- Teach Your Baby to Sleep in the Car Seat
The first thing you should start as soon as you can is to train your baby to remain in the car seat for longer periods of time and if possible, even take longer naps in the car seat. You can start off by doing them in increments…start putting your baby in the car seat at home. Then, try a longer drive to visit a family member or take a drive to see sights that are a bit farther off. Try to keep these journeys flexible; ie. it doesn’t matter greatly if you arrive at your chosen destination or not. If things get too bad, you can cancel the journey and head back home with no great loss. The more often you do this, the more comfortable your baby will feel about being in a car seat for longer periods of time. When you start the training, the MOST important thing to remember is to try and keep those journeys fun, happy and calm. This means that YOU have to stay happy and calm, even if your child is having a meltdown and you are stuck at the traffic light and can’t stop. Our babies often sense our own moods and are very much influenced by it. If your baby starts having an epic meltdown, try to stop somewhere safe and check on your baby. Check for diaper changes and feed your baby if you can. Do whatever is necessary to help your baby feel calm again and then, try coaxing your baby back into the car seat to either continue to your destination or head home. Be prepared for the worst but it does get better.
- Travel at Night if You Can
If you can, try to plan your journey to happen at night. This will help your baby to stay asleep throughout most of the journey.
- Stop for Breaks ONLY When Your Baby is Awake
If you don’t want to drive through the night, you will need to plan for stops while your baby is awake. Once baby starts napping less during the day, we realized that it was important that we stop only when she herself had woken up from a nap. Do not make the mistake of taking your car breaks when she is still sleeping. When your baby is awake, he or she will want a stretch as well and you will be forced to stop, whether you like it or not. We didn’t do this the first time and when we finished our break and was ready to keep going, our baby woke and we were forced to stop for another good half hour again before she would consent to get back in the car seat. If your baby has regular sleep patterns during the day, then try to plan your breaks around interesting places that you can stop to give your baby a break. It could be where there is a local town or city with a Target or playground or somewhere where both you and baby will enjoy stopping.
- Plan for At Least 30 Minute Breaks
Even if you only need a toilet break of 5 minutes, be prepared to stop for at least 30 minutes when your baby cries to be let out. As mentioned earlier, these breaks should coincide during the end of your baby’s nap schedule. The reason why you need to play for at least 30 minute breaks along the way is because your baby needs that amount of time to stretch, play and spend some time with you. It also allows your baby a change of scenery and a chance to be outside of the car seat. If your baby is crawling or walking, a place like Target where you can do some shopping while your baby moves around the store with you is ideal.
- Plan for Having to Make Unexpected Stops
And despite your best made plans, you need to plan for unexpected stops. Maybe your baby is just feeling especially cranky. Just stay flexible, remain calm and leave lots of extra time for unexpected stops!
- Dress Your Baby for Comfort
It’s pretty obvious that you should not put your baby in scratchy, hot clothes for the car seat. Depending on the weather, you may even want to dress your baby in his or her favorite pajamas. This might trick your baby into staying asleep for most of the journey!
- Bring Along Your Baby’s Favorite Toys
You probably already know this but it is important enough to mention…bring along your baby’s favorite comfort toys. If your baby has an attachment toy such as a blanket, teether or soft toy, make sure you bring it. This can make or break a car journey. If your child doesn’t have an attachment toy, bring along toys that he or she seems to find interesting. Better still, bring many toys along and circulate the toys so that she gets to play with something new every hour to two hours or so. If you are an advanced planning type of parent, decide a few weeks in advance of your journey which toys you will bring along on the trip and hide them. Then take them out and present them to your child during the journey and hopefully, he or she will be so happy to see them, that those toys will engage your baby for quite a while. Here are some suggestions of toys that have a lot of different functions and play possibilities that would make great toys for long car journeys: Melissa & Doug Take-Along Folding Wild Safari Play Mat with Toys We like the Melissa & Doug Take-Along Folding Wild Safari Play Mat with Toys because it comes with a set of 9 soft toys that crinkle, squeak and jingle and a play mat that are light enough to be portable for trips. You can rotate these animals out and used it separately from the play mat. Best of all, these animals are also great for babies who are teething or interested in sensory toys. VTech Baby’s Learning Laptop If you are concerned about exposing your baby too early to electronic devices, you can give your baby something else that looks similar but with no harmful screen- a VTech Baby’s Learning Laptop! There are 3 modes of play- shapes, feelings and music. There are 9 buttons and a plastic screen that has lights. Altogether, this laptop plays 90 songs, sounds and phrases. That will keep any baby busy for quite a while!
