When you welcome your bundle of joy, life completely changes. Talk of the sleepless nights, crying babies, and endless joy, you name it. And after a while, it is natural to feel burnt out.
A family vacation comes as a relief for many new parents – or obligations interstate may see you needing to prepare for a long journey by road (especially if you’re not quite feeling ready for airplane travel with a baby!)
But we’ll bet there’s a constant worry whether traveling with a newborn by car is safe; and will you be able to survive a longer trip by car with your newborn?
Chances are that your newborn probably arrived home by car after delivery, meaning there are no restrictions on family road trips. Provided you and your baby get out of the car every couple of hours to take a stretch and avoid restlessness, there’s no reason you can’t undertake a successful road trip with a newborn.
Car travel with an infant is good for you and the family, and here are some reasons why:
- It helps you build confidence as a parent
- You get to share new experiences with your little one
- You get to enjoy some quality family time
- Traveling with your little one helps in their brain development
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How soon can a newborn travel long distances by car? This is an overwhelming query that lingers in every parent’s mind. It is very understandable, given the delicate, tender, and fragile nature of your little one, making you want only the best for their safety.
While no laws or safety implications have been put in to determine the right age for your infant, some safety tips ensure that your little one is safe as you travel.
The American Academy of Pediatrics maintains that there is no specific child age to travel, but it gives safety tips for traveling with infants and young children. Meanwhile, the NCT (UK), recommends that if you are traveling with an infant that is less than four weeks, you should ensure that they do not sit in their car seats for more than thirty minutes.
For an older baby, they should not stay in the car seat for more than two hours before you take a break.
Always Use An Infant Car Seat!
It should go without saying that you are ALWAYS to use an infant car seat anywhere you drive with your newborn, be it a short trip around the block or across the country. Never, ever hold your infant in your arms whilst the vehicle is moving, no matter how distressed your baby might seem, in their car seat is the safest place.
The most important thing to remember is that the car seat should always be in a rear-facing position when road-tripping with a baby and correctly installed in the back seat.
As your infant grows, you should also familiarize yourself with the car seat laws of the state(s) and countries where you will be traveling. This is because while some states/countries do not specify the type of car seat to be used at a particular age, or car seat position, some are clear about these in the laws; if car seat rules are violated, they can attract hefty fines.
Medical Issues and Concerns
If you have any concerns at all before setting out, please raise them with your pediatrician or health care worker. They are sure to put your mind at ease that a healthy baby is fine to undertake a road trip.
When you decide to go on a long road trip with a baby, and you are an American citizen, ensure that they (infants) have their medical insurance. Ensuring that you have the proper insurance for your baby is essential before you travel. You should also double-check to ensure your baby is registered under your medical plan.
If you are from another country, then be sure your child has their insurance health card and that you have it with you as you travel, just as important as their baby passport.
Your car travel with a newborn might seem daunting at first, but it can be a rewarding and memorable experience if done right. And yes, your baby can also have a great time on the road!
First, you must adjust your attitude, carry some handy must-haves, and a few simple tricks to ensure you are all happy and comfortable on the road. Sure, there may be some tears (yours and your baby’s!), but let’s try and minimize these by going in to your car trip well prepared.
Buckle up and read on to learn how to ensure that your long journey comes with memories that will last a lifetime.
Get Your Car Checked Before Leaving For Your Car Travel With A Newborn
Before heading out, ensure that your vehicle is mechanically ready to hit the road. Check for tire replacement, whether you need an oil change or your car’s air conditioner is working. Trust us, an auto repair shop is the last place you want to find yourself in on your long car ride with a baby!
Having a technician ensures that your baby’s car seat is installed correctly according to the car seat manufacturers specifications before taking off is also a great idea if you’re feeling unsure.
Plan Your Route Wisely
Prior and proper planning beforehand will ensure that you avoid driving too far in a single day. You should therefore plan for several stops when road-tripping with a baby, as this is important, and inevitable. Always allow yourself extra time!
Depending on the age of your little one, you should plan for stops every one to three hours. Why, might you ask? This is because your little one needs frequent breaks from their car seat and regular feeds and changes. You can incorporate fun activities during the breaks.
These breaks will also be times for feeding, diaper changes, and walks for you and the baby to get the much-needed stretching and fresh air.
Time The Long Distance, Right
The right timing during your long car ride is when your little one has their nap times or bedtime. By so doing, you will have a good chunk of quiet, peaceful driving that you need.
But if your baby is not a great car sleeper, then the best time would be shortly after they awake in the morning or immediately after their nap and feed. This will ensure that you have a well-rested and happy baby.
All said and done on planning, ensure that before you leave, your baby has a clean diaper and a full tummy – these are likely be their largest causes for complaint once you’re on the move.
Entertain Your Baby
For newborn babies, remember you are still their favorite toy. As you travel, being as present as possible will be essential. How you might wonder:
- Sing: yes, your baby loves your voice though you think otherwise. The sound of your voice soothes them, and it goes a long way when you incorporate hand actions and sound effects to capture their attention completely.
- Give leg massages: just like you, your baby will feel relieved when given leg massages. So, if you are two (a driver and you), you can rub the feet and legs to help them reduce the tension.
- Sit with your baby: if you have someone to help with driving, you or a family member should sit in the back seat. This is comforting for your little one and will help them remain calm.
If you are traveling alone, you may want to look at getting a baby monitor for the car to give you peace of mind what is happening behind you.
