Almost all drivers will carry a baby in their car at some point in their life. A sleeping baby is a blessing, but a crying baby can be a dangerous and difficult distraction. This guide tells you how to acclimatise your baby to your car and what to do if he or she won’t settle.
Some babies take to riding in a car straight away, while others can become restless and irritable at being constrained in a child seat. When at home, babies tend to have more freedom of movement and more direct physical contact. They can hear and see you and are used to the sounds and smells of their surroundings. Putting them in a car therefore can stress them.
What to do if your baby cries in your car
A baby’s distress is usually realised with crying, which is a sound that has been perfected by evolution to be very distracting for parents. As safety is your first concern when driving, trying to deal with the crying while still moving is not the best option. You shouldn’t take your baby out of its car seat while the car is moving, nor should you speed to get to your destination just to reduce the time spent in the car. If you are unable (or unwilling) to ignore the crying, pull over and attend to your baby.
Getting your baby used to the car seat
A car seat restricts a baby’s movement – it’s designed to do this to provide protection in a crash – but you can get your baby used to sitting in it. Bring the car seat into the house and make it part of a playtime. Put some toys in it and let your baby play with them. Then put the baby in the seat with the toys and interact with it.
Check that the car seat is still the correct size. As your baby grows you may need to update your seat, or adjust the settings.
Getting your baby used to your car
Now you’re baby is used to the car seat and you’ve checked that all the straps are correctly adjusted and that the seat is the right size, it’s time to try a few short trips while your baby is in a good mood. If you have another passenger who can go with you to keep an awake baby occupied, that will help psychologically anchor that going in the car is a pleasant experience.
As your baby will not be able to see your face (and might not be able to see you at all), place a t-shirt that you have worn in with your baby so that at least it has something with a familiar smell.
Set the environment
Use a sunshade for the window if it’s hot. You can wind the window down or use the air conditioning, too.
Plan your journey
Driving anywhere with a baby will take longer than you expect. You will need to stop for feeding and nappy changes, or if your baby becomes agitated. Plan some stops at rest areas. If you can travel when they usually sleep, this will give you some peaceful time.
There might be certain songs that your baby loves, or even a soundtrack of crashing waves. Experiment with playing different songs and sounds to see if your baby responds positively.
If your baby is ill, it is less likely to sleep or stay calm on a journey. If your baby is teething, give it a teething toy. Remember to never smoke in your car. This is illegal from October 2015 anyway.
Is your journey necessary by car?
Of course, you can also see if your journey is necessary by car. Would it be better to take the bus if it’s a short distance? That way, you can maintain contact with your baby all the time.
Darren has owned several companies in the automotive, advertising and education industries. He has run driving theory educational websites since 2010.