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Returning from summer holidays? Helping kids cope with jet lag

Should we put our baby on the new time before the trip? What tricks can we try to help them adjust once we reach our destination? Does jet lag affect mum's milk supply? Time Out Family puts key questions to two paediatricians at international hospitals.

For babies

Image via Flickr/William Whyte.

Do babies get jet lag?

Yes. They suffer from the same symptoms that adults get. They get sleepy during daytime, experience a lack of appetite and find it hard to sleep at night.

Is it bad for their health?

Yes, definitely. When babies sleep, their pituitary glands release the growth hormone which helps them develop, so a break in the biological clock due to travel affects their growth. In severe cases, frequent adjustment to time differences can lead to brain atrophy.

Do they adjust naturally or do they need help? 

Most of the time, babies can’t adjust on their own. They need their parents’ help.

Should we start putting our baby on the new time during the flight? 

No. It’s not necessary to start the adjustment on the flight. Let your baby do whatever they want. If they don’t want to sleep, they can play or eat.

What tricks can we do to help our baby adjust?

Keep them active outdoors – even take them swimming! Make sure your baby is fully occupied during the day. At night, create a sleepy atmosphere by giving them a wash, putting on some relaxing music and turning off the lights.

How long does it take for babies to adjust to the new time?

Generally speaking, it takes three to five days.

Can jet lag affect the mother’s milk supply? 

The quality of breast milk has a lot to do with her daily diet. If she loses appetite due to jet lag, the quality and quantity of her milk will drop. Mums should try to adjust to the time difference as soon as possible and get back on their normal diet.

Responses by Globalcare Women & Children’s Hospital's Dr Wu Guangqin, chief paediatrician

For toddlers

Image via Pixabay/Silver Stylus.

Do toddlers (one to three year olds) get jet lag? 

There is no authoritative research available right now that says so, but I believe that toddlers who have a regular bedtime schedule are affected by jet lag.

Is it bad for their health?

Adapting to a new time zone more or less changes the child’s quality of sleep, diet and vitality. But you can rest assured that this change is temporary and won’t damage your child’s health.

Do they adjust naturally or do they need help? 

The most important adjustment to make is regulating a new bedtime schedule. It might take longer for kids to adjust by themselves, so parents play a major role in this.

Should we start putting our toddler on the new time during the flight? 

I recommend you change their bedtime schedule one day before the flight, putting them to sleep one or two hours early or late, depending on the new time zone. Once on the flight, change to the new time completely and try to arrange activities accordingly. If your flight corresponds to the evening at your destination, try to keep your child calm so it’s easier for them to sleep.

Responses by Hong Kong International Medical Clinic's Dr Meng Xiaoping, chief paediatrician

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