Babes On Wheels
Road trip tips for your baby’s first year
Babies can make surprisingly good car companions. Unlike older children, babies have yet to enter the whiny “are we there yet” stage, plus they won’t try to dictate the soundtrack on the road (brace yourself for years of kiddie tunes).
The baby can lie back in their comfy car seat, you can take breaks when you need to and, unlike airplane travel, you don’t have the ire of strangers to contend with. However, there can be an occasional bump in the road so here are a few things to consider when taking your little one on a car trip.
First and foremost, you’ll need an infant car seat, preferably installed in the center of the back seat facing towards the back of the car. Make sure you install it properly and that the baby is strapped in according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Rental car companies often have car seats for hire, but check ahead to make sure the size will be suitable for a baby. Smaller infants may need some sort of head support to keep from bobbing around – a small rolled blanket or even some diapers can be used to pad the area.
Ideally, someone will be sitting beside the baby, ready to coochie-coo and attend to basic needs at whim. If this seating arrangement is not possible and junior kicks up a fuss, remain calm and focus on the driving. If possible, find a safe place to pull over and soothe the baby. A quick feed, change or comfort hug ought to do the trick.
Don’t worry about staying on schedule – safety and compassion come first. There may come a time when your baby cries for no apparent reason. If you’ve tried the above and he or she is still worked up, you may have to steel your nerves and keep moving on despite the frenzy. Eventually your baby will tire out and the episode will pass.
The good news is the hum of the car motor often lulls a little one to sleep – something that babies tend to do a lot of anyways. The corollary is that this extra dreamtime might disrupt your baby’s usual sleep pattern and make for some long, alert nights. Be prepared and adapt your expectations for how the day/night will go.
When there’s a need to feed, your baby will let you know the urgency. Never take your baby out of a car seat while the vehicle is moving for this or any purpose. Find a safe place to pull over and give the baby a bottle or breast, a stretch, a diaper check and a cuddle. If someone is sitting beside the hungry one, a bottle or age-appropriate snack can be given while on the go.
Some nimble backseat mothers lean forward in their seatbelts and breastfeed with the child strapped in their rear-facing car seat. The hope is that the baby will drift off after the meal without being disturbed by the re-buckling-up process. This is a risky maneuver as you never know when a sudden stop might slam you into the baby. It’s safer to take the time to pull over.
You might want to invest in a window shade to shield your baby from the glare and harmful rays of the sun. There are some stick-on or suction-cup models on the market. Cover the seat with a blanket when you exit the car to protect the seat and metal buckles from getting too hot. Another nice-to-have is a backseat mirror so you can see your rear-facing baby from your rear-view mirror.
Car toys to stimulate and entertain the baby are also good to have on hand, although you may end up playing the “drop and retrieve” game more than you know. A toy bar or clip-on toy that attaches to the car seat is a worthwhile investment if you’re going to clock in a lot of road time. A cooler for bottles, food and drinks, a thermos for hot water formula mixing, a portable bottle warmer, a first-aid kit and a basic auto safety kit are all good to have on hand on a baby road trip.
However long you think the drive might take, you’ll have to factor in unexpected stops along the way. Hunger, diaper explosions and baby road rages don’t usually stick to a convenient schedule. Just go with the flow. You’ll get there when you get there.