Becoming a new parent is exciting – you will be doing plenty of things that you haven’t done before, but you’ll also be doing things that you’ve done many times before (like embarking on a long drive to go visit your family, or the in-laws or your friends), just to find out that doing this with a baby comes with its own unique set of challenges. The first time you travel together, you’ll be surprised at the amount of extra things you’ll be taking with you, just for your tiny little baby!
As summer is here and lots of people will be taking advantage of the good weather to go and visit family and friends, a few Natal teachers have teamed up to compile a list of practical tips to have a relaxing car journey when you’re travelling with your little one. So read on, and don’t forget to tell us how you got along!
Get that car ready
- First things first, whether you’re going for a long trip or a relatively short one, you’ll want to make sure that your car is in tip top shape (service and MOT done, oil and tyres checked etc.).
- Make sure you have everything you need in the unfortunate eventuality that your car breaks down (numbers to call, roadside assistance numbers, your policy number etc.). Water and blankets (regardless of the weather, for yourself and for baby) always make for good trip companions in case you need to wait for assistance or get stuck in traffic.
- If you can, ensure that your car is filled up with petrol the day before, so you don’t have to stop and queue up just for that. And whilst you’re there, if you can, you may even want to pack the car the night before too!
- Make sure that your baby’s car seat is of the right spec’s for your baby’s age and weight, has NOT been in an accident before and that it is fitted correctly. According to new regulations, infants must be secured in rear facing car seats until they are 15 months of age, and if you are placing a rear facing car seat in the front, you must first ensure that there is no air bag on the passenger side or that it has been disabled.
Prep for a smooth journey ahead
If you’re the one driving and it’s just you and baby alone, having everything that you need at the ready will make your trip a lot easier.
- Is your sat nav / phone charged and up and running? Do you have the postcode(s) for your destination address? Do you know roughly your way, should the sat nav run out of signal?
- Whether you’re relying on your phone for directions or not, can you charge your phone in the car? Do you need or have coins for road tolls or parking?
- Make sure that you have everything you need to be able to concentrate on your drive. Can you easily access water and snacks? Are you comfortable enough or are you likely to need a pit stop to remove or add layers of clothing?
- If possible, plan your trip to coincide with baby’s nap or night time. You will find it a lot easier to concentrate on the drive if you know your baby is peaceful and asleep, especially if they don’t travel well.
- Or if you think your baby will be relatively happy whilst awake, why not think about leaving early in the morning or late in the evening to minimise the chance of getting stuck in traffic – you could then have the choice to put your baby down for a sleep as soon as you get to your destination.
- Make sure you have packed everything you need for your baby – nappies, spare clothes (of which you can never have enough), baby blanket, muslins etc. You may want to pack a separate bag just for the journey with everything you need for your baby, so that you don’t need to unpack a whole suitcase or reach to the boot just to change baby.
Keeping baby safe and happy
Once you are sure that your baby is comfortable (in loose and breathable clothing, with a clean nappy on, fed, not to hot, not too cold, etc.) and safely strapped in their car seat, you’re good to go.
But what if they’re not happy?
- If you’re not the only adult in the car, can you or someone else sit in the back with the baby? Having you, or another familiar face, to look at and ‘talk to’ should make the baby feel more at ease. Otherwise, a toy or a comforter may also help them during the journey, so if no one can sit with the baby, make sure that you secure any toys to the car seat, if you can. That way they won’t end up on the floor every 2 minutes, and you won’t be left with any loose objects in the car, which wouldn’t be safe in the event of a collision.
- If you are a breastfeeding mum and sitting next to the baby, it can be tempting to take the baby out of the car seat for a feed whilst someone else is driving, but remember that this isn’t safe! If the baby needs a feed, the best thing to do is to stop.
- Giving the baby a bottle whilst they’re in the car seat may also sound tempting, but young babies are unable to either remove the bottle or move themselves away from the bottle, should they have enough or should milk go down the wrong way, and you certainly don’t want to be driving and having to keep an eye on baby feeding in the back. So once again, the best thing to do when the baby needs a feed is to stop and feed them.
- If no one can sit with the baby, and you think they are comfortable but still quite unsettled, can you perhaps try and entertain them with a familiar sound? A favourite CD with music that they are familiar with, white noise or your singing voice maybe? “The wheels on the bus” anyone?
- Depending on the weather, make sure that your baby is dressed accordingly for the whole journey. If not, plan to stop to either add or remove layers of clothing as and when appropriate.
- Do you have the air conditioning or the heating on in the car? If you’re travelling in this heat, take into account that babies in car seats can get quite hot, so make sure that your baby is wearing appropriate, light clothing and their skin is not in direct contact with any metal buckles or other objects.
- If if’s sunny or bright, also remember to bring sun shades for the car windows.
Break your journey up
- Depending on how long your car journey is, you may need to stop. Whether it’s to stretch your legs, eat or just have a break from the road, if you need to stop, don’t delay it. Baby may also need a feed and a nappy change (or two, if you’re going for a long trip), so make sure that you plan that in.
- And last but not least, be ready to accept a small amount of crying if you know your baby is safe, fed, comfortable etc. and you’ve tried everything you possibly can to keep them happy. Babies are human, just like us, and sometimes all they want is to stretch out or have a change of scenery, and the only way they have to tell you that they are bored is to cry. Plus, some babies just don’t like being in the car, so if you’ve stopped a million times to try and keep them happy, there’s probably not much else you can do until you get to your final destination.
And this is it from us – happy, safe driving everyone!
Thank you to lovely Natal teachers Louise, Zoe, Amanda, Laura, Suzy, Katy Shipman, Natasha and Kate for their contribution to this post!