women placing baby in rear-facing carseat
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Rules for a long car ride with your baby

Having a baby changes everything. But when you’re first thinking about what that means, the way you travel probably feels like the smallest thing on that list when compared to the added responsibility, the environment of your home, and the demands on your relationship. When summer vacation hits though, or it’s time to make your way out of state for a family holiday, all of the sudden, Baby‘s response to long car trips seems vitally important.

Unfortunately, there’s no way to really predict how Baby will respond to her first long car trip until she tries it. Even the normally happy little traveler can start to protest when the journey is still going on when she wakes up from her nap. On the other hand, though it’s a bit more rare, a fussier traveler on short trips can sleep through huge chunks of longer ones. There’s not much you can do about a certain amount of Baby’s mood – she is, to a certain degree, just going to respond in the way that she responds. There are parts of the trip that you can prepare for, though, so that you can head certain road-tripping adventures off before they even start.

  1. Time it right
    If Baby has a good track-record for sleeping in the car, and you think you’re up for a night drive, going through her bedtime (or long-naptime) routine before sticking her into the car seat to sleep through the trip could be ideal. If, on the other hand, Baby often has trouble sleeping in the car, starting out when she has just woken up and is feeling fresh could help ward off crankiness.
  2. Come prepared
    Being well-packed for a road-trip with Baby can keep a lot of potential problems from ever coming up. From the old stand-by of distraction, which you can pull off by keeping a bag of toys handy, to having wipes and a set of clean clothes to introduce at every time things gets messy, preparation is everything. Other supplies to have on hand are plastic bags to temporarily dispose of any messes into, a good supply of whatever it is Baby is comfortable eating regularly at this point, and a snack and bottle of water for you, in case Baby falls asleep just when you feel like you could do with something to eat, and you decide not to stop.
  3. Rethink the structure
    Maybe when you planned road trips in a pre-Baby world, you drove straight through as fast as you could, blasted your favorite songs, and actually got the chance to sit next to your partner. Now, though, it can really help you out to be flexible about, well, all of those things. For one thing, taking your time, and taking regular breaks to get Baby out of the car seat, play with her, and tire her out can be extremely helpful. She should probably also be one of the biggest deciding factors in what’s playing on the stereo. This is especially true if Baby has started to have her own taste in music, but even if she’s not that discerning yet, a well-placed blast of soothing static as white noise can stop even some of the fussiest pre-tantrums in their tracks. Finally, if you have the opportunity to relax your timetable getting there a little, taking that stress out of the trip can only help.
  4. Be prepared to transplant
    Bring as much of Baby’s bedtime routine with you on the trip as you can – songs, books, or a favorite blanket can all be good signs for the fact that it’s time to sleep now.
  5. Set the stage
    Your car should be as ready as you are for the trip. Sunburns can sour even the happiest traveler’s mood, so a sunshade over Baby is always a good idea, along with sunscreen or a hat. Setting up a mirror in front of Baby so you can see her face from the front can also be a great distraction for Baby. And why wouldn’t she be charmed, looking at a face as cute as her own?

Traveling with Baby may not always be a breeze, but it is manageable, and this trip is only the beginning of a lifetime of adventures together.

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