When my baby was little he absolutely hated the car. We’re talking full-blown meltdown, screaming until he was red in the face, sweaty and inconsolable. This was a big problem for us. My family live in Cornwall (almost 300 miles away). I had recently moved to a new town 30+ miles away from most of my friends. I have never really been an indoors kind of person so wanted to be out and about doing things, so I started to look for ways to improve car journey’s with a baby.
I had imagined my maternity leave visiting friends with an angelic sleeping baby in the back of the car. Instead, I suffered fraught journeys, stuck on the motorway (mostly the concrete car park otherwise known as the M25) with a very irate baby. I dreaded even the shortest trips to run errands and started to resign myself to a life of staying at home or only going to places I could walk to! After 15 years of living away from home, being fiercely independent and driving myself anywhere I wanted, I felt defeated.
To top it off, I kept reading that babies like the movement of the car, it is apparently comforting to them. In numerous articles, I read that if you are struggling to get your baby to sleep then drive them around in the car- it is a sure fire way to get them to drift off. Yeah right! What on earth was wrong with my baby? After a particularly harrowing 30 min car journey full of screaming (from the baby) and a few tears (from myself), I headed to google for help. To my surprise, I found that I was not the only one with a baby that hated the car!!
If you currently have a baby that screams through every car journey then be reassured it gets better with time. At 20 months old my little bear cub now sits happily in the car, chats, looks out the window and sings along to nursery rhymes. From his first birthday, things got progressively better, with a big turning point at about 18 months. To stop myself becoming an utter recluse in that first year here’s some of the things we tried. If you’re having problems with car journey’s, why don’t you try some of these things?
11 Ways to Improve Car Journey’s with a Baby
1. New Car Seat
This was one of the first things we did when we could go on no longer with the crying in the backseat of the car! All the new mums that I spent time with seemed to carry their little darlings around in their car seat carry cots, they’d sleep peacefully through coffee dates with short breaks to stretch and feed them, then they’d settle back into their little-cocooned car seat ready for their next journey. On the other hand, my screaming monster was lifted straight out of his car seat as soon as the journey finished in an attempt to soothe him and he was always much happier in a sling close to me. Once in arms, he’d feed and coo at me but as soon as I tried to put him back in the car seat all hell would break loose. In our wisdom we thought he must hate his car seat, maybe its the wrong dimensions for his little body so we went to look at more ‘comfortable’ seats with newborn inserts, which we would need to buy in a few months anyway. This improved things slightly, but in hindsight, it was probably less to do with the comfort of his new seat and more to do with him growing out of the 4th trimester and a newborn’s physical need to be close to his caregiver.
After investing in a white noise machine and various apps to help the little bear cub sleep better at night we also tried white noise in the car to see if it would soothe him. The car radio was constantly programmed to classical FM in the early months and then after reading Sarah Ockwell-Smith’s ‘Gentle Sleep’ book (which I would highly recommend helping you understand normal infant sleep patterns). We had some success with her recommended alpha music‘Gentle sleep music for babies’ which you can buy from Amazon. Be warned though – much of the background nature noises are of water/rivers/rainstorms and listening to this on repeat for a 4-hour car journey makes you want to pee – A LOT!
3. Reduce Car Journeys
As much as I still wanted to get out and about I just couldn’t face it. Our regular 4.5-5 hour journey to see family in Cornwall was now taking us 7-8 hours due to frequent stopping to calm an upset baby. So for a few months, I lay low. For short journeys around town, I often walked, telling myself it was good for my postnatal recovery (it probably w. But the truth of the matter was I couldn’t face putting him in the car if it wasn’t absolutely necessary! I used to calculate on the map how far away an activity was to decide if I could manage walking there! This got progressively harder through the cold rainy winter months and I was very happy when spring came back around.
4. Time Journeys to Coincide with Nap Time
I did this a lot. If there was a choice I’d wait until he was sleepy so he had a better chance of dropping off in the car and therefore we’d have a more relaxed journey. It was a fine balance though – too tired and that resulted in a full-blown crying fit. Although a little restrictive it allowed me to get out and about and see a few friends that I couldn’t walk to. I also timed journey’s to avoid rush hour and heavy traffic. Driving a moving car on your own with a crying baby is stressful enough, crawling along in rush hour traffic with a crying baby in the back is absolute torture.
5. Sit in the Back of the Car
During our first long journey to Cornwall he started wailing as we joined the M4, the road sign reliably informed us that Reading services were 22 miles away, the traffic was heavy and schoolboy error – I’d sat in the front seat! That was a very unpleasant half an hour and made worse when you know you’re on the motorway and can’t pull over easily. From then on one of us always sat in the back with him. This way we can distract him by passing toys, making silly faces, singing him nursery rhymes etc.
During my internet search, I came across a theory that babies who don’t like travelling in the car, go on to be children who experience car sickness when they grow up. I wondered his dislike of travelling in the car was due to feeling nauseous. So armed with my best citrus oils, peppermint and ginger on a handkerchief I wafted some essential oils under his nose. I also tried giving him items of our dirty clothing to cuddle in the car to see if our smell would settle him.
This did not work for us. Early on I decided I would not use a dummy for my child but desperate times called for desperate measures. However it was too late and he was too old to take to it – so he just spat it across the car at me!
8. Screen Time
As he got older he got easier to distract using technology.
One of his favourite things to do is watch video’s on our phones OF HIMSELF! (kids so are vain). I also found a 10 min video on youtube with swirly spotty dots and calming music, it was very soothing and worked every time to calm him down for a little while. It’s called ‘Make a Baby Stop Crying’ and you can find ithere. Try it – I guarantee it’ll work! As he’s got older he will now watch short shows on a tablet, this has been a lifesaver to get through long journeys.
9. Cranial Osteopathy
This was frankly amazing. After hearing mixed reviews about its effectiveness I was dubious but tried it as a last-ditch attempt to try and calm a generally fussy baby. It was not cheap but we saw immediate effects. The cost was definitely worth it to see the improvement in his general demeanour. We required two sessions and the osteopath showed us some techniques that we could use on the little bear cub between appointments. He was defiantly a calmer baby after the treatments and car journeys became slightly more bearable.
Snacks can be a great distraction for them but are obviously no good for the younger baby. As an exclusively breastfed baby, he would not take easily to a bottle of expressed milk in the car. In desperation, I have managed to contort myself into many different positions on more than one occasion to pacify him with the breast. This is probably my top tip and worked every time – although very uncomfortable for me! This is one of the only times having larger breasts was an advantage! For all the challenges I experienced learning to breastfeed with big boobs see my post The Ultimate Guide to Breastfeeding for Women with Large Breasts
11. Wait it out
This is probably not what you want to hear but hand on heart the only thing that really worked was waiting until he was older. From 12 months he seemed much happier travelling in the car, he’ll now happily look out of the window and babble away to himself in the back. Apart from the initial fuss of being strapped into the car seat, I don’t think we’ve had a single meltdown since he’s been 18 months old. I managed my first solo trip to Cornwall with him when he was 18 months old. So, for all those parents out there struggling with car journeys – try these things and remember like everything else in parenting ‘it’s just a phase’! Things will get better as they get older.
I reached out to these awesome parent blogger friends of mine for some of their most useful tips. Thanks for all the suggestions.
Pete My daughter loved watching In The Night Garden for as long as I can remember. We bought her the CD and we would play it whenever she became fractious in the car. It usually brought us at least 20 minutes extra as she would coo to the music.www.householdmoneysaving.comManage
NicolaWe have a nursery rhymes CD which features 27 nursery rhymes sang by children. It drives me potty but my son adores it and it calms him down anytime we have a long journey or he is starting to get a bit agitated. He’s 23 months and has just started singing along to it
Sara-Jayne I found that mine were happier when they could either see my face and it was reassuring, or I could hold their hand. Then we graduated to finger, hand near them and so on. My first just hated it, I had to try really hard not to show I was worried he was so sad too. We also tried music with a steady beat, that seemed to work very well and send him to sleep too.https://www.keep-up-with-the-jones-family.com
Laura @ediwithkids I tried so many different things with my daughter but she just hated it. Taking the ‘wedge’ out of her car seat improved things slightly but we had to plan to break up long journeys or schedule them for nap times. It really was miserable but did eventually improve so positive thinking!Http://edinburghwithkids.com
Janet@falcondalejan Hardly anything worked with my babies, especially my eldest. She usually screamed and wouldn’t sleep! It was a bit better when I sat in the back with her and my husband drove. She liked company in the back seat. We reorganized life entirely. We got relatives to visit us instead of us visiting them. Things improved after a few years and then we made up for lost time.https://falcondalelife.com
Nina I put the baby seat on the passenger seat so I could chat, offer toys, rescue the dummy and monitor for reflux. That worked well until my son went forward facing and then he cheered up in the car.Www.nonigebaby.com
SalDistraction toys/books can help – in desperation, a tablet in a holder with their favourite films/baby shows and little snacks. It’s not an easy task when they dislike it so much but its all about making it enjoyable and relaxing and getting them used to the car itself. Also sometimes sitting in the back with them until they’re used to it helps!www.hellolittlelovely.com1
Emma-Louise @oncefallenangelWe ended up getting those in-car DVD players and they have been a lifesaver when the kids aren’t so keen to travel. We regularly go on long journeys to visit my brother and his family in the North of England so we needed something that would keep their attention for a long time, and it’s worked!http://evenangelsfall.com
A big thank you to all these parent blogger contributors for their tips.
How is your baby in the car? I’d love to know what worked for you.