a book quietly in your seat. If you sing, sing.   Babies thrive on routine so the more cues you can recreate while traveling the clearer your baby will understand what is expected of him/her.


(3) Create a cozy space

Breastfeeding cover ups (I prefer Bebe au Lait) make great privacy curtains in public spaces.  Over stimulation from the airport and on planes can detract from sleepy-time cues so providing your baby with a little private, quiet space will help set the right mood.

(4) White noise

We downloaded a baby white noise app onto my phone to provide soothing sounds on the go.  The travel size sleep sheep is another great option as are portable white noise devices.  Drown out the sound of the food cart, coughs, pop cans, and surrounding chatter with the sssshing sound. It gives the baby’s ear something to focus on that is close to them which helps prevent sudden noises from waking them up.

(5) Embrace the carrier

My son went through a phase where he could only sleep on his stomach.  Try recreating that on the go.  After trial and error, I discovered that the act of being on their tummy is best mimicked by the carrier (especially brands like Ergo baby and Infantino that wrap the infant’s legs around your waist and hold them in snug).   The only issue with the carrier is that very few (if any) have been tested for flight safety so even if your baby is fast asleep, most flight attendants will make you remove the carrier before take-off.



(6) Business class beds

If you’re fortunate enough to travel in business class (or get a bonus upgrade) recline your seat into the bed position and lay down with your child. I was able to get my son to pass out for a solid nap by lying down with him.  But, use your resources.  If you can make a bed out of any seats, do it.  Even an empty middle seat in economy class can work in the same way.


(7) Don’t Rely on bassinets

There’s a lot of unwarranted excitement over airline bassinets.  Many parents get frustrated or disappointed when their plane doesn’t offer one. Honestly, unless you have a newborn, they’re useless.  We have a tiny baby and some bassinets are so oddly shaped and sized, there’s no way I could get him into one.  On our last flight, it was triangular shaped.  No thank you.  However, if you do manage to get the traditional style bed that hooks into the wall in front of you in the bulk head seats, there is a bit more room, but again, they’re generally tiny and only small infants can fit.  If your baby can pull him or herself up, sit or roll, there’s a good chance you cannot use the airline bed.  And along with the tiny size, there is a little mesh screen that snaps them into the bassinet in case of turbulence. It’s considered the seatbelt but weirds me out.

(8) Car Seat Crib

If you’re lucky enough to bring a car seat with you and the flight isn’t full then cash in on the opportunity to take your car seat aboard the plane.  Strap it onto the seat, put a breathable blanket or sheet over it for darkness, turn on some white noise and cross your fingers.  Our little guy has slept through nearly an entire journey with the car seat option.

When all is said and done, worrying about your child’s sleep schedule (or lack thereof) while traveling tends to be pointless.  When they’re tired enough, children and babies will sleep.  In some instances our then six month old stayed up for more than 12 hours while traveling and all we could do was support him through the overtired moments.  It’s not always easy but when you arrive at your destination it’s definitely worth it.

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