How to Cope When Your Baby Totally Hates the Car

by ParentCo. July 12, 2023

baby in a car seat

There are two types of babies in the world: those who love a car ride and those who scream bloody murder at the mere sight of a car seat.

My children fell into the latter category, so I spent years deciding whether or not it was even worth it to leave my house when journey full of waiting awaited me. I'm not the only one. Parents are constantly searching for the elusive trick that will make being strapped in a car seat pleasant for an infant. Proper use of car seats helps infants in car accidents, and the rear facing design protects babies' heads and spinal cords in case of a crash.

Unfortunately, babies don't understand these benefits. They just know they can't see mom and no one is holding them. Screaming babies are hard to deal with all on their own, but the distracted driving that comes with a wailing child in the car seriously augments the problem.

We imagine distracted drivers as those who use cell phones while on the road, but a survey found that more than 90 percent of parents admit that a baby crying is a major distraction in the car, on par with cell phone use. It's no wonder. Research proves that all humans – not just parents – have a hard time ignoring the sounds of a crying infant. We are primed to help, according to scientists. A parent stuck in a car with a crying infant will likely feel panic, sadness, and fear that can manifest in an increased heart rate and stress.

The stress may cause mom or dad to cry as well, as many parents admit to doing when their child’s wailing just won't stop. Dr. Teri Mitchell APRN CNM IBCLC explains why a baby's cries are so hard on parents and babies in these situations. She says the kind of cry a child emits when separated from a caregiver is specific in its demands. "There's a name for this particular type of cry: the separation distress cry," Dr. Mitchell says. "It's nature's built-in way of making sure that mothers go to their babies and ensure that they feel safe."

Children whose separation distress is not tended to because parents are stuck in rush-hour traffic will continue to do what is normal for them in this situation: scream. Dr. Rakesh Radheshyam Gupta says that "crying may lead to vomiting in infants and may cause hoarseness of voice." The sound of a crying infant is about all a person can handle while driving a two-ton machine at 70 miles per hour. The following tricks can help you to find a solution for the pain and trauma of car rides.

Start strong

Babies who become upset the minute they are placed in the car seat are unlikely to calm down for the remainder of the ride. That's why it's important to start off strong by making the seat as comfortable as possible right from the beginning.

Don't let a baby lean back on the seat straps while loading him. The sudden feel of those obtrusive items on a baby's back can startle him or cause discomfort, and this can be enough to remind him that he hates the car seat. Instead of trying to juggle a baby with one arm while holding both car seat straps out of the way (impossible, by the way), use LulaClips made by LulaKids. LulaClips pin to the car seat straps to hold them out of the way while loading or unloading a child from the car seat. This makes the process fast and easy, and it can also help keep a sleeping baby from waking up during the transfer from mom's arms to the seat.

Moms commonly put these items on their must-have lists for little ones. If your older baby still hates the car, incorporate frequent trial runs into your week while your baby is awake to create a positive association. With the car in park, sit in the backseat and play with baby while she's strapped in. Move to the front seat for short stints after she gets used to the setup.

Don't forget to outfit the car with your baby's favorite toys. The Baby Einstein Activity Arms Octopus is an engaging choice that charms little ones, as are Baby Einstein Curiosity Clutch Fidget Sensory Toy and Pop It Rattles. Think colorful and multi-sensory. 

Dress for success

Temperature can be a problem for babies when in car seats, but not in the way most parents expect. As opposed to being too cold, many babies struggle in the car because they are too warm. Babies should never be placed in a car seat wearing a jacket. Not only will they overheat, but the bulk of a jacket keeps the car seat straps from working properly. Take the weather into consideration, of course, but since the car is temperature controlled, dress the baby in normal clothes and save the jackets or extra layers for when it's time to get out of the car.

Belt it out

Parents swear by music as a soother for kids who hate the car. One woman confessed to singing "The Ants Go Marching On" over and over again on a short road trip to soothe a screaming infant. Another mom said Christmas music all year long calmed her little one, as long as mom sang along. Researchers support the idea of using music to calm babies. They found in one study that babies exposed to music stayed calm twice as long as babies exposed to baby talk or adult speech. Cueing up a playlist of baby's favorite songs can work, but singing to the baby along with the music has benefits for all involved. Besides calming the baby,

researchers think that singing can also calm parents. Focusing on the rhythm and the lull of the music helps ease the tension that rises when stuck in the car with a screaming infant. It's a win-win.

Plan around gas

Sure, make sure you have enough gas in the car to get to where you want to go, but also plan around a baby's gas. A baby who experiences major gas after a meal is not going to like being stuck in a car seat. Plan car rides long enough after meal times for a baby to get the gas out at home when moving around is possible. Children with reflux also have unique challenges in car seats. Car seats don't allow them to move freely. They will have problems getting comfortable if they can't find the right position due to stomach or reflux pain.

One mom found that her son's reflux took care of itself around the six-month mark, and car rides suddenly weren't a problem anymore. Waiting for reflux to fix itself is difficult, however, so talking to a pediatrician or finding natural ways to deal with it are preferable. It's possible that controlled reflux will equal peaceful car rides for all. Children do grow out of the screaming-in-the-car phase, but these tactics can help move them towards happier car rides sooner. With a little advanced planning, peaceful car rides may be around the next bend.




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