Inside: Does your baby scream when you put them in their car seat? You’re not alone! Here are 15 things you can do to stop your baby crying in their car seat. Plus, how to cope and still drive safely during those times when they just won’t stop screaming – no matter what you do.
I tried not to wince as I gingerly eased my four-month-old baby into the car seat.
“Please don’t cry, please don’t cry, please don’t cry,” I pleaded silently.
And she didn’t…until we started driving. Then the crying – make that SCREAMING – began in earnest.
As much as I tried to stay calm, I could feel my pulse quicken and the adrenaline start pumping through my body. I grew more and more anxious and angry because the crying wouldn’t stop.
I longed to pull over, pick her up and calm her screams, but I had an appointment I couldn’t miss.
I had no choice but to keep driving.
Your baby crying in their car seat is, in my opinion, one of the WORST experiences you can have as a new mom. You feel SO helpless!
Plus, they keep raising the recommended age when you can switch them to front-facing, possibly prolonging the car-seat-screaming phase (safety, good: more crying, bad).
Thankfully, after five babies, I discovered several tricks to stop the crying altogether OR to cope with it until I could pull over and/or arrive at our final destination.
Yes, You Should Try to Stop Your Baby From Crying in Their Carseat. Here’s Why.
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I’m sure you’re already aware that crying can trigger in YOU, the caregiver, anxiety, a rush of adrenaline and an intense urge to soothe the crying ASAP.
Apparently women are specifically wired to switch into “go mode” when they hear a baby crying. Lucky us.
(If you’re a man reading this, be thankful you’re exempt from the intensity of emotion and anxiety women experience when they hear a baby screaming.)
But more than anything, it’s really tough to focus on driving when there’s a little person screaming right behind your head.
Just because you’re not looking away from the road doesn’t mean you aren’t driving distracted, which can have serious consequences.
Screaming and crying from your baby in the car seat can absolutely distract you, break your focus, and even make you angry (because you can’t soothe the crying), all of which can negatively affect your driving.
So while addressing your baby’s comfort while in the car seat is important, sure, helping them cry LESS so that you can drive BETTER is even more important.
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Why Do Babies Cry in Their Car Seats, Anyway?
Babies have one primary method to communicate discomfort: crying.
Whether they are hungry, hot, scared, confused, or tired, it doesn’t matter. If they think something is wrong, they’re gonna cry to let you know.
Here are a few things that could be causing baby to scream in their car seat…
It could be temperament. Some babies genuinely just hate the car.
Whether it be from being strapped in, from lack of stimulation, the motion of the car, or something else, some babies just hate riding in the car from day one.
Your baby might have gas, or the car seat itself could be hurting them in some way.
There are so many aspects of a baby car seat that can be uncomfortable. The straps could be too tight, pinching, cutting into their skin, causing pressure, etc.
The sun could be in their eyes, which can shift depending on the time of day or direction you’re driving. Or they could be too hot or too cold.
Hunger will of course cause endless tears. The younger your baby is, the more often they need to eat. If you’ve been driving for a while and didn’t feed your baby before leaving, they might be hungry.
The inevitable poop or pee can cause crying, for sure. Imagine pooping on yourself while being tightly strapped into a car seat. I’d cry too!
Fear of being alone is a big one. If you are driving your baby alone they cannot see or feel anyone around them.
Not being able to see or smell their trusted adult can cause some serious distress, especially as they approach six-months-old.
How to Stop Your Baby From Crying in Their Car Seat: 15 Things to Try
All of your efforts are going to be focused on alleviating all the possibilities mentioned above.
Here are all the things I’ve tried with my car-seat-hating babies over the years to stop them from screaming in their car seats.
It’s worth exploring all of them until you find what works best for your particular situation.
While a few tips might be gold for helping one baby not to cry in their car seat, they might do nothing for another.
Test them out one by one, and hopefully car ride misery will soon be massively reduced for everyone involved.
1. Play calming music or white noise.
One option is to try playing calming music in the car which may help soothe your baby.
Try playing lullabies, classical music, Disney music, Fisher Price Little People music, or tunes from a familiar or favorite movie, if they have one.
If you use a white noise maker at home for naps and bedtime, you could also try playing white noise. We used something very similar to THIS CD with all of our babies.
2. Talk in different tones to your baby, or sing a familiar lullaby.
Sometimes, a baby just wants to know you’re still there. You can do that by talking to them.
If you can be heard over the crying, try talking in different tones – a sing-song voice, a silly voice, a deep voice. Change it up to hopefully catch their interest.
You could try singing, too. Maybe generic music isn’t their jam, but you singing a lullaby you always sing could do the trick.
3. Try a backseat mirror.
Another helpful trick is to get a car seat mirror so that baby can see you while in the car, as this can make them feel more secure.
This is a cheap and easy fix that can solve a lot of the aforementioned problems because obviously, realizing that mom hasn’t abandoned them is pretty darn comforting.
Caveat: Sometimes a mirror can have the opposite effect. Once your baby sees you, they might want out of that car seat ASAP, and the screaming can really amp up. So YMMV.
4. Address any sun issues.
For sun issues, you can put a screen up on the window or on multiple windows to keep the harshness of the sun out of babies’ eyes and keep them cooler as well.
There are multiple types available.
THESE lined car seat drapes were also super helpful when my babies were small, to block the difficult-to-block sun angles and keep them sleeping when they did fall asleep.
5. Keep new toys on hand.
If boredom is an issue, try changing out the toys every once in a while or giving teethers before leaving to keep them occupied.
If your baby is smaller, you can swap out car seat pull toys every couple car rides.
I found it very helpful to keep a toy box on the floor of the car so that I could quickly and easily hand my baby a new toy while at a stop light. This would at least delay the crying!
Related: Top 12 Minimalist Baby Toys for the First Year and Beyond
6. Keep extra pacifiers accessible.
Some babies adore pacifiers, and they can really, well, pacify them!
Remember that toy box I suggested you keep easily accessible to help keep baby entertained? Keep some extra binkies in there too if you have a paci-loving baby.
You might also want to try different types of pacifiers that may stay in better for your baby, like THESE orthodontic pacifiers. Each baby is different in which type they love or hate.
Before the days of older kiddos sitting next to baby, I spent many a drive with one hand on the wheel and one hand holding in that pacifier. It was easy to reach because we had a small vehicle and the car seat was in the middle seat.
You might also want to get a pacifier clip, so you can easily find the same paci over and over again (or if you’re working with an older baby, they can put it back in themselves).
7. Feed baby shortly before getting into the car.
Try to feed your baby very shortly before getting into the car.
Most tiny babies want to eat up to every half hour. That amount of time can easily lapse in a car ride.
If you feed your baby just prior to leaving (leaving time for burping of course) this can extend your comfortable non-crying time in the car.
They might even fall asleep shortly into your drive, if you’re lucky.
You can always pull over for a feeding break as needed as well.
This advice can work for MOST babies. But if your baby has a lot of tummy trouble such as gas, reflux, etc. this might not help at all or even make crying worse.
Which brings me to the next tip…
8. Or DON’T feed baby too close to when you get into the car.
On the flip side of that coin, if your baby suffers from severe stomach issues like reflux or gas you will not want to feed them too close to when you place them into their car seat.
This can be a really tricky problem because you need their tiny tummies to be fed so that you can drive a decent amount of time, but if they are going to be uncomfortable because of gas, picking, reflux, etc… then you can’t feed too close to drive-time.
You will find how long your baby needs but no matter what, burp them super duper well prior to strapping them into their car seat.
9. Change their diaper right before leaving.
If baby is strapped into a car seat with a dirty diaper that is sure to elicit some crying from the back seat.
Always bring multiple extra diapers if you go on a car ride (even if you expect it to be five minutes, THAT is when they will have a huge poop blowout every time).
If need be, pull over for a diaper change. But changing it just prior to leaving can help extend your baby’s tear-free driving time as well.
Be sure to have a blowout kit available in your car or diaper bag in case of an emergency blowout situation (#beentheredonethat).
10. Double check car seat straps.
5-point car seats can be really restrictive, especially the smaller you are.
When you strap your baby in, double check around their thighs to be sure there is no pinching or cutting in going on.
It might be time to move the straps up a notch as well. Refer to the car seat manual for guidance.
If your car seat did not come with car seat strap covers, you could try getting some of THESE covers to make your baby more comfortable.
Do not add extra cushioning like blankets or puffy jackets instead as these can make car seat straps ineffective in an accident.
11. Dress for the weather.
Babies are very sensitive to hot and cold and can’t withstand too much variation either way without bawling to complain. So on hot days, make sure to dress them accordingly.
Shorts tend to be more comfortable than just a onesie though because the straps of the car seat tend to uncomfortably dig into their plump little thighs.
On cold days dress baby in light layers, nothing puffy because in an accident that can compress and baby can slide right out of the seatbelt.
Instead, dress baby in layers (fleece is very warm without being too thick) and place a blanket over the seatbelt if additional warmth is needed.
12. Practice car seat time at home before you leave.
The tight constrained feeling of a car seat can bring a sensitive baby to tears. But just like any new and foreign feeling, with practice, it can become more comfortable.
Bring the car seat inside and strap your baby in and talk to and play with them, etc. This can help them learn that the car seat doesn’t have to be so scary.
Another option is to strap the car seat into their stroller (if yours has that ability) and take them for walks while strapped in to get used to the feeling.
I found stroller car seat training to make a huge difference when my babies were newborns.
13. Always check the car seat for possible irritants.
If you’ve tried everything and are at your wit’s end trying to help you baby be more comfortable in the car don’t forget to consider that there may simply be something in their seat that is causing their discomfort.
Check their seat each time before you buckle them in the car for toys, crumbs, a stray pacifier or anything else that may cause baby to cry to get your attention.
14. Keep something with your scent in the car seat with baby.
You might want to sleep with a stuffed animal so it picks up your scent.
Or you could put a tank top you’ve worn (and not washed) in the car seat with baby.
Just be careful that whatever you put in with them cannot be pulled over their nose and mouth.
15. If you have another adult in the car, have one of you sit with the baby.
Best case scenario, you’re driving with your partner or another adult, and one of you can sit in the back with baby. If you already know baby hates the car seat, this is a no brainer.
Which one sits next to baby…that depends on the baby.
If mom makes baby cry harder because you can’t take them out of the car seat, then choose your partner. But sometimes, mom can make the tears stop just by being there.
You or the other adult (or even older child, if you have one) can hold a pacifier in a mouth, pull a car seat toy for entertainment or shield baby from impossible sun angles.
What If Baby Won’t Stop Screaming in Their Car Seat, No Matter What You Do? Here’s How to Cope So You Can Drive Safely
Some days you can pull out all the tips and tricks, and nothing works.
Baby is determined to have the last
cry word. And they won’t even do you and them both a favor and fall asleep from all that crying!
Perseverance is a good trait…right?
When you’ve done all the things, but you’ve got a seriously strong-willed baby on your hands, you need strategies. Here are mine.
Turn up the music.
Sometimes, you have no choice but to keep driving. You need to get to that appointment or daycare or work.
And since wearing ear buds in both ears is illegal, try turning up your own music to distract yourself from the crying.
It might not work for long car rides, but it can at least get you to daycare or the grocery store safely.
Use a timer to determine pull over breaks.
If you’re on a car trip longer than 15 minutes, you may need to alternate between driving and pulling over for a nursing/holding or anything-that-involves-not-being-in-the-carseat break.
Set a timer for yourself to help you focus for 20-30 minutes of driving, even through crying. Tell yourself you’ll stop and get a break when the timer goes off.
Sometimes, baby will fall asleep by the time the timer goes off. Other times, you’ll still need the break.
Either way, the timer will give you the focus you need to drive safely, even with crying.
Use deep breathing to stay calm.
If the music isn’t working, and the crying isn’t stopping, try any type of deep, patterned breathing, like box breathing.
Inhale slowly for four counts, hold your breath for four counts, release for four counts and hold for four counts.
The deep breathing can help calm your pulse and racing thoughts caused by the crying, so you can get to your destination safely.
(I tended to be a rage driver when the crying went on and on – not good! This type of deep breathing usually helped me to calm down at least a little bit.)
Try essential oils.
I’m not a huge EO user, but for anxiety/calming purposes, I’m a big fan.
Keep a roller with lavender and/or peppermint diluted with oil to roll onto your wrists during longer crying sessions, when you have no choice but to keep driving.
If they can bring your anxiety or rage down just a few notches, it’s worth it.
Limit car seat time.
It’s not fun, but it’s a last resort you should seriously consider: you might need to consider limiting car time for a while.
If you live in a walkable city, or somewhere with public transit, consider those options with baby wearing or a stroller where baby faces you.
You might need to have groceries delivered, or invite friends to your house, instead of going to theirs.
Maybe you decide to put off that long road trip you were planning on this summer because it’s just not possible to drive that long with a screaming baby in the back.
I know, I know. Don’t let babies dictate your life, all the boomers say.
But there were days when my baby’s screams turned me into a sobbing mess, and possibly worse, into an angry driver. Sometimes, more driving just wasn’t worth it to me.
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Eventually, Babies Grow Out of Crying in Their Car Seats – Promise
Sometimes, I long for the good old days (the good is questionable) of no seat belt laws, when moms could sit in the back and nurse or hold baby while dad kept right on driving.
But here we are in the mid 2020’s, so we gotta deal with it.
Eventually, babies adjust to car seat time. They get older and figure out that driving and car seats are just part of life.
Until then, I hope some of these tips work for your baby and that you get a little relief from the screaming.
You’re gonna make it through this! One day it’ll be a thing of the past. Promise.
Read Next: When Baby Cries After Bath – 13 Ways to Calm Them Quickly
June could talk to you all day about homeschooling, parenting, and minimalism. When she’s not homeschooling, decluttering, or blogging, she loves to enjoy perfect silence while sipping a hot cup of coffee and thinking uninterrupted thoughts—which, of course, with five kids, doesn’t happen very often.