Writing a blog about travelling in the car with a baby may seem a bit pointless as all babies like the car right? What’s there to write about? Well Evelyn certainly isn’t as much of a car fan as her Daddy is! Car travel with Evelyn has always been a challenge and for me, having a screaming baby in the back seat whilst I tried to drive was often what would tip me over the edge if I was already having a bad day. When people would suggest to me that I should put her in the car to settle her, they would look at me puzzled when I told them that usually she would just cry and rarely slept in the car. They were even more surprised when I’d tell them that she didn’t like the pram most of the time either! On the whole we have had a love hate relationship with travelling in the car with Evelyn. Her blood curdling cries have been enough to make us question whether she is truly in pain in her car seat, enough to drown out the sound of the parking sensors so Rob scratched the car and enough to bring myself to tears, which I know sounds pathetic but its easy when you are exhausted, emotional and at breaking point! Nevertheless there has been times when the car seemed to be the welcomed relief in getting Evelyn to finally fall asleep (typically when she was in that awkward stage of not quite being able to drop her afternoon nap but would resist it).
Going back to the beginning, our first ever car journey was tense, it is for everyone, but driving our newborn baby home through the Beast from the East blizzard on a motorway so snowed up that it was down to a single lane, probably made our first ever car journey a bit more stressful than the average! I anxiously held my breath for the whole time as I sat next to Evelyn, nevertheless she slept for the whole way home oblivious. Another journey which demonstrates my anxiety with car travel was when Evelyn was a few days old. We had been to GP Out Of Hours for me and on the way back home I’d realised that Evelyn had been in the car seat for way longer than she should have (max 30mins for newborns) and so could be putting pressure on her lungs/heart as she had been in the same position for too long. I made rob pull over despite only being 5 mins away from home so that she could stretch out!
Over the last year we have tried so many different things to settle Evelyn in the car. We wanted to help make car travel more tolerable and for me to stop avoiding going places in fear that she would scream for the whole journey. Though sometimes no matter what I did, I would just have to pull over to settle a beetroot red, sweaty, screaming Evelyn. Luckily she’s never vomited from crying, but she has vomited all over the car seat before – power hosing the car seat down (being careful not to damage to polystyrene base) and scrubbing the cracks with a toothbrush was the only way to finally get rid of that dreaded vomit smell! Evelyn’s silent reflux may have had a big part to play in her being so upset and distressed in the car seat. Now that she’s older and has grown out of the reflux she is much more settled in the car seat. We noticed an improvement when we bought a bigger car seat. Nevertheless ultimately I think that Evelyn didn’t like being restricted in the car seat and didn’t like facing backwards as she is now much better as she faces forward in her car seat. Babies can do so once they reach 9kg or 1 year old, whichever comes first. Note our first car seats (one for both our cars) were the Maxi-Cosi Cabriofix and the Maxi-Cosi Pebble (which is slightly bigger), then we bought swivel car seats when Evelyn got too big and long to take her out of the car seat without hurting your back! Again we have one for both our cars, the Britax dual fix and the Joie swivel.
Although Evelyn travels much better than before, we still need to be strategic with our travel and offer a lot of distraction. Heres an overview of our approach to travelling in the car with Evelyn:
- Schedule travel around their nap and set off 5-10 mins before their nap is due – follow their usual routine before nap (i.e. nappy change, book, lullaby) and allowing for the 5 mins ‘wind down period’ before falling asleep to be done in the car. Nevertheless sometimes despite her being due her nap she could still take up to 30 mins to fall asleep. Sometimes that was 30 mins of being quiet and the occasional coo but generally 30 mins of grizzling or crying. Note try to avoid putting them in the car when they are already overtired. We found with Evelyn that although sometimes if she was overtired she would fall straight asleep, most of the time she would scream and resit her sleep for even longer. Once she did so for over an hour in the car despite being clearly exhausted.
- Use the usual sleep associations, which for Evelyn is white noise (either her hummy or white noise playing through the car speakers) and her comforter. Note if playing white noise through the car loud, beware of when the sound goes quieter for the parking sensors and then ramps back up to the original volume. When this happened the sudden change in volume would wake Evelyn up which was so frustrating! Living in the countryside and driving through lanes a lot where you may come across another car and have to manoeuvre with the sensors beeping was a sure fire way to wake a sleeping baby! Also if you are playing the white noise via your phone, try not to have someone ring you!
