The Holidays Versus Your Child’s Sleep Schedule

Chances are, you are one of many- just now getting back into the groove of things with your little one since last week’s Thanksgiving celebrations.  But before you know it, Christmas will be here, then the New Year- which means more celebrations and family time too often resulting in extended bedtimes and jumbled schedules.

If you are one of the parents who have recently gotten your baby sleeping on a schedule and are worried that he/she might regress a little over the holidays I can assure you, those fears could not be more well-founded. As unfortunate as it is to say, parents who have not yet sleep trained their child as well as parents who have often find that the holidays are the single easiest way to throw all of their hard work out with the wrapping paper and turkey bones.

This is because of the travel, the excitement, the constant attention, the over-stimulation, and then travel all over again.

But I’m happy to tell you that it doesn’t have to be that way! With some strategic planning and an iron will, you can keep that carefully orchestrated routine running just the way you did at home.

There are two major obstructions to your little one’s sleep over the holidays. One is travel and the other is family and friends, so I just want to tackle both of those topics individually.

First off, travel.

If you’re thinking about starting sleep training with your little one, but you’ve got to take a trip in a few weeks, my suggestion is to put off the training until you get back. (Although if you’re looking for an excuse to cancel your trip, not wanting to throw your baby’s sleep schedule out of whack is a pretty good one. Just sayin’!) But really, if you can avoid starting a program until you are back at home and can have a consistent routine going then I do recommend waiting.

If you’ve already started, don’t worry. Taking a trip typically won’t help your little one sleep better, but if you can maintain some semblance of normalcy until the end of your trip, you and baby should be ready to get back to business as soon as you get home.  This includes not creating new habits while you are away.  For example, if you had been nursing your baby to sleep before starting sleep training, but now that you are on a trip you begin to rock your baby to sleep instead of nursing- guess what, you have created a new dependency.

If you’re driving to your destination, a clever trick is to schedule your driving time over baby’s naps. Car naps aren’t ideal, but compared to no naps at all, they’re the lesser of two evils by a mile. So if at all possible, get on the road right around the time that baby would normally be taking their first nap.

If you’re really committed, you might even look for some parks, tourist attractions, or other outdoor activities that are on your route where you can stop when baby gets up. It’s a great chance to get out into the sunshine and fresh air, which will make that next nap that much easier.

If you’re flying, well, my heart goes out to you.

It’s no secret that planes and babies just don’t seem to like each other, so I suggest (and this is the only time you’ll hear me say this) that you do whatever gets you through the flight with the minimum amount of fuss. Hand out snacks, let them play with your phone, and otherwise let them do anything they want to do. The last time I traveled with my toddler, she spent lots of time putting stickers on everyone’s tray tables.  Although some people didn’t want to entertain the idea, they did voice that they were just glad there wasn’t a screaming baby on the duration of the flight.

The truth is, if baby doesn’t want to sleep on the plane, they’re just not going to, so don’t try to force it. It will just result in a lot of frustration for both of you. (And, most likely, the passengers around you.)

Alright! So you’ve arrived, and hopefully you’ve managed to maintain some degree of sanity. Now, I’m sorry to say, here comes the hard part.

As opposed to everyone being on your side to help keep the baby quiet, relaxed, and hopefully asleep during the ride in the car or flight on the plane, when you get to Grandma and Grandpa’s place everything becomes just the opposite.

Everyone wants baby awake so they can see them, play with them, take a thousand pictures, and get them ridiculously overstimulated. And it’s exceptionally difficult to tell all of these friends and family members that you’re putting an end to the fun because baby needs to get to sleep.

So if you need permission to be the bad guy, I’m giving it to you right here and now. Don’t negotiate, don’t make exceptions, and don’t feel bad about it. Firmly explain to anyone who’s giving you the “I’ll just sneak in and take a quick peek,” routine that baby’s in the middle of sleep training and you’re not taking any chances of them waking up. Let them know when baby will be getting up and tell them to hang around, come back, or catch you the next time. Or better yet, tell people in advance when to expect some baby time based on baby’s schedule.

I know it sounds harsh, but the alternative is an almost immediate backslide right back into day one. Baby misses a nap, gets all fired up because of all the new faces and activity, then overtiredness kicks in, cortisol production goes up, and the next nap is ruined, which results in more overtiredness which derails nighttime sleep, and before you know it, you’re headed home and it seems like baby did nothing but cry the entire trip.

I’m not even slightly exaggerating. It happens that quickly.

Okay, you’ve steeled your nerves and let everyone know that you’re not budging on baby’s schedule. She took her naps at the right times, and now it’s time for bed. The only catch is that, with all of the company staying at the house, there’s only one room for you and baby.

No problem, right? Bed sharing for a few nights isn’t the end of the world, after all. WRONG.

I wish I could make it that easy for you, but again, you want to make this as little of a deviation from the normal routine as possible, and babies can develop a real affinity for co-sleeping in as little as one night.

So this may sound a little silly, but if you’re sharing a room, what I suggest is simple.

Make it into two rooms.

I’m not saying you need to bust out the lumber and drywall, but I do suggest hanging a blanket, setting up a dressing screen, or, yes, I’m going to go ahead and say it, put baby’s pack and play or crib in the closet.

That sounds crazy, I know, especially if you haven’t started sleep training yet, but really, a decent sized closet is a great place for baby to sleep. It’s dark, it’s quiet, she won’t be distracted by being able to see you, and people accidentally walking in and out of the room are much less likely to distract her.

And while we’re on the subject of “no exceptions,” that rule extends to all other sleep props. You might be tempted to slip baby a pacifier or rock her to sleep if she’s disturbing the rest of the house, but baby is going to latch on to that really, really quickly, especially if you are only a few days in of sleep training and chances are you’ll be waking up every hour or two, rocking baby back to sleep or putting her pacifier back in so that you don’t disturb grandma and grandpa, which is going to end up disturbing everyone a lot worse than a half hour of you supporting a protesting baby at bedtime.  Think about it- which would you prefer if you had a mini guest during the holidays? Several wake ups through the middle of the night at 9 p.m., midnight, 2 a.m, and 4 a.m. or 30 minutes of crying and fussing at 7 p.m. followed by a restful night of sleep?

Now, on a serious note, I find the most common reason that parents give in on these points is, quite simply, because they’re embarrassed. There’s a house full of eyes and they’re all focused on the new baby, and by association, the new parent.  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 baby, your family, and their health and well-being.

There may well be a few people who feel a bit jaded because you put baby to bed just when they got in the door, and your mother might tell you that putting your baby in the closet for the night is ridiculous, but remember you’re doing this for a very noble cause. Perhaps the most noble cause there is. And needless to say, after you return from vacation, your baby continue  sleeping through the night and you will get lots of praise- not only from the same people you visited during vacation who previously made you doubt your decision, but from all of their friends and people on social media in the mommy groups who don’t even know you on a personal level!

So stand tall and remember that you’re a superhero, defending sleep for those who are too small to defend it for themselves. If you want to wear a cape and give yourself a cool superhero name, you go right ahead. WonderMom, UberMama, The Somnum Inducere, if you’re feeling really fancy. Just remember that, like any superhero, you may be misunderstood by the masses.

Ignore them. You’re on a mission.