Helping Infants Sleep on a Plane

One of the biggest concerns many traveling parents have is somehow getting their baby to nap (on schedule or not).  I stressed over this for nights leading up to our first journey because everyone knows that a tired baby is a cranky kid.

My husband and I tried many different methods to get our son to sleep on route.  Here are some tips for you and your family to try:

1.  Bring a pillow.

Whether your breast feeding pillow or a firm pillow from your bed this tip could change your entire travel experience. When my son was three months old we got him to nap on his breastfeeding pillow in my lap. We propped it up firmly and securely using our sweatshirts underneath it. At this age (depending on your baby’s size) you can also try putting your pillow on your drop down table tray. The pillow is tedious to carry through the airport but it’s definitely worth it.


2.  Mimic your bed time routine.

Whatever you do at home 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. Simple. 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.

Breast feeding cover ups make great privacy curtains on planes.  Tuck your baby in snugly and then use a cover, sheet or breathable blanket to dim the environment. Over stimulation through the airport and on planes can detract from sleepy-time cues so providing your baby with a little private, quiet space will help lull them into the right mode.


4.  White noise.

We downloaded a baby white noise app onto my cell phone to provide soothing sounds on the go. The travel size sleep sheep is another great option as are portable white noise devices. When you’ve created the necessary sleep space for your child, drown out the sound of the food cart, coughs, pop cans, and surrounding chatter with a little white noise. It gives the baby’s ear something to focus on that is close to them which prevents sudden noises from waking them up.

5.  Embrace the carrier.

My son went through a phase where he could only sleep on his stomach, lying down in a crib. Trying recreating that on a plane. It wasn’t going to happen. The act of being on a tummy is best mimicked by the carrier (especially brands like Ergobaby and Infantino that wrap the infant’s legs around your waist and hold them in snug). Use your time pre-boarding to walk rigorously around the gate area. The more movement the better when it comes to lulling the little one to sleep. I paced all around the airport even as the flight boarded. 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 airlines will make you remove the carrier before take-off. I’ve given some serious cut eye and eye rolling over this rule, but passengers never win in this situation.

If in flight with little chance at walking through the aisle, try doing lunges at the back of the plane where the attendants congregate.  Most will make room for you if it means a quiet baby.


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 2-hour nap by resting with him and then once he was asleep I simply sat up at the front edge of the seat and chatted with my husband. Use your resources. If you can make a firm bed out of the seats, do it. Even an empty middle seat in economy class can work in the same way. Ask for an airplane blanket if you don’t have one of your own and cover the seats before your little one cozies up.


7.  Truth about bassinets.

There’s a lot of excitement over airline bassinets. Many parents get frustrated or disappointed when their flight doesn’t have one or when they can’t get access to them. But, honestly, unless you have a new born, 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. 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 it always weirded me out and looked a little too creepy for my liking.

8.  Car Seat Crib. If you’ve got your car seat with you and the flight isn’t full then cash in on the opportunity to take your car seat aboard the plane. To make this happen, ask at check-in how full the flight is. They’ll be able to gauge your chance of finding an empty seat. If there’s no room, just check the car seat at the gate. If you can take the car seat aboard the air craft, strap it into the seat and at nap time, make the surrounding environment as soothing as possible. Put a breathable blanket or sheet over the seats 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 6 month old stayed up for more than 12 hours while traveling and as parents, there is nothing you can do except love and support them throughout the ride. It’s not always easy but when you arrive at your destination it’s worth it.


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