- Buy Toys Specially Designed for Car Seats
In addition to your baby’s favorite toys, you should get toys that are specially designed for the car seat. Here are two that we especially love. Tiny Love Take-Along Arch, My Nature Pals Stroll The Tiny Love Take-Along Arch, My Nature Pals Stroll is a specially designed car seat toy. It clips securely onto a car seat. This clip feature is important because babies often accidentally end up tossing their toys out of their car seat and when that happens, they won’t be able to get it back unless you stop the car, get out and give it back to them. Save yourself some grief and get them a car seat toy that they cannot lose while they are in the car seat! This toy comes with several activities including a bead ball that spins, a frog that crinkles and propeller that switches on when your baby pulls the string. There is also a mirror and a teether. Don’t worry if your baby sucks on the toys, the toys are BPA-free and phthalates-free. The arch’s angle is adjustable which is useful if you want to adjust it to suit the length of your baby’s hands too. Lamaze Freddie The Firefly This toy is another toy that is designed so that your baby won’t be able to lose it easily on long car journeys. It comes with a ring that you can attach to the handle of your car seat. It features a bright, colorful, cheerful looking firefly that has crinkly wings, a mirror, multi-textured surfaces, teething rings and jingling sounds. It actually is a great toy to be combined with the Tiny Love Take-Along Arch, My Nature Pals Stroll above. Again, no need to worry about your baby sucking on the toy as it is BPA-free.
- Bring a White Noise Toy
There are some really great toys out on the market now that are great white noise machines too. Our favorite is the Cloud b Sound Machine Soother. The Cloud b Sound Machine Soother is cuddly and cute and comes in several different designs including a sheep, monkey and owl. It plays several different noises including whale sounds, rain, heartbeat and lullaby. There are also 2 sleep-timer options- 23 and 45 minutes. The noise level is adjustable so that you can turn it up or down. The great thing about this toy is that it can serve as a comfort toy in its own right, as well as a white noise machine.
- Install A Backseat Mirror In The Car
Babies go through a development phase where they love watching their own faces in the mirror. It may or may not work for your baby but it’s worth a try! Best of all, having a mirror facing your baby in the back seat also provides you with an additional viewing point of your baby, which is extremely useful!
- Bring Snacks, A Sippy Cup & Diaper Bag
It’s always a great idea to bring plenty of your baby’s favorite snacks or if your baby is not taking solid food yet, formula or breast milk. Hungry babies are unhappy babies! Of course, don’t forget an extra change of clothes for your baby, extra diapers and a changing mat.
- Bring Your Baby’s Favorite Songs
Music is a very useful way of keeping your baby occupied. Your baby loves listening to your voice and if you can, you should sing out loud. For inspiration and accompaniment (and lessen the chance of you going out of tune), you could turn on the radio, use a CD of your baby’s favorite tunes or just crank up Spotify on your smartphone. Alternatively, if you want to avoid singing at all cost, then get a toy that plays a whole long list of popular lullabies that babies seem to enjoy. Here are some great options: VTech Musical Rhymes Book This is a book with rhymes that also plays 40+ popular songs and phrases. Think tunes like Old McDonald. This book also comes with some additional sensory activities for developing fine motor skills such as buttons to press and also other tiny parts to twist and slide in the book. The plastic is BPA-free. VTech Rhyme and Discover Book This book is similar to the one above except that this one has 7 nursery rhymes and 20 different songs, sounds and phrases. There are lights that twinkle and also 4 sensory attachments that your baby can move around. Also BPA-free. Baby Einstein Take Along Tunes Musical Toy If you can’t stand lullabies, try the Baby Einstein Take Along Tunes Musical Toy instead. This toy is extremely portable and light and plays 7 classical music tunes. It’s also not very expensive. There are beads on the handle to provide some variety of play for your baby too. VTech Click and Count Remote This other great toy from VTech plays 45 songs/sounds but it designed to look like a remote control. Also very light and portable, this toy is another great toy that plays some catchy tunes.
- Designate a Back Seat Person
It makes a huge difference if there are at least two of you (not including your baby) going on this long car trip together. If baby refuses to sleep at the back, designate one person to sit behind and amuse your baby if it becomes necessary. At the start of the journey when baby is going to be more tolerant, you most likely can get away with both of you seated in the front of the car. But once your baby has finished with his or her naps and gets super fussy, be prepared for the person in the front passenger seat to move to the back to amuse baby. At the end of the day, the most important thing to remember is to stay calm. We wish you a great road trip!