Inside: When you’re planning a long car journey with a baby, you need to put in some prep work ahead of time. Doing these 10 things can make it a smoother, saner and less chaotic long car ride (for baby and you).
I clearly remember the last long road trip we took with our baby.
Actually, the trip, not so much. Just the screaming is what is seared into my brain.
I should’ve known it wouldn’t be easy, as our daughter never really liked car rides in general, no matter how short.
It wasn’t so horrible until about the last two hours. But even so, those last two hours were little too memorable.
With a tad more planning, though, I think it could have at least been less miserable.
If you’re already dreading driving a long distance with your baby (I definitely did), here’s some good news: there are ways to entertain, distract, and simply make your baby – and therefore, YOU – more comfortable.
10 Tips for a Long Car Journey with a Baby (Because Driving Long Distances with a Baby Can Be the Tough)
If you implement just a few of these ideas, I know it will go a long way toward making the whole road trip experience better for everyone.
Although, sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but if you previously loved long car rides…you might not after taking one with an infant.
Unless you were gifted the world’s sweetest baby with the absolute mildest temperament (if that’s you – congrats! you won’t the baby lottery!), driving long distance with a baby isn’t usually very fun.
And it might be more than a few years before road tips become enjoyable again.
But on the brighter side, there are definitely ways to make a road trip with an infant not so terrible.
Here are my top ten tips for a better long car ride with your baby.
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1. Plan for more (far more) frequent breaks than you think you’ll need.
As someone who’s a total optimist when it comes to planning and scheduling…I have been burned more than once by impractical travel ideas with kids. And this is especially true with babies.
You might literally need to stop every hour at least for a few minutes at a time. When your baby naps, you might be able to power through and make up a little time then.
In any event, just be prepared for about doubling the amount of time you think you’ll need for breaks.
Not only that, there are safety concerns with prolonged car seat use for infants. Through about 6 months of age, the recommendation is no longer than 2 hours at a time in a car seat.
Pro Tip: Map out stops about every hour of your road trip ahead of time, so you’ll know the best places to pull over ahead of time IF you need them. It can be stressful having to figure this out at the moment (i.e., when the baby is having a meltdown).
2. Consider traveling overnight.
Depending on how far you’re traveling, an overnight departure might be a great idea.
You could take turns with your spouse and split the driving 50/50.
My husband used to work the night shift early in our marriage, and he still seems to have no problem pulling an all-nighter. I, on the other hand, just can’t.
But if your baby tends to be a good sleeper at night in a moving vehicle, it can be well worth the temporary schedule adjustment for mom and/or dad.
3. Sit with your baby as much as possible.
This is a no-brainer, but our babies were always a little calmer on car rides where I could sit beside them and hold their hand.
When your baby is rear-facing, it can make them anxious or simply bored when they can’t interact with you.
Having a sibling sit beside them can be a mixed bag, depending on their age. We all know some sibling combos just don’t mix in the car!
(Unless you really like yelling “Keep.your.hands.to.yourself” every 3 minutes)
I struggle with motion sickness in the backseat, so usually I would try to shift to the front seat whenever the baby was napping.
There are also mirrors you can strap to the headrest of the backseat, which could give you and your baby both a measure of comfort when you can’t be right beside them.
4. If breastfeeding, pump breastmilk and introduce bottles before your trip.
If you’re breastfeeding, you know how hard it is to be in the car and not be able to feed your baby until you stop.
So if you’re planning to feed breast milk from a bottle, I cannot emphasize enough: make sure you start practicing ahead of time! It can take some practice (and a lot of coaxing) for babies to accept a bottle at first.
Once you get your baby to take a bottle, you will need to keep it up at least one bottle every other day.
Often, a baby will refuse a bottle of breastmilk from their mom, but might allow it with Dad. So consider driving and letting dad bottle feed when it’s meal time.
Editor’s Note: I may or may not have sat next to a baby on a long car trip and managed to breastfeed my baby by leaning over the car seat. If you have Houdini-like flexibility, keep this in the back of your mind as a last resort option.
5. Address reflux before you leave.
I am pretty convinced that my babies’ reflux issues were part of the reason they struggled with car rides.
Most doctors are hesitant to prescribe reflux medicine for spitting up unless it’s affecting their weight gain, which is understandable. However, there are many reasons babies can be “spitters”, which I wish I had known more about at the time.
This article discusses some of the reasons for reflux and might lead to some solutions to help your baby with excessive spitting up and discomfort in the car seat.
Talking to your health practitioner (even getting a second opinion), and coming up with a plan to address reflux might make a huge difference!
6. Consider a new car seat if necessary.
If your baby has always seemed uncomfortable in the car and reflux isn’t the issue, maybe there is some other reason that has to do with your particular car seat.
I’ve had a few car seats that my babies simply hated!
One carseat we had for our middle child, in fact, was just not compatible with the shape of our backseat. I took it to a car seat technician and she told me she had tons of complaints with that particular seat, which was good to know.
My sister recently bought a new Evenflo Revolve360 seat that, whatever reason, helped to calm her baby in the car while rear-facing. It swivels both directions, making it easier to latch the baby in a comfortable position.
When you’re driving long distance with a baby and have to make frequent stops, I can see how this feature might be a sanity-saver!
I know buying a new car seat isn’t fun, but just maybe…a better long car ride with your baby is priceless? Or something like that.
7. Become a master of distraction.
Introducing some new toys and books can be a great trick for keeping a baby’s attention OFF the fact that they’re stuck in a car seat.
If you’ve ever used a toy rotation system at home, you know what I mean.
It doesn’t have to be newly purchased items, just toys they haven’t seen in a while. When you rotate them frequently, suddenly they’re novel again.
If you’re taking a long car journey with a baby, consider rotating toys from a hidden spot in the car during different legs of the journey.
This works even better when you’re traveling with a partner or friend – any other adult who can distract baby during the car journey.
Some great toys and books for the car:
8. Invest in a sun shade.
Stick-on sun shades made life much easier for us on road trips, or even shorter car rides.
Colorful ones like THIS one also give your baby something interesting to focus on.
(Maybe even buy two and rotate, just like the toys.)
9. Splurge on fun snacks.
If your baby is old enough for foods beyond the bottle, it’s time to pull out all the stops.
It can definitely be difficult to serve fresh, whole foods to a baby when you’re driving long distances, so buy some easy-to-pack, fun treats that can help distract and entertain your infant between meals.
10. Break out the tech as a last resort.
I have to admit my low-tech bias here, but I only save screens for babies as an absolute last resort.
An innocent cartoon or Youtube show always seemed like it “did the trick” at first, but when the phone had to go bye-bye…my baby would turn into a monster.
At the same time, desperate times call for desperate measures.
I won’t call the screen police if you’ve exhausted all other options, and your baby won’t stop crying. Use screens: it will be ok.
Planning and Patience: The Keys to a Long Car Ride with a Baby
Taking a long car ride can be exciting for the big people in the car, but not always so for the littles.
Having realistic expectations is definitely something I lacked as a new mom.
The bottom line: Do what your infant needs, and just accept that it will be better for everyone to accommodate them!
If it seems like you’ve done everything possible (fed, changed, sang, distracted) and nothing is working, don’t beat yourself up.
Most likely, your baby just wants you, and is missing their familiar home and routine.
With some careful planning and a baby-centric mindset, you can make it to your destination with (most of) your sanity intact.
You might even manage to make some fun memories along the way.