Pack Your Car Like A Pro
Packing your car the day or night before you leave is best, and while packing, you need to categorize. This is where you know what you will need to keep at arm’s length versus what you can stow away.
The suitcases and large newborn baby items like the travel crib can go at the back of the trunk, or in a roof top cargo box, as you will likely only need to access these once you reach your destination. Then you can have a necessary bag with all you need en route.
You can also have a separate changing station in a travel bag that includes diapers, baby wipes, diaper creams, changing pad, small trash baggies, and extra clothes for you and your baby for spit-ups, spills, or worse!
You may want a nursing cover handy too, if you are not comfortable feeding in public or your baby prefers to feed without distraction.
If you don’t have older children or other passengers in the car, keep a back seat free ready to do quick diaper changes. This will save you needing to hunt out proper change room facilities at every rest stop.
Take Regular Rest Stops
During your car travel with an infant, you will need to take frequent breaks for several reasons.
One of the reasons is that the much-needed break will give your baby a change of scenery and give you a chance to feed and cuddle your little one. This way, your baby might be a little less grumpy as they will have a chance to get out of the rear-facing car seat and interact.
As a general rule, you should take a 15-minute break after every two hours with young babies on a long road trip. The reason behind the 2-hour rule is concerns of restricted breathing in a car seat after more than a couple of hours.
This is also an opportunity to adjust how many layers your baby is wearing as the day heats up. Overheating can be another common cause of newborn discomfort, even after they’ve been fed and diaper changed.
Bring A Cooler With Bottles, Snacks or Meals
Whilst you may be breastfeeding full-time at home, while you’re on the move you may find it more convenient to pump and transport your breastmilk ready for feeds in the car or roadside stops.
If you’re taking the pumping and pre-prepared bottle route, or prefer to formula feed your infant, you will want a good cooler for the car.
If your baby hates taking their milk cold, a wise investment for your road trip will be a portable bottle warmer to quickly prepare their baby bottles on the move. Their are many fabulous models made for use on-the-go that work on a thermos system or plug into your car with a USB cord.
Remember YOURSELF, too. Throw a few healthy snacks in the cooler for yourself as well, in an easy to grab picnic bag or cooler as you may want to eat on the move if your baby is peacefully sleeping through and you’re not due a rest stop – some easy to grab granola bars are an excellent choice.
Recreate Your Baby’s Sleeping Environment
Having your little one sleep for a portion of your trip is essential for everyone’s happiness. So, do everything it takes to recreate your baby’s ideal sleeping environment.
You can bring their comfort blankets, lovey, or pacifiers. And if your baby is used to the white sound, you can download it to play on your phone or iPad or use a portable white noise machine.
You can also use a window shade to ensure your baby sleeps peacefully and is protected from the sun. A window shade is also great for creating a slightly darker nap-inducing environment.
Remember Baby’s Favorite Things
Having the things that your baby finds entertaining or comforting with you during your road trip with your newborn will be beneficial. When the baby has awoken from their nap, they will be ready to play and interact – which is difficult when you’re sat up front.
A newborn is likely unable to differentiate between old and new travel toys, so you’re a long way off needing to wrap them little surprised or anything like that, yet! (for older bubs, head over to our toddler road-tripping tips for further entertainment ideas).
For a young infant, you will need a few simple and engaging baby toys for the car, that they can squeeze, suck and cuddle as comfort items.
Make A Playlist
Making a playlist that you and your baby will enjoy will make your road trip soo much fun. If you can sync your phone or device to the car speakers, make a playlist of your family’s favorite songs.
The great thing is, your newborn is a long way from complaining how old and embarrassing your favorite hits are, and won’t be requesting Baby Shark on repeat, either!
You can also listen to podcasts or audiobooks. Maybe skip the thrillers genre, but something light and chatty can not only help the time move more quickly for the grown ups in the car, the sound of voices in the car can be relaxing for your baby, too.
Dress Your Baby In Everyday Clothes And A Blanket
You never know whether your little one will be too cold or too hot as you travel. Whatever the case, it is best to be prepared. Clothing your little one in everyday clothes will allow you to regulate their temperature more effectively and prevent overheating.
Ensure that they are not clothed in anything too padded, like a pram suit, as this might make their car seat ineffective in case of a collision. If they seem cold, use an additional blanket over their car seat – we have more tips for keeping your baby warm in their car seat here.
Conversely, you don’t want your baby overheating in their seat either when its hot outside, we share all top tips for keeping infants cool in their car seat over here.
Remember Your Camera
Road trip with newborn calls for lots of pictures! You will be lost without your camera.
Ensure that you capture all those magical moments of your newborn first road trip. And who knows, once you have exhausted everything to entertain your baby, they might find it attractive to look at your pictures and themselves!
Be Prepared For Everything And Anything
All we hope for when traveling is to arrive safely at our destination. But it is only sometimes smooth, and some unforeseen circumstances might arise. Always have a bucket or a small garbage pail and old towel or muslin cloth within arm’s reach.
Have a first aid kit with sunblock, band-aids, over-the-counter drugs, prescriptions, and bug spray, just in case. Also, ensure that your vehicle has emergency supplies like jumper cables, a spare tire jack, and, if applicable to your location, a small snow shovel and a brush.
Best of luck with your new baby adventure! Sure, they’re not going to remember their early years on the road but you’ll undoubtedly be creating memories of a lifetime, and well on your way to becoming a family of adventurers!
© Family Road Trