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Helping Your Baby and Toddler Sleep on International Flights

Facing the prospect of international travel with a baby or toddler can be an overwhelming experience, but getting your little one to sleep on the plane is key to a smooth journey. Whether your child is a lap infant or has their own seat, there are strategies you can use to encourage restful slumber during those long flights.

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Toddler sleeps on their parents lap on an airplane

Booking the Right Seat for Your Baby

When it comes to baby sleep on international flights, your first decision is whether to book a separate seat for your child or have them sit on your lap. Most airlines allow infants under 2 to fly as a lap child, which can be more budget-friendly. However, babies under the age of 2 are likely to sleep better in a car seat, so securing a separate seat for your infant, even if they're under 2, can make a significant difference.

If you have opted for a "lap infant" but want to try for a free seat for baby - I have more information on that here.

Bassinets for Infants Under 6 Months

For babies under 6 months old, the ideal option for sleep on international flights is to book a seat with a bassinet. Bassinets are small, padded beds that attach to the bulkhead of the aircraft, providing a safe and comfortable sleeping space for your little one. Bassinets are subject to availability, so be sure to request one as early as possible when booking your flights.

For all of the details you need to know about bassinets, check out my blog post here.

Babies 12 Months and Younger

For babies 12 months and younger, the key is to focus on keeping them full and comfortable. These little ones are generally quite good at sleeping on the go, as long as their basic needs are met. Make sure to pack plenty of breast milk, formula, or baby food to keep them well-fed. Bring along their favorite comfort items, like a blanket or pacifier, to help them settle down for naps. With a full tummy and familiar items, babies under 12 months are very likely to sleep well during the flight.

If you do bring along a few toys and activities, feel free to keep it simple. Sometimes the best "toys" are things you can find in a junk drawer. Painters tape, sticky notes, receipts in a Pringles can were all some of my child's favorite toys around that age. And if you have an active child who loves to play check out some of our favorite travel toys on my Amazon Storefront.

For more help on long haul flights with babies, check out my other tips here.

Toddlers (Walking Age to 2 Years)

As your baby becomes a toddler, sleeping on flights can become more challenging. Toddlers are more active and curious, making it harder for them to settle down for longer periods. To help your toddler sleep, try using a travel-friendly white noise machine, bringing familiar toys and books, and managing their awake time to ensure they're tired enough for naps and bedtime. It's also a good idea to book a separate seat for your toddler, as they'll have more space to rest comfortably.

Toddlers Older Than 2 Years

When it comes to sleep, really try to settle into your normal routine that I have laid out in "Helpful Tips". You may also want to consider booking a red-eye flight, as the dark cabin and nighttime environment can make it easier for your toddler to fall asleep.

While I believe that a car seat will be the most safe, secure, comfortable, and familiar option for your child. This isn't always the most flexible and travel friendly option. You can also try to use different seat extenders or "beds" to make them more comfortable during the flight. A few popular options are:

For more help when traveling internationally with a toddler, check out my blog here.

Helpful Tips No Matter the Age

In addition to the specific strategies for different age groups, there are some universal tips that can help your baby or toddler sleep better on international flights:

  • Request a kids meal ahead of your flight if you booked and they are eating whole foods. Also keep plenty of snacks available and ready. Full bellies make for a smoother flight and higher chance of sleep.

  • Try to delay screen time for as long as possible, especially with toddlers. Focus your efforts on interactive play and activities during the first few hours of the flight, as this can make the experience feel less overwhelming.

  • Utilize meal times to break up the journey. After everyone is done eating and the trays have been collected, it's time to start the bedtime routine and turn off all screens.

  • Go through your normal bedtime routine as much as possible - change into pajamas, brush teeth and hair, swaddle or use a sleep sack, read a book, etc. Keeping familiar elements of their routine can help your little one settle more easily.

  • Around an hour after your first meal on the plane, the lights will dim and the window shades will be closed. This is the optimal time to have your baby or toddler start their in-flight bedtime. Getting them down before they become overtired will maximize the chances of a restful sleep.

No matter your child's age, the key is to be prepared with the right equipment, comfort items, and a flexible attitude. With some thoughtful planning and a bit of flexibility, you can help ensure your little one gets the rest they need on your long-haul international flight.


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