The sun is out and the 4th of July holiday is upon us! We are spending time outside, traveling to see family or hosting family and friends in our homes. This is a week of celebration and enjoying some time off of work with family…and potentially, exhaustion, especially if you have an infant or toddler. Usually, wherever there is an exhausted baby there is also an exhausted parent or two nearby, which doesn’t sound like a fun way to spend the holiday week at all!
Combining the importance of getting good rest with the desire to stay out all day and well into the night playing is a tug of war felt by parents everywhere. “Independence Day” feels like anything but! It can lead to a lot of anxiety, of feeling pulled in two different directions, and rightly so.
Being the parent of a baby, toddler, or small child often means that sacrifices have to be made, obviously. Most parents realize this about fifteen minutes after bringing their little one home from the hospital. No longer is what you want to do at the top of the list, but rather what this little person needs from you. Keep in mind that a baby kept up later into the night won’t necessarily sleep later in the morning the next day; in fact, the opposite can often be true–your baby might wake even earlier due to her normal rhythms being thrown off. During this week of fun and play, do your best to stick to your child’s normal schedule. While it might be difficult to find childcare, it’s worth it if you’re planning a late night out to watch fireworks. If you plan to bring your baby or toddler along, decide if the repercussions of less sleep are worth it. Many times, and for specifically sensitive children, less sleep begets less sleep and so a short night results in a terrible nap the following day which, in turn, results in another rocky night. Other children sleep well anywhere. These are biological differences in kids and will evolve and change as they grow, but have patience with their needs at this stage in their lives and do your best to provide rest for them.
Keep Your Baby Hydrated
You wouldn’t think that being hydrated has much to do with sleep, but it does! A dehydrated baby or young child is not only in danger of health risks, but it prevents restful sleep. Even mild dehydration can cause your baby or toddler to have headaches or stomach cramps and to suffer from constipation, which is terribly uncomfortable for a little one. During these hot days, especially while you are on the go with family, friends, and potential travel, tote along a beverage and encourage her to take drinks throughout the day. If you have a baby and you are breastfeeding, it’s doubly important that mom and baby drink about 1.5 times the amount of liquid you would normally consume in order to provide enough hydration to your baby. Remember that alcohol and caffeine consumption have diuretic affects and can lead more quickly to dehydration.
Practice Sun Safety
A sunburn is another affliction of summer that can prevent sleep. The painful, itching skin and the overheated feeling is uncomfortable for adults, and can be intolerable for a baby, if not downright dangerous. Infant skin does not have a tough layer of melanin built into it yet and severe burns caused by the sun can happen very quickly. Use sunscreen, hats, UVA/UVB protective clothing and swim-gear, and take lots of breaks in the shade. If your baby does get sunburned, ask your doctor for recommended treatment–a cold washcloth might be all you can do, however, Aloe Vera gel is fine for toddlers over the age of two. Also, babies in general are not great at wearing sunglasses, so remember as you play outside or anywhere near water that your baby’s eyes can easily be sun damaged.
Napping on the Go
If you are away from home for the entire day, do your best to still provide your little one with daytime sleep. Don’t expect a stellar nap or for your baby to be as restored as she is when she gets a full nap in her own bed. Try your best to have the nap take place somewhere other than a car-seat, as the flow of oxygen to a sleeping infant can be inhibited in a car-seat. A blanket in the shade, a family member’s floor or bed (if the child is old enough not to roll off the bed), or even in mom’s arms might have to do for a day, and that’s okay. Work in an extra-early bedtime to compensate for a short nap and everyone can start the next fun day rested and happy.
Recruit Some Help
At the end of the day, your child is your responsibility; however, this week is usually filled to the brim with family and friends. Well in advance of a particularly busy day in which you’d like to participate, send a shout out to family or to some sitters to help keep your little one well-rested. Often, there is a family member who would be more than happy to put a baby down for a nap and then take a break themselves for an hour or two. If not, check with your sitters or with Care.com (again, well in advance) so that you’ve got it taken care of. Be sure you write down your child’s pre-sleep routine and go over it with anyone stepping in.
Worth it, or Not?
There is nothing wrong as the parent of a young child to be a little picky about what you are willing to disrupt your child’s schedule over and what you aren’t. Family and friends will either understand or they won’t. Some can’t comprehend that you can’t fully participate in five days crammed with activity from end to end or that you’d be willing to miss out on a late night Grill n’ Chill in order to get your baby to bed at a decent hour, but remember, they aren’t the ones who will have to cope with an overtired, manic, cranky baby or child the next day. They don’t have a 6:00 a.m. alarm that goes off every single day and sometimes in the middle of the night, either. Nor are they the ones who did the hard work to get your baby in a decent routine in the first place. That said, there’s no reason to cloister yourself in the nursery and decline all invitations for fun! Just plan ahead, decide what’s worth it and what’s not. Remember that this stage is temporary–your baby will all too soon be a child who doesn’t need a nap, who can stay up late once in a while and recover easily, who will be running around with sparklers and lips stained blue from Popsicles. Sometimes simply knowing that it might create more work in following days helps parents really decide when and if to disrupt a sleep schedule for their baby.
Working in some flexibility
Keeping all of this in mind, having a baby or young child is not a death sentence to your week of fun, however. Sure, it might be a little more work and give-and-take than before you had kids, but what isn’t?! If, a couple of nights this week your child goes to bed later than normal or take a shorter nap in a different location, then so be it. You will not be putting into place any new, terrible lifelong habits especially if you’ve done the work to teach great sleep skills already. When life returns to normal, you’ll be able to remind your child of those great habits simply by re-instituting his bedtime routine and sleep cues. It might take a few days and up to a week to get back to normal, but as long as you expect it, you can be prepared for it. Being aware is half the battle.
On the Other Side
Once the week is over and things go back to normal, be sure that you–the parents–get some rest as well as help your children get back on their best schedule for rest. As I said, it will take a few days to lock back in, but in the end everything will be fine. If your baby spiraled and is sleeping terribly for more than 3-5 days after a disruption to her schedule, resort back to your Sleep Teaching Method and help her relearn those good sleep skills.
Traveling with baby for the 4th? Read this.
Most importantly, this 4th of July, be safe, enjoy your family and time away from work.
And if you need some extra support or help, contact me anytime.