Yes, you heard me right, you can have have it all - Happy Holidays and a happy well rested child! With a little planning and whole lot of gumption, you can maintain your child’s sleep schedule amidst the hustle and bustle of the holiday season.
There are three main reasons that a baby or toddler’s healthy sleep habits go out the window during the holidays: (1) Travel, (2) Well-Meaning Friends and Family and (3) Room Sharing. In this article, I am going to give you tips on how to navigate each without undoing all the hard work you put forth in helping your child shape healthy sleep habits.
If you are traveling by car, plan to hit the road during your child’s scheduled nap. I know, I know, I usually warn against taking car naps as they aren’t as restful, but when compared to no naps at all, car naps win hands down. If your child is taking multiple naps try to plan for the first nap of the day to be at home to ensure at least one high quality nap before the madness ensues.
If you are making the return trip on the same day, pack your child’s PJs and schedule your departure at your child’s bedtime. That way, you can stay for dessert and not have worry about rushing back home to put your kiddo to bed on time. If they wake up during the transfer to their crib or bed, do an abbreviated bedtime routine and get them tucked into bed ASAP.
If you are flying, and I am sure you have heard plenty of horror stories, I have found that it is pretty easy for babies to sleep on planes. The white noise from the plane’s engines and the motion will typically lull them to sleep. Try to wait until take off to nurse or bottle feed them. That way, it will prevent their ears from popping and hopefully help them to fall asleep. This is the only time I ever endorse feeding to sleep. Desperate times call for desperate measures! Don’t worry if the nap is short. Any little bit of sleep will help to take the edge off so that you and the rest of the passengers can enjoy the rest of the flight.
If you are flying with a toddler, all bets are off. They most likely will not want to sleep due to the excitement of being on a real live plane. That’s OK! It is best to just roll with the punches as opposed to forcing them to nap. Just make sure that you have plenty of distractions to keep them occupied. Think snacks, playdough, crayons, books and the ringer, an Ipad fully stocked with Daniel Tiger, Mickey Mouse ClubHouse or the like.
Well-Meaning Friends and Family
Now that you survived your holiday travel, next up is “Nap Enemy #1”, your friends and family. I mean that is the best possible way, I promise. They are so excited to hold, play, take selfies with your baby that they will beg you to “be a cool mom” and keep them awake (who can blame them). Don’t take the bait!. I know that no one wants to be pegged as an “overprotective mom”, but when it comes to protecting your baby’s sleep, I am giving permission to let your inner “Mama Bear” take the wheel. If you don’t, then you are going to have to deal with an overtired kid that no one is going to want to be around and that will be a bear to put down at bedtime. The overtiredness results in excess cortisol production which may lead to additional night wakings and early morning wake-ups. No es bueno!
The best way to handle it is to inform everyone in advance of your baby’s sleep schedule and of consequences if it is not being honored: a crabby baby and mama. I always find a little humor goes a long way in situations like this. Try to make light of it by saying something like, “I know that I am being “that mom” but I wanted give everyone the heads up that baby needs to nap at 1:00 PM. Anyone caught inferring with nap time will take a home a side of cranky baby with their leftovers.” Also, make sure to hang a “Sleeping Baby - Enter and Suffer the Consequences” sign on the door to prevent Uncle Harry who was watching football during your announcement from barging in.
Now if you have an older toddler, again, all bets are off. Chances amidst all the excitement, they are not going to want to nap. Save them and yourself the aggravation and skip the nap. Instead, plan on an early exit and bedtime to make-up for the skipped nap and be sure to honor their naptime the next day.
If your relatives are anything like mine, they will insist on your family staying at their house even if that means you are rolling four deep in one room. I know that it is tempting to throw caution to the wind and just bedshare for a few nights. It’s no biggie, right? I wish I could guarantee that your baby or toddler will go back to their own crib or bed once you return from your trip without a fight. Some do and some don’t.
It is best to not take your chances and bring along a pack-n-play or an air mattress and convert the room into two rooms with a makeshift partition, no construction required. SImply hang a sheet from the ceiling or set up a dressing screen to prevent your baby or toddler from wanting to squeeze into bed with you in the middle-of-the-night.
Or, I know this sounds crazy, put the baby in the walk-in closet or bathroom. They can be the absolute best sleeping spaces. Quiet, dark and you don’t run the risk of them seeing you or people accidentally walking in and out of the room.
Also, try your absolute best to not fall back on any old sleep props. You might be tempted to slip baby a pacifier or rock them to sleep if they are disturbing the rest of the house, but baby is going to get used to that really, really quickly, and chances are you’ll be waking up every hour or two, rocking baby back to sleep or putting her pacifier back in, which is going to end up disturbing everyone a lot worse than a half hour of crying at 7:00 at night.
When it comes to toddlers, turn the sleeping situation into something fun by bringing along their sleeping bags and pretend you’re on a camping trip, complete with campfire songs - but leave out the ghost stories! Since they are more aware of their environment than babies, you may need to stay in the room while they fall asleep. Just resist the urge to lay down with them as that will be a hard habit to break once back at home.
Now, on a serious note, I find the biggest reason that parents give in on these points is, quite simply, they’re embarrassed. There’s a house full of eyes and they’re all focused on the baby or child and by association, the parents.
The feeling that everyone is making judgments about how you’re parenting is nearly overwhelming in these family gatherings, but in those moments, remember what’s really important here.
Your family, and their health and well-being.
So stand tall and remember that you’re a superhero, a defender of sleep for those who are too small to stand up for it themselves. If you want to wear a cape and give yourself a cool superhero name, you go right ahead. WonderMom, UberMama, MamaExtordianaire all have a nice ring! Just remember that, like any superhero, you may be misunderstood by the masses.
Ignore them. You’re on a mission.