It’s a bit of a myth that babies love the car. Truth is sometimes they sleep and sometimes they scream with more endurance than you would have thought possible for such a tiny creature. Having just returned from an AMAZING long car drive with my third baby here are a few things I have learned along the way to help make long car trips more peaceful.
1. Have A Baby Who Likes The Car
Some babies will just cry more in the car when others. So if I’m being really honest with the recipe, the first ingredient is an easy going baby who enjoys driving. Babies are born with different temperaments and if you have a crier on your hands it’s not your fault. Having said that some of these tips might help a little even with babies who don’t like the car. It’s well worth a try!
I love those mirrors for rear-facing babies so you can see each other. They may not always stop the crying but it’s a good way to stay in touch whilst driving. And sometimes you can talk or sing or make funny faces or play peekaboo in the mirror.
3. Express Breast Milk Whilst Driving
Not all that long ago mothers would just hold their babies in their laps in the passenger seat and breastfeed whilst dad was driving!! It’s hard to believe now that we know much more about car safety, but when your baby is screaming and you still have 4 hours of driving ahead of you, it’s easy to understand why that would be appealing.
A much safer option - that truly works - is something that one of my mother's group clients shared with me many years ago. One of the worst things about running a mothers group was the distress that driving to the group would cause some babies and their mothers.
My client shared her brilliant idea of feeding the baby a bottle of expressed breast milk in the car. You can pump in the passenger seat or even whilst driving with some fancy hands-free pumps. If your baby is really little, it helps if you have someone in the back with the baby to help them with the bottle.
Obviously, if you are formula feeding you can easily give your baby a bottle in the car.
This worked brilliantly for us on this long trip because our baby has just started crawling. It meant he could have milk and sleep in the car and then when we did stop for breaks he could stretch and wriggle and get some exercise ready for the next leg of driving.
4. Plan Your Trip Around Nap Times
Sometimes you have to drive a long way, much longer than nap time, and we all know babies don’t nap on cue! But if you can leave when your baby is drowsy then you have the best chance of a peaceful drive.
When you are driving and your baby is asleep, don’t stop for anything!! Stopping the car often wakes the baby up to make sure everyone has been to the toilet. A friend told me once she drove into the service station and her husband leapt out of the slowly moving car and made a dash for the toilet whilst she circled the car park. When he was done he leapt back into the car, still in slow motion, so they could continue the drive without stopping!! I’m not recommending this, clearly, it’s dangerous and probably illegal, but it worked - the baby stayed asleep. Just saying!
But seriously, drive when the baby is asleep and don’t stop!
5. Turn Your Baby’s Car Seat
Research shows it is safest to have your baby rear facing until 2 years and this is recommended and even enforced by law in some countries.
In Australia, your baby is only required by law to be in a rear-facing car seat until the age of 6 months. Whilst I recommend you keep your baby rear-facing as long as long as they fit in the car seat, if the crying is truly intolerable you could consider turning your baby once it’s legal.
Always check your local laws.
If your baby is young and rear facing, then the car seat is quite reclined and it’s generally unsafe to eat in the car.
If your baby is old enough and upright enough a pouch of baby food or some baby biscuits can go a long way.
Avoid foods that are choking hazards such as sausages and grapes in the car.
7. Sit In The Back
If your baby has older siblings they can be very entertaining in the back seat! My 6 and 4-year-old were hilarious and helpful with our baby on this car drive. They passed him toys and shook rattles and let him suck on their fingers. Or if there is another driver you can sit in the back with your baby.
8. Compassionate Meditation
Listening to your baby crying in the car is extremely stressful. You need to stay as calm as possible, the more distressed you become the more distressed your baby will become. You can feed off your emotions and you can really get into a downward spiral.
One of the best, evidence-based ways of keeping your own stress level reasonable is compassion meditation. This technique has been practised in Buddhism and has more recently been researched by neuroscientist Richard Davidson.
In a nutshell…
- Visualise your baby.
- On each inhalation imagine that you take in your baby’s suffering. Picture the pain and anguish leaving your baby’s body and going into yours.
- On each exhalation imagine the suffering is transformed into compassion. Direct the compassion back to your baby, a gift of empathy and love that will envelop your baby.
“Compassion meditation produces a trio of changes. First, it decreases personal distress, as reflected in decreased activation of the amygdala. Second, it increases activation in regions of the brain associated with goal-directed behaviour, as reflected in increased activation of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (the goal, in this case, is relieve the suffering…) Third, it increases the connectivity between the prefrontal cortex, the insole (where a representation of the body occur), and the nucleus accumbens (where motivation and reward are processed.) Rather than becoming depressed by suffering, people who are trained in compassion meditation develop a strong disposition to alleviate suffering and to wish others to be happy.”
- Richard Davidson, The Emotional Life of Your Brain
8. When All Else Fails
Turn on some music and put your foot down! Sometimes crying can’t be helped and you may need to tune out your baby’s crying in order to drive safely. Give your baby an extra big cuddle when you get there.