It's gut wrenching – you need to go somewhere in the car, but the minute you put your baby in the car seat, he starts screaming. And he continues to do so the whole way there.
Unfortunately, it's not just once, it's every time.
Rest assured, you’re not alone. Many parents of young babies and toddlers experience the heightened stress of an anti-car baby.
It's understandably difficult, battling feelings of guilt with the mechanics of driving a car, while attempting to soothe your baby from a distance at the same time.
“Zachary absolutely hated the car from his very first trip. Once he started crying, it would escalate, and the only thing that would calm him down was being removed from the car. I’d take him out and he’d be wet with sweat, shaky, red-eyed. It was incredibly distressing for everyone.” — Talia
“My oldest child would cry if the car stopped. And then he wouldn’t stop until he wore himself out and fell asleep exhausted. Nine years later I still remember vividly rolling up to traffic lights willing them to change before the car stopped.” — Anna
What To Do When Baby Hates The Car Seat
So what can you do to help your baby cope and preserve your nerves as at the same time? Here are 9 great tips from mothers who have made it through to the other side:
Baby Car Seat SOS #1 – Take Some Deep Breaths
When your baby cries, you may feel anxious, upset, stressed and pretty darn horrible. Hearing the sobs and wails is heart breaking, and you can literally feel your blood pressure going through the roof. You probably already know this, but there is nothing you can do. Remember, your baby is wired for safety, which means he wants to be in your arms. Of course this is not practical when driving, so take some slow deep breaths and focus your attention on helping yourself to feel centred. Practice mindfulness and just breathe. By not staying calm yourself, you will only feel worse.
What is mindfulness and how does it help with stress, anxiety and depression? Check out this great clip:
Baby Car Seat SOS #2 – Check Your Thoughts
Thoughts become feelings so check your thoughts. If you’re thinking about how awful the situation is or how bad of a decision you made to drive – you’ll just feel even more rotten. Some good mantras can be helpful. The favourite, ‘this too shall pass’ is a good one. Its important to remember that it’s just a phase and will get better, and eventually be a thing of the past.
“Both my kids went through a stage where they would just scream in the car and there was absolutely nothing that would calm them. The good news is that they both grew out of it in about a month or two (longest month or two ever!). Now they are both happy and content in the car.” — Mylitta
Baby Car Seat SOS #3 – Soothe Your Nerves With Some Tunes
You may find playing some music not only distracts you, but also helps to soothe your baby. You could keep a CD of your baby's favourite nursery rhymes in the car for these occasions. Alternatively, try having your own karaoke party in the car. Your baby will be soothed by your voice, and you may find this stops him crying. Ok, you might not sound great, but no-one else can hear you. Unless you're driving in a convertible with the roof down of course…
“I often found music helped keep me calm. I know a crying baby is an awful thing to hear but my stress levels rise if that is ALL I can hear. Music gave baby something else to focus on and me something else to focus on.” — Anna
Baby Car Seat SOS #4 – Siblings To The Rescue
Siblings can be a great source of comfort if they are old enough not to unintentionally hurt baby. Silly faces, songs or gentle talking can help distract baby. Sitting your children close to each other may help to avoid tears in the car. Give the older sibling a selection of toys and books to use in case your baby does become upset.
“One thing that helped was moving his car seat into the middle, so that he was (rear facing) next to his sister, who is 3. Now, they face each other, and she does a fantastic job of keeping him happy, waving toys at him, playing peekaboo etc. So I would recommend trying to put the baby next to a toddler or older sibling, as long as they aren’t going to hurt them!” — Talia
Baby Car Seat SOS #5 – Take Regular Breaks
This one can help; but it can also just delay the inevitable. Most mums find that baby will resume crying once they are placed back into their carseat again. This one comes down to a judgement call really. If you are mid-way through a long journey and baby is crying with hunger, you should find somewhere suitable to pull over. If you're only driving for a few minutes and baby is crying because he wants a cuddle, it may be best to power through. That way, when the journey is over you can enjoy a big cuddle and not to have to worry about strapping him immediately back into the dreaded car seat.
“If you can safely pull over and give your baby a cuddle then you may like to do this to reassure yourself they are ok but they are also quite likely to start off where they stopped as soon as they are put back into their car seat.” — Anna
Baby Car Seat SOS #6 – Large Baby Mirror
Placing a large baby mirror in the back seat may help. A large mirror will allow you to see how your baby is doing, and will also allow baby to check that you're still there. With young babies, it could simply be the fear of parental abandonment causing feelings of panic, and being able to see you may help to prevent crying.
Baby Car Seat SOS #7 – Car DVD Player
This one has been a big saviour for our family, especially since we currently live in the country and have big drives most of the time. It's not that expensive these days to get some headrest DVD players which can play baby’s favourite DVD. It's made a big difference to our trips and our sanity.
Baby Car Seat SOS #8 – Minimise Trips Where You Can
Some trips are necessary, but it's okay to surrender and minimise trips where you can. Forget the pressure to be everywhere and do everything – be a homebody for a little while, or just cut back where you can. If you're meeting friends or family, ask them to come to you instead. If you have older children, ask if others can help with school runs for a little while too. People will understand that it's not always that easy to get out with a baby.
Public transport is another great alternative while your baby gets through this fussy stage. My daughter loves traveling on the train or bus. She’s right there with me, and when she was little, she’d often sleep through the trips because she’d be cosy in her baby carrier.
If you're only travelling a short distance, consider walking instead. Keep your baby close in a sling or wrap, and you'll be able to chat away whilst you walk. Not that he'll be listening though, chances are he'll be cuddled up asleep on your chest.
Baby Car Seat SOS #9 – Check Your Baby’s Comfort
Some things you might like to check that could be upsetting your baby include:
- Is my baby too hot? Some car seats are made from fabrics that don’t breathe so well and they can end up sweaty and sticky, especially on warmer days
- Is my baby catching too much sun? Sometimes babies end up with too much sun on their face, even through tinted windows
- Is my baby too cold? Are there any draughts coming through a window? Or could a window down be causing baby’s ears to feel uncomfortable due to the wind?
- Consider a sucking comfort for your baby – be it your finger or someone else's
Resist the Temptation To Turn Your Baby’s Car Seat Around Too Early
Babies are safest in your car when they are rear facing. The chances of being in a collision are slim, but it's important your child is properly protected in case one occurs. In a rear facing car seat, the stress on the child's neck is minimised in the event of a collision. A baby's neck muscles are not yet strong enough to withstand the force of a collision. Experts recommend keeping your child rear facing until at least 15 months.
“A lot of mothers are so distressed by crying they turn car seats forward facing. For me, the risks of spinal injury outweigh a few weeks of crying, so whilst it may be tempting, turning the car seat shouldn’t be considered lightly.” — Anna