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Parenting on the road for happy family travels

D

o you long to travel as a family with your infant or toddler but find yourself hesitating because you fear how the sudden change in environment and lack of routine will impact them? What does parenting on the road look like?

The perceived stress of travelling with young children, the fear of disrupting a routine, and uncertainty around parenting away from the home environment are common barriers to taking that much dreamed of trip.

Parenting is all about adapting and responding to the needs of your child, and this is no different when you’re travelling.

For most children, the only requirement for optimal cognitive, psychological and physical development is a caregiver who is available to consistently meet their physiological and psychological needs.

If you are able to provide for your child and offer a safe environment and relationship from which they can develop the independence to explore the world, you are the only constant they need to travel happily.

Theo is now well accustomed to life on the road, long flights and car journeys lasting multiple days. He has seen more of the world than the average toddler and has had experiences that many adults are still waiting to tick off their bucket list.

Although he has demonstrated himself to be a natural traveller and he takes it all in his stride, like all children, he can get grumpy when he’s tired, overstimulated, bored or hungry. Parenting is all about adapting and responding to the needs of your child, and this is no different when you’re travelling.

 

We remain flexible, our plans change, and we choose activities that we will all enjoy. While we’re travelling, every day is different, we regularly jump time zones, we rarely stay in one place for longer than a week, and we have absolutely no routine with regards to eating, sleeping or anything else for that matter.

This lifestyle works for all of us and we all adapt easily, but I have no doubt that three elements of our parenting approach assist Theo in adjusting to the chaos of travel, and help him feel safe and secure in an ever-changing environment: breastfeeding, babywearing, and bed sharing.

This is what works for us. Remember that not every child is the same and this won’t necessarily be right for all families; follow medical advice relevant to you, listen to your own child’s cues and be their constant source of comfort and support, however works best for them.


Breastfeeding

I am still feeding Theo on demand, anywhere and everywhere. He feeds multiple times a day and if he’s unwell, teething or just a bit out of sorts, it can feel like I’m doing nothing but feeding him, all day long and then all night.

 

Although sometimes exhausting, this is exactly why I do it; he obviously feels he needs it more during these times and, as a parent, I am there to support him through life’s ups and downs.

As he gets older, his problem-solving capabilities and strategies for regulating his emotions will obviously become more sophisticated, but at this moment, breastfeeding helps him deal with the emotional turmoil of toddlerhood.

I include travel in this sentiment; every day he is taking in a whole host of new information, some sensory, some emotional and some hypothesis-driven. This can be a lot to process for such a little person, and some time to connect with Mum and feel safe in arms is often just what the doctor ordered.

 

Breast milk is amazing. It not only contains exactly the right balance of nutrients, antibodies and hormones for the child for whom it is intended, but it also changes according to circadian rhythms and over the length of an entire breastfeeding journey in order to meet the child’s individual needs at different times of day and at different stages of development.

Breast milk can soothe pain, fight illness and induce sleep so it makes sense that Theo increases his breast milk consumption when he feels under the weather, particularly if he doesn’t feel up to eating much solid food, and I can rest assured that he is getting everything he needs until he feels better.

Breastfeeding is not just about the physical need for milk though. No, Theo no longer needs breast milk to support his physical development, but this doesn’t mean it is the right time to stop as he clearly still benefits from all that breast milk offers him and feels comforted by the act of breastfeeding.

 

I am a firm advocate of child-led practices, whether it be play, eating meals, separating from primary caregivers to sleep or to be left with an alternate caregiver, selecting one’s clothes, or indeed weaning from the breast. Every child is different and it is important to follow their lead. Theo will let me know when he is ready to wean by refusing an offered feed and/or failing to ask for milk.

Weaning should be done without tears or distress, and it shouldn’t be received as a punishment. Certainly, refusing Theo milk now would cause him great upset and I’m sure would leave him wondering what he had done to be denied. When he is ready, he won’t bat an eye at a missed feed.