- Try to create a darker environment in the car to promote sleeping – window shade or a car seat snoozeshade (I didn’t use one when I was driving but would if we had stopped).
- Aim to complete the whole nap in the car – we’ve never been able to transfer a sleeping Evelyn from her car seat into the house, let alone into her cot. Often even just turning off the engine or opening the car door would be enough to wake her up. So if she did need to continue napping I would either continue to drive around (so much wasting petrol and miles) or stay sat in the car with the engine on. If it could be planned I would make sure that the car naps were for her shorter naps and not her long 2 hour lunch time nap. If appropriate using a travel sleeping bag may help. We use the GroRomper as we find it easier than the specific travel sleeping bag.
- Alternatively planning car travel around times when they are usually ‘calm’ i.e. leaving just after wakes from her lunch nap. Evelyn would usually be quite calm and quiet for the first 30 mins after her lunch nap so this is usually a good alternative time to travel. However always make sure that they have chance to finish their post nap milk feed before the travel, on the occasions where I have cut the feed short as we were in a rush it has not been worth it as she would cry for the whole car journey. This leads me onto the next point…
- Avoiding travel when you know that they are going to be hungry – theres nothing worse than hearing your little one screaming at the top of their lungs in the back and you know that they are hungry but you can’t do anything as you’re on the motorway and by yourself! It was hard to work around fees when she was a newborn as I never knew when she was going to be hungry, she just always seemed to want to feed! So usefully I would always offer a feed 15 mins before we needed to set off.
- With long car journeys aim to break up the journey i.e. every 1-2 hours. Note ideally babies shouldn’t be sat in a car seat for longer than 2 hours straight at a time and newborns under 4 weeks old shouldn’t travel in car seats for more than 30 minutes.
- Sucking on a dummy/finger – Evelyn’s never liked or been very good at using a dummy which I assume is because she is breastfed. She often wouldn’t suck the dummy properly, either just chewing it or moving it around in her mouth, resulting in her spitting it out. But in the beginning if we held it in her mouth for a car journey it was a good way to settle her. Nevertheless she often ended up just sucking on our finger.
- Singing – I tried lots of different types of music on the radio (classical/pop/nursery rhymes) in an attempt to settle a crying Evelyn in the car. Often none of them worked but surprisingly, if I sang ‘Frere Jaques’ that would settle her. Without exaggeration I have sang Frere Jaques over and over again for 30 minuet journeys to stop Evelyn from screaming. I have even created versions of it with my own lyrics to stop me from losing my mind! Note winding the windows down or turning the air con up full blast would usually just startle Evelyn for a second and then she would return to crying.
- Car play gym – I thought that Evelyn’s crying may have been because she was getting bored/fed up in the car, so I created a ‘play gym’ in the car so that Evelyn had things to look at. I used a big unbreakable mirror on the headrest in front of her so that she had ‘someone’ to look at, its amazing how much babies love to look at themselves/other babies. The mirror was also so that I could see her from the front, to check that she was ok and to see if and when she finally fell asleep. I also draped colourful patterned muslins on the seat underneath the mirror and hung toys from car seat bar (I recommend the Lamaze toys). We later bought a car seat cover which has a large clear pocket in for you to put a phone/iPad in. And this was the game changer. Once we had discovered that ‘Charlie and the numbers’ on baby TV was Evelyn’s all time favourite thing to watch, we tried it in the clear pocket for a car journey playing back to back and it settled her for 30mins+ in the car! Thankfully it still works now and although we do know every word to each episode, I play it every time I travel with Evelyn alone.
- Playing – If both Rob and I are travelling with Evelyn then we take it in turns to sit in the back and play with her (teddies/toys/books/videos) or feed her (the kiddylicious wafers create the least amount of mess and the Munkin 360 miracle sippy cup to avoid spills) to occupy her for the journey.
- ‘Keep Em Quiet Bag‘ – as mentioned in my holiday blog, we’ll give this a go for the car journey down to Cornwall.