At home, putting infants to sleep is a no-brainer. You place them in their crib – and pray they’ll sleep all night. But when traveling, there are many do’s and don’ts regarding sleep safety and getting infants to sleep in new surroundings, the latter often a real hassle.
1. Never “co-sleep,” even for a night or two. Infants in the same bed with adults have been injured when adults rolled onto them or the infant fell off the bed – no matter how ingeniously adults tried to prevent problems. Breathing issues may occur when infants bury their heads into pillows, comforters and loose bed linen. Additionally, co-sleeping may make it difficult to get infants to sleep alone upon returning home.
2. Car seats are not for overnight sleeping. Infants sleep well in car seats but should never be left unattended in them. Problems that have occurred include compromised airways when the infant’s head flops onto their chest, entanglement in straps wrongly applied, and falling out of seats. Many car seats are unstable unless properly strapped into cars. (Also, infants should not sleep unattended on sofas, recliners, bouncy chairs or swings.)
3. Check hotel cribs for safety. Cribs should look new, have firm and tight-fitting mattresses (two fingers should not fit between the edge of the mattress and the side of the crib; a 12-ounce soda can should not fit between slats). Cribs should not have protruding parts, screws, bolts or cutouts in the head or footboard, which can trap an infant’s head or limb. Cribs with sides that slide up and down are no longer considered safe.
4. “Heirloom” cribs and cradles may not meet current safety specifications. Stringent upgrades in crib design went into effect in 1970 and again in 2000. Very old cribs may have been painted with lead-containing paints. Cradles are popular overseas. While they are quaint, infants in cradles can roll so far to one side that the cradle fails to rock back in the other direction and topples over. Most cradles have pins to prevent this but the pins may be broken or missing.
5. Place cribs in safe locations. For older infants, avoid areas near window blinds, shades and drapes to prevent strangulation, and away from furniture that can make it easier for older infants to climb out. Place cribs either flush against the wall or several feet from the wall so if infants do climb out they will not become wedged between the wall and the crib. Place pillows on the floor around the crib, just in case. Cribs wheels should be secured.
6. On flights, try not to fall asleep with an infant on your lap. Infants have slipped off laps, landing on the floor and, very rarely, suffocated when a parent’s sleeping body rested over the child’s face. Safety officials recommend using an airline-approved safety seat for infants. Some car seats serve the purpose but few parents use them. The seats are clumsy to carry and may require paying an extra fare.
7. Buy a portable travel crib. They’re very handy for car trips and can also be used outdoors. Numerous types are available. Such cribs are lightweight, fold easily and compactly, are easy to clean, and have not been used by others. Some are specific for infants of certain heights and weights and constructed so that older infants cannot easily climb out. Learn how to assemble and disassemble it.
8. Jetlag affects infants, too. Infants seem to be less affected than adults. Generally, jetlag begins occurring after crossing three or four time zones. For trips of a few days, try to keep your infant’s sleeping, napping and feeding schedules on home time. For longer trips, keep your infant outdoors in daylight as much as possible for the first few days and in dim indoor light after sundown.
9. Having well-established schedules at home helps sleeping when traveling. While travel necessitates change, infants seem to sleep best when their everyday feeding/napping/going outdoors/bathing schedules remains close to those at home. Resist well-meaning adults’ requests for keeping infants awake for evening get-togethers and snacks at inappropriate times of the day. Have infants sleep in a portable crib for a week before leaving home, for example.
10. Miscellaneous. Don’t medicate. Some sedating medications (antihistamines, for example) may make infants sleep less, as well as having other side effects. Take along infants’ blankets, sheets and pajamas. Familiar textures and odors seem to make infants more comfortable. Don’t overdress infants and keep the room on the cool side. Air conditioning does not cause illness. Ask hosts not to smoke around infants.