Driving with a Baby: The Do’s and Don’ts
In a 2014 survey of mothers with babies, American Baby and Safe Kids Worldwide found out what all new moms already know—a good night’s sleep is hard to come by. More than 2,000 moms with kids under two reported getting less than five and a half hours of consecutive sleep in a night. The survey also revealed that more than a third of the mothers surveyed reported driving with a baby when they felt too tired.
The most alarming finding was that about one in ten new moms reported being in an accident while driving with their baby. That ten percent is nearly triple the rate for the general population and clearly shows a need for increased safety and education. There’s not much new parents can do about the lack of sleep, but there is plenty they can do to drive more safely with kids. Here are the top ten safety precautions when driving with a baby:
Be Prepared for the Unexpected
Even the newest parents learn quickly to be ready for surprises with a baby. But being prepared for roadside emergencies and other travel-related mishaps is essential. When traveling with or without kids, ensure your vehicle has a first aid kit and the gear needed to change a flat tire. Jumper cables, a gas can, and a flashlight are also must-have travel gear.
Use Car Seats Correctly
Children should always travel in the back seat away from airbags, and a car seat should be in the center of the back seat when possible. Ensure the car seat is installed properly and is rated for your baby’s height and weight. If you have multiple kids in car seats, it’s critical that each car seat fits properly and is secured correctly. Consider investing in a convertible car seat, and it will keep your child safe through the toddler years.
Pack a Baby Travel Bag
One of the best tips for driving with a baby is to be prepared with the essentials. Keep a baby travel bag in the car that’s accessible without unlocking your seatbelt. Here are a few must-haves to get you started:
- Wipes (disinfecting and baby)
- A couple of toys
- Baby ibuprofen and acetaminophen
- Forehead thermometer
- Small blanket
If you are traveling long enough for your baby to need formula or milk, consider investing in a cooler bag that can also fit the rest of your travel gear.
Install Sun Shades for Better Naps
Sunshades are inexpensive, easy to install, and help babies sleep when traveling. When you install a sunshade in the windows next to your baby’s car seat, you won’t have to worry about the sun waking them up. The shade will also help keep the inside temperature comfortable and prevent your baby from being distracted.
Keep Toys and Pacifiers Close
Babies can be demanding, especially when trapped in a car seat. Bring baby toys you can secure to the car seat to calm your baby when they get cranky. Securing toys to the car seat lets a baby grab what they want, and you won’t have to search for dropped toys. Plus, you won’t have toys flying around the cabin in case of an accident. If your baby has a pacifier, clip it to their shirt or bib or tie it to the car seat.
Skip Bulky Clothing
Many new parents can go overboard to keep their baby warm, but bulky clothes can make securing them in a car seat difficult. If you’re traveling with your baby and they are facing backward, it can be hard to see if they are too hot or uncomfortable. Even in the coldest weather, light layers and a blanket should be all you need to keep your baby comfortable in their car seat.
Know Your (and Your Baby’s) Limits
Babies need food, water, attention, and toys to be happy while traveling. They also need frequent breaks from being in their car seats. Parents know it’s time to take a break when their baby gets cranky over being trapped in the car. But the latest car seat information shows that being strapped into a car seat for more than a couple of hours should be the limit. Parents shouldn’t wait until their baby gets fussy. Instead, parents should adopt the two-hour rule for driving safely with kids in car seats.
The last thing parents traveling with kids need is extra distractions. A smartphone is often the most common distraction for any driver unless the vehicle features hands-free technology. Using a smartphone to talk or text while driving is dangerous because it takes attention away from the road and the baby. Plus, texting while driving is illegal in nearly every state.
Plan for Play
If you’re traveling with another adult or older children, station them in the back with your baby for playtime. Being confined in a car with the family can be a strain, but it can also be the ideal opportunity to bond with the baby. Bring a couple of their favorite books, toys, and a surprise or two. And don’t forget the music. Kids’ songs can be fun for the entire family when everyone sings along, and your baby will love it.
Stock Up on Snacks
If your baby is nursing and gets hungry, you’ll have to pull over, so consider feeding them before your trip. If you’re traveling with another adult, have them hop in the backseat to serve up some cereal or baby food. Toddlers love all kinds of snacks, and it’s easy to portion them into healthy servings using bags or cups.
Under the best conditions, driving with a baby and kids takes the parents’ full attention. The most critical safety precaution when driving with a baby is to know when not to drive. New moms, especially, often run on fumes and are admittedly too tired to drive safely. There are few trips so urgent that you can’t wait for your spouse to get home or reschedule. When you’re too tired to drive safely with kids, skip the trip.