A Holiday with a Baby

As the summer months approach, many families will be thinking of a holiday with a difference – “a holiday with a baby”.  Many new parents are currently planning their inaugural holiday, be it home or abroad, as a family unit.  Like everything since baby came along, the break will be altered with your new addition-great memories, experiences and exclusive time as a newly formed unit, but also not without challenges.  You will be forgiven for thinking that organising this holiday requires more planning than a wedding and that many new factors will need to be taken into account; the preservation and maintenance of good sleeping practises will be one of them.

Travel during the day

When making holiday arrangements, if you are heading overseas and have the choice of flights then going during the day may be preferable.  That way, although the day time sleep will be disrupted and possibly of poorer quality, at least you can potentially maintain bedtime and the night time sleep that follows; this strategy alone can help get the vacation off to a good start.  Similarly, if you are driving to your destination, it may be best to set off at the start of the day, allowing for the day time sleep to happen en route, taking necessary breaks in between, but ideally arriving at your destination before bedtime so that you can help baby become familiar with the new environment.

Start off well rested

In advance of your annual leave it would be advisable to ensure that your child is very well rested, this means making a supreme effort to fill their day and night time sleep quota, for at least the week before the start of your holiday, so that when you travel they will be more adjustable and flexible than they might be if they are overtired.


In preparation for your journey ensure that your baby is dressed comfortably-cotton, loose fitting clothing would be ideal. Pack spares of every clothing item in your carry- on luggage, along with your required milk and also plenty of water to help keep your child hydrated whilst travelling. Being well- hydrated also enables good sleep.

If you are flying

At the airport, opt to retain your pram or buggy until you get to the aeroplane steps.  This way, whilst waiting, you won’t be handling your baby too much, as they will have to be passed between you during the flight a lot when they do not have their own seat.  It may also be easier to keep close to their usual day timetable, which will help.  As soon as you arrive at your destination, your buggy will greet you and another opportunity to help your child nap is presented.  Pack also your sling or baby carrier in your walk-on luggage as you may find that useful too as you wait for your flight to be called or whilst waiting to collect your bags in arrivals.

Ideally, maintain your typical sleep schedule, however best you can-filling your baby’s feeding and sleeping need albeit in unconventional places.

It can be helpful to download some white noise from i-tunes  if your baby will require a nap during the flight time. Bring on board their familiar sleeping aids, like the security blanket, their dummy (many parents forget!) and a light-tog sleeping bag can also help.  The white noise may then enable your baby to mask out the noise of the cabin and allow them to drift off with ease.  Babies often overheat during a flight, so strip them off as soon as you take your seats; it is far easier to warm them up, than cool them down.  Being too hot will make your baby fussy and resist sleep and somehow the journey time will appear to double in length.

Of course, your baby may find it extremely difficult to sleep on demand in a noisy aircraft cabin which is reasonable-bring lots of toys and games to occupy them.

At your destination

It can be advantageous to choose accommodation that offers a conventional wooden cot for sleeping in.  Many young children resist sleep in a travel cot for a variety of reasons-different smell, too enclosed, poorer visibility and possibly comfort.   If this is not an option, then sometimes, offering your baby a sleep or two at home in a travel cot before you travel can help acclimatise them.  Either way, try to bring some bed linen from home so that when you lower them into the new sleep space they will be able to smell their familiar sleeping environment helping them feel safe and secure.

Take some extra time to familiarise baby with the different surroundings. It can be difficult for all of us to sleep in a new environment for the first night or two.  Spend time in the sleep space space-dress, play and change them in their “new bedroom”.  If you no longer room share with your child, then move the cot far away from your bed to prevent disturbing them during the night.  If you don’t typically bed-share with your child, try not to do this on holiday, as you may find that when you arrive home, they will only sleep in your bed.

Add an extra 10 minutes to your usual bedtime routine.  Give your child lots of one to one time along with plenty of physical and eye contact.  On the first night or two at bedtime, your baby may be unsettled-reassure them more than you generally need to at home and over the next few days they will begin to trust their new sleeping environment.

Don’t forget that we don’t sleep well if we are too hot or too cold, so adjust the clothing for sleep accordingly and try to ensure that the temperature of the room doesn’t exceed 20 degrees.

Day time sleep

Maintain your regular feeding and sleeping programme whilst on holiday.  Although possibly not your preference, a wake time close to 07.30am can help the day to unfold well and preserve your good sleep habits.  If your baby is still taking 2-3 day time sleeps, some of these may well happen on the go in the car or the buggy. Invest in a snooze shade or similar to help block out the light whilst out and about and here again, the white noise may help to block out external noise. Obviously, it would be great if some day sleep could be maintained in a cot, without motion, in a sleep environment on some of the days-better quality day time sleep-whilst one or both parents enjoy time on the balcony, can help give some flexibility with bedtime too and give an opportunity to observe a later bed time on some of the evenings. You will have to judge your baby to see how they cope with becoming overtired.  Many will be unaffected-others will perhaps wake more frequently or earlier in the morning; then you may need to make more efforts to fill their sleep need-namely with day time sleep and an earlier bedtime.


Enjoy this well earned break wherever your destination.  Manage any sleep disturbances that you experience with consistency and patience and look forward to making all those new family holiday memories.

Lucy Wolfe, CGSC, MAPSC, is a paediatric sleep consultant and mum of four young children. She runs a private sleep consulting practice with her 98% effective formula for sleep; she provides knowledge, expertise and valuable support to families across the country. See www.sleepmatters.ie <http://www.sleepmatters.ie>, t: 087 2683584 or e: lucy@sleepmatters.ie