Traveling with a 4 Month Old, Part III: Car Hell

TravelNOTE: Traveling with a 4 Month Old, Part I: Packing can be found here and Part II: Surviving the Sleepocalypse can be found here.

After finishing our long car trip with our 4 month old daughter A., I confess that I have a bit of PTSD. She hasn’t slept as well as at home, but it hasn’t been a disaster. I haven’t forgotten anything major yet. However, the first leg of the car trip produced a solid 3 hours of screaming until she finally fell asleep.

I’m happy to say the return trip was a lot better. Here are some things we learned that helped our drive back go a lot more smoothly:

1. Don’t assume a long car trip will be like trips around town. For the most part, A. does fine on 15 or even 30 minute car trips around town. But sitting in the car for a long time wore down her patience very quickly.

2. Leave early and make plenty of time for the trip. Frequent stops make for a much happier baby. The more time your baby spends out of the carseat, the less unhappy she will be when she has to go back in.

3. Avoid driving during the witching hour at all costs. 1-2 hours before bedtime is usually a cranky time under the best of circumstances. In the car, that seemed to translate into screaming no matter what we tried. If we couldn’t get to our destination before 5 or 5:30, the only way to stop the crying was by getting out of the car.

4. Don’t keep your baby up so that she will sleep in the car. An overtired baby generally has more trouble falling asleep, including in the car. On the day we left, I delayed putting her down for her last nap, hoping she would sleep in the car. Instead she screamed until bedtime. Lesson learned.

5. Use sleep associations to your advantage. If your baby sleeps with a pacifier and you can simply pop it in when it’s time to nap, I envy you. Ours will not take a pacifier, but there are other sleep associations we can take advantage of. She sleeps in a sleep sack and we can use a travel version in the car. I sing to her when I put her to bed and singing to her in the car worked really well.

6. Bring along a variety of age-appropriate entertainment. Our daughter is 4 months old and is just starting to enjoy toys, but not yet good enough at holding onto or manipulating them. I found it helped to have a variety of toys to switch out before she got frustrated. Her favorite was this ball, which was easy for her to grab and shake on her own. She also enjoyed this stuffed bear, which was large enough for her to grab and shaped so that she could easily chew on his nose.

7. Don’t be afraid to resort to screens. I don’t want my kids watching a lot of TV – but a baby with a glazed expression is definitely superior to a screaming baby. This light and sounds mirror is a good compromise for a baby and when she is older I’m definitely planning to get an iPad with a sturdy case for long car trips only.

8. A parent in the backseat might help…or might not. When A. was fussing because she was bored, having me in the backseat definitely helped. On the other hand, it only seemed to make it worse during the witching hour and before bedtime because she couldn’t understand why I wasn’t picking her up. And it was much harder for me to listen to the crying when I was sitting next to her.

Have you taken a long car trip with a young baby and do you have any tips to share?

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