Not all of us win the lottery when it comes to kids and car rides. Some parents love driving their babies or kids around because they’re guaranteed to knock out during the ride. Other parents, not so much.
If your baby screams as if they’re being tortured during any drive or if your toddler gets carsick, I know how traumatic it can feel for you, momma. I have two kids and they are like night and day when it comes to personalities. Their reactions to car rides….also like night and day. My son was so easy. My daughter, on the other hand, screamed and cried anytime she was in a car seat. So, I understand how your blood pressure and anxiety can rise in that tense, boxed-in situation. I also understand how completely confusing it is to figure out why they’re so upset and what will soothe them. So, all that said, I hope that this post will at least give you some new ideas to try and a little more peace.
But first, before we get into it all, I want to point out a few important things to keep in mind:
Your best defense is ALWAYS your own intuition and observations. Trust it.
Nearly every momma I’ve talked to that has had the same problem always agree on the same thing--it gets better when you’re able to turn them around in a front-facing car seat. If your baby isn’t big enough for that yet, I realize that doesn’t help you much right now. Just know that it WILL get better. This is temporary.
I want to remind you that, even though your baby or child might be very upset and it is a high-stress situation for you, your baby is safe and OK. The most important thing above all else is that you’re able to continue doing the things you need to do in your day and that you’re able to keep as much of your focus on the road as possible.
So, what causes all this upset in the car?
Until our littles are able to communicate with us exactly what’s going on, it’s a bit of a crapshoot, let’s be honest. Still, there are some common things that tend to make car rides rough for babies. It could be:
Overheating in their car seat. Have you ever noticed how hot and sweaty your baby is when you take them out of the car seat? Those fabrics and all that plastic….they’re not the most breathable things in the world.
Motion sickness. Those car seats don’t really prioritize your baby getting a good view out the window. It’s very possible that the whirring of street lamps, clouds, and buildings is giving them motion sickness, when most of what they’re able to see is just your backseat.
Separation anxiety. This is a very real thing that starts around age 6 or 7 months and ends by age 2 years. Even though you’re there, if they can’t see or hear you, it might be upsetting to them.
Seat positioning is uncomfortable. I mean, who really knows here, but if it’s not advised to let your child sleep in a car seat for an extended period of time because it is considered unsafe, it can’t be all that comfortable either.
Overstimulation. Let’s face it, we all just want some peace and quiet sometimes. Babies can be very sensitive to overstimulation, so it’s possible that the noise from other vehicles, the music and chatter from the radio, the zooming sights from the windows, the glare of the sun….it all might just be too much.
And what can you do about it? I have some ideas of things to try:
Plan ahead - Try to avoid rush hour and try to plan longer trips for times when you think baby will nap.
Crack the window nearest your baby ALWAYS (even if it seems too cold outside to do so). The fresh air and circulation will help.
Try a small portable fan to increase air circulation.
If you suspect overheating is a problem, keep the a/c cranked up (this might make you or others chilly, but could be worth it if it means a quiet, calm baby).
Throw a light blanket or swaddler over the car seat to block baby’s view from zooming objects/lights (car window shades might be worth a try, or might make motion sickness worse).
Singing songs (my daughter liked it when I would find ways to work her name into the song).
Have someone sit in back with baby to engage with or read to them.
Try infant-sized Seabands - these can be really hit or miss, but the idea is that it puts pressure on the accupressure point in the user’s wrist to calm nausea.
Some mommas have had great luck with essential oil blends for upset tummies. Just make sure the oils used are safe for babies or small children.
A cold wet washcloth or frozen teething toy can help to calm upset tummies or soothe teething gums.
Keep a bottle or sippy cup of water or juice on hand. If your child is older, something carbonated can really help to settle an upset tummy.
Keep starchy snacks in the car to settle upset tummies or give baby something to do (once they’re old enough for solid foods, of course).
Try lollipops or popsicles - You might have to choose between the lesser of the two evils here…..a calm and content kiddo with a messy, sugary snack or no sugar, no mess, but an upset child. It’s all about picking your battles.
On longer drives, plan on frequent stops for feedings/diaper changes or just to get baby out of seat for a bit. We all deserve breaks during a rough ride.
Choose toys that will keep their focus in one place. Magnetic drawing boards are great for this.
For smaller babies, a mirror where they can look at themselves can sometimes serve as a great focal point.
On longer drives (especially if you’ve discovered that motion sickness is the cause of your child’s upset), a portable dvd player, ipad, or child’s gaming device can be a life-saver because it’s sure to keep your child’s focus in one place, rather than noticing the whirring of objects outside the car. Again, another situation where you might have to pick your battles, particularly if you’re not a fan of screen time for your child, but if you’ve just got to make it through a 2-hour drive, this could mean the difference between a messy, unexpected pit stop and a barf-free happy ride.
And, of course, a spare change of clothes, paper towels and/or baby wipes are generally just a good idea to have in the car at all times. Just in case.
I know it’s torturous, momma, to have a little one that doesn’t do well in the car. Be sure you’re finding ways to shake that stress off after a rough trip. And try out some of these suggestions to see if they work for you and your family. I promise, it’s temporary. Even if it proves to be car sickness, the older and taller your child gets, the better it will get for them. Nothing lasts forever. You’ve got this.
What tricks have you tried to make it through a rough car ride with your littles? What worked or didn’t work? I’d love to hear!
Want more support for things like this from a group of mommas who get the struggle? My next round of "Just Between Moms" is starting up on April 27th!