Once COVID-19 vaccines arrived and travel restrictions eased, a lot of families began planning trips again. But with flu, RSV and COVID still spreading, many parents are opting for longer car rides rather than traveling on crowded planes or other public transportation.
If you're considering a road trip with your infant, here are some tips to help keep your baby safe and comfortable.
Check the car safety seat
If you plan on taking a long drive, it is important to make sure that your infant's
car seat is properly installed. Be sure to read the instructions that came with the seat. The car seat needs to be rear-facing and installed at the correct angle. Following the manufacturer's instructions for installation angle helps prevent your baby's head from slumping down in the seat in a chin-to-chest position that blocks their airway. Also, be sure the five-point harness system is correctly adjusted and pulled snug to your baby at all times while riding in the car.
While on the move, babies can sleep in a properly installed car seat in the car. Car seats are designed not only to protect a baby in a crash, but are also tested to keep babies in safe sleep positions if they doze off. Still, car seats are not ideal for very extended periods when the baby is not being closely watched while sleeping. And they should not be considered a safe place to sleep for the baby outside of the car.
Ride in the backseat with your baby
It is always best to have an adult or responsible older child in the backseat with your baby to easily take care of their needs during the trip. This can help your baby stay on a schedule as much as possible. It allows you to feed them at their usual times (if bottle feeding), play with them, keep an eye out for issues such as car sickness and know when to stop for a diaper change. Being right by their side to sing, read, or even massage them, will help avoid tears and make for a smoother journey.
Take regular breaks
It is important for you and your baby to get out of the car every few hours and take a stretch to avoid restlessness. Try to take a break every 2 to 3 hours for a day trip and every 4 to 6 hours at night to change diapers or soiled clothes, or to feed your baby. Never attempt to breastfeed in a moving car.
Before hitting the road, be prepared and know where gas stations and rest stops are on the way. In case you decide you need a longer break, it's a good idea to know where baby friendly hotels are located. If you aren't sure there will be a safe sleep space at your destination, bring a bassinet or portable play yard with you, since it's not safe for your baby to sleep in the car seat once you arrive.
Have essentials close by
Pack a diaper bag or cooler for the back seat to have handy essentials at your fingertips. This may include:
extra diapers, wipes, diaper cream, changing pad, clothes, garbage bags to dispose of diapers, and hand sanitizer
formula or breast milk kept on ice or in a cooling bag, and bibs
pacifiers, a favorite soothing toy, books, and a device to play music for entertainment
Have snacks and water readily available for yourself, too! If you need to stop for a coffee to go, remember not to leave your baby unattended in the car even briefly. Children can suffer heat stroke very quickly in hot cars.
Consider traveling when it best fits your infant's schedule
If you are traveling for a few hours, consider an early morning trip when your baby may still be sleeping, or during longer nap times. For longer trips, consider driving at night when your baby is normally asleep for the night.
Plan on things not going according to plan
Traveling with an infant can be stressful. It's important to take little bumps in stride and not get too stressed out when things don't go exactly according to plan. Focus on the positives: traveling in a car allows you to take as many stops as needed and to follow your own schedule.
Talk with your pediatrician if you have any questions about traveling with your infant.