Babywearing

I have a variety of slings, wraps and carriers that get used daily (we have used a pram/stroller maybe a dozen times since Theo was born).

As a newborn and until Theo was about 4 months, a stretchy wrap was ideal for everything apart from hiking so I used a buckle carrier as well (the Ergobaby 360 Performance).

I then moved on to woven wraps, ring slings and a mei-tai (I love Little Frog’s woven wraps and ring slings).

Since the age of about 18 months, my preference has been buckle carriers (we’ve got a lot of use out of our Connecta and Connecta Solar). For longer, harder treks, we also have a sturdy backpack-style carrier (an Osprey Poco AG Premium).

 

Being carried in a sling has always been Theo’s favourite place to snuggle for a nap, and this remains unchanged. When the world is buzzing around you, a sling offers the peace of a rhythmic heartbeat drowning out the chaos, the warmth of being held in a tight embrace, and the comforting smell of a caregiver.

 

I tend to carry Theo on my front facing me as I prefer that we are able to socially engage with eye contact, smiles, conversation and by pointing out elements of our surroundings to one another, but we do also back-carry and forward-face on occasion.

When he is not napping, being carried in a sling is still a time to connect with me, not just physically, but also by being engaged in social interaction that helps him figure out his changing environment.

 

If you choose to carry your child, remember to always follow the TICKS rules for safe babywearing.


Bed sharing

We have bed shared with Theo since birth, following safe co-sleeping recommendations.

Although it wasn’t our intention to bed share before he was born, it was clear that he was much happier being close to us, it was easier to soothe him through the pain of multiple allergies and silent reflux, and it has undoubtedly supported our breastfeeding journey.

When he was really little, we found using a Sleepyhead pillow in our bed gave us peace of mind and we were easily able to stuff it in a suitcase. Along with our stretchy wrap, it was one of our best buys for those early months! He outgrew this at about 6 months (around the same time you might ditch a Moses basket/bassinet) and since then he has just slept directly in our bed.

 

Whenever he decides that he’s ready to sleep on his own, there will be a room waiting for him, but for now, we all get a better night’s sleep when we’re cuddled up together so it works for our family.

It has also made travelling a lot easier, not to mention cheaper. There’s no need to lug a travel cot around, we avoid any potential excess baggage fees, and we can book cheaper accommodation with only one bed.

For Theo, it doesn’t matter where we’re sleeping or that he doesn’t recognise the room; he knows that I’m right next to him. If he wakes in the night, there’s no need to cry out for me, or sleepily wander unfamiliar corridors in search of us; he just reaches over for a cuddle.


All children are different and although the practices of breastfeeding, babywearing and bed sharing are wonderful for us and help Theo feel safe wherever we are, they may not be the right choice, or indeed a choice that is available, for every family. Follow your child.

Some children will find a lack of routine, an unexpected change in environment and periods of transition difficult regardless of how you try to comfort and reassure them.

If this is the case for your child, I recommend creating a storybook appropriate for the age and development of your child, and reading this frequently in the run up to your trip. Include pictures and simple words to depict your family packing your belongings, waving goodbye to your home, details of your journey and chosen method of transport, your destination and what you will do there, and when you will return. If possible, print images of wherever you’ll be staying so you can talk about the area and even the room they will be sleeping in, but make sure that whatever you include in the story, you are able to stick to!

I wish you happy travels with happy little ones!


Where can I buy the items mentioned in this post?

The in-text links will take you to the item listing on Amazon. I receive a small commission if you buy something using these links (but not if you leave the page and then go back to it later). This enables me to keep writing this blog and producing useful information.

When choosing a baby carrier, I recommend finding a sling library near you so that you can try out different options and figure out what you find most comfortable and will work best for your needs.


I am a Clinical Psychologist and wrote this article from both a professional and personal perspective. I am, as always, happy to hear from readers so don’t hesitate to send me a message with any questions. However, if you have any concerns about your child(ren) with regards to anything mentioned in this article, please speak to your doctor.
This article was written for and first published by The Natural Parent Magazine

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