Baby, You Can Drive My Car
by Nancy Anthony, CPST
Actually, DAL does NOT recommend having your baby drive your car. But, as a car seat technician, I do get a lot of questions about taking babies on road trips. If you are planning on a long drive over the holiday season, I have a few tips and tricks to help you and your baby have a pleasant, lower-stress adventure with a car seat.
Maintain your routines and take your time.
Parents always want to know how long is too long for a baby to ride in their car seat. There is no official or exact answer to this question. When planning your trip, consider your child’s current sleeping and eating schedule. Reduce everyone’s stress by working around your child’s schedule rather than ignoring it or fighting against it. Plan to drive longer stretches when your child normally naps and stop when baby gets hungry or fussy.
Everyone will be happier if you listen and respond to your baby when they indicate to you that they need a stretch break, a clean diaper, or a snack.
Be kind to yourself as well. Listening to your own needs for rest and nourishment will make you a better parent and a safer driver. If this is your first road trip with a child, factor in more frequent stops and a longer travel time overall.
Take the time to stop and safely feed your baby as usual. The baby will appreciate getting out of their car seat and having some cuddle and play time. Never remove your child from their car seat to feed them while the vehicle is in motion.
It’s also not recommended to prop a bottle for a baby in the car, as it can present a choking hazard.
If you are nursing, you may want to invest in a travel pump. You’ll also need a supply of milk storage bags or bottles, and a cooler with ice. Plan a way to clean the pump between uses. Remember to stay hydrated (we forget to drink enough when traveling) and pump or nurse at your normal frequency to maintain your supply.
When possible, have one adult (or older sibling) sit in the back seat to remind your baby they are not alone. Talk and sing to your child. Bring lots of small, varied toys and books to entertain your child. Collect a bag of things with different colors, textures, sounds, etc. Offer one item at a time and rotate them as needed to maintain interest.
Even the youngest babies enjoy looking at new things now and then.
You can hang soft items from the carry handle of your car seat (make sure the carry handle is in a position approved for travel).
Dress your baby in soft, comfortable clothing on long trips. Consider sleepers or pajamas. If your baby is fussy and you’ve tried everything else, I recommend trying a change of clothes.
Sitting in a car seat for an extended period of time can turn a normally small sensory annoyance into an unbearable torture.
Maybe your baby is too cold or too warm. Perhaps they have a tag or a seam irritating them. Maybe their socks are too tight or their jeans are pinching. Many parents find a change of clothes can instantly change their baby’s attitude.
Pre-trip car seat tune-up
Take a few minutes before you hit the road to make sure your baby is as safe as possible.
- Is your child still within the weight and height limits of their current car seat? If they are rear-facing, do they have at least one inch of room above the top of their head and the shell of their seat?
- Have you checked your car seat for recalls lately? Simply google “car seat recalls” or click HERE to check your particular seat.
- Make sure your car seat is not expired. All car seats have an expiration, or “do not use after” date on a sticker attached to the seat or imprinted directly into the plastic shell. Expired car seats may not function as originally intended.
- Check your car seat installation. Does it slide less than one inch side-to-side or front-to-back? Is it at the proper recline angle? Click HERE to find out more about this important topic.
Enjoy! Wishing everyone a safe and happy holiday season!
Nancy has been a NHTSA-Certified (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) Child Passenger Safety Technician and Instructor since 2002. She is passionate about protecting our children from one of the worst dangers in the United States – car crashes. She loves to help parents select, install, and use their child’s car seat correctly. If you are unable to afford a car seat, she may be able to assist you in obtaining a new one. Nancy lives in Sandia Park with her husband and two children.