Date: November 1, 2010
Babies sometimes cry inconsolably in a car seat. Usually, this is because your baby is used to more freedom to move and more physical attention than you can provide when she's belted into her seat. Hearing your baby cry while you are trying to drive is challenging. Even though it's difficult to deal with, remember that you and your baby's safety are most important.
Parents sometimes take a crying baby out of the car seat, which is extremely dangerous and makes it even more difficult for the baby to get used to riding in the car seat. Some parents make poor driving decisions when their babies are crying, which puts everyone in the car at risk. Either pull over and calm your baby down or focus on your driving. Don't try to do both at once.
The good news is that a few new ideas and a little time and maturity will help your baby become a happy traveler. (I know, because three of my babies were car-seat-haters!)
The highway to car-seat happiness
Any one (or more) of the following strategies may help solve your car-seat dilemma. If the first one you try fails, choose another one, then another; eventually, you'll hit on the right solution for your baby.
Make sure that your baby is healthy. If car-seat crying is something new, and your baby has been particularly fussy at home, too, your baby may have an ear infection or other illness. A doctor visit is in order.
Take the car seat into the house and let your baby sit and play in it. Once it becomes more familiar in the house, she may be happier to sit there in the car.
Keep a special box of soft, safe car toys that you use only in the car. If these are interesting enough, they may hold her attention. (Avoid hard toys because they could cause injury in a quick stop.)
Make a car mobile. Link a long row of plastic baby chains from one side of the backseat to the other. Clip soft, lightweight new toys onto the chain for each trip. Make sure they are secure and keep an eye on these so that they don't become loose while you are driving.
Hang a made-for-baby poster on the back of the seat that faces your baby. These are usually black, white, red and bold primary colors; some have pockets so you can change the pictures. If this is an option, do remember to rotate pictures since changing the scenery helps.
Experiment with different types of music. Some babies enjoy lullabies or music CDs made especially for young children; others surprise you by calming down as soon as you play one of your favorites. Some babies enjoy hearing Mom or Dad sing more than anything else! (For some reason, a rousing chorus of "Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer" has always been a good choice for us, even out of season!)
Try "white noise" in the car. You can purchase CDs of soothing nature sounds or make a recording of your vacuum cleaner.
Practice with short, pleasant trips when your baby is in a good mood. It helps if someone can sit near her and keep her entertained. A few good experiences may help set a new pattern.
Try a pacifier or teething toy. When your baby has something to suck or chew on he may be happier. Just make sure it doesn't present a choking hazard, and keep to soft toys.
Hang a mirror. That way your baby can see you (and you can see your baby) while you are driving. Baby stores offer mirrors made especially for this purpose. When in her seat, she may think that you're not there, and just seeing your face will help her feel better.
Put a sunshade in the window. This is helpful if you suspect sunshine in your baby's face is a problem. Use the window stick-on types, and avoid any with hard pieces that could become dislodged in a quick stop.
Try to consolidate trips. Running errands at once is effective, especially if you avoid being in the car for long periods of time and you don't have many ins and outs.
Make sure your baby hasn't outgrown her car seat. If her legs are confined, or her belts are too tight, her seat may be uncomfortable.
Try opening a window. Fresh air and a nice breeze can be soothing.
By trying different tactics, you're sure to hit on a few that make the ride more enjoyable for baby and you.
This article is an excerpt from Gentle Baby Care by Elizabeth Pantley. (McGraw-Hill, 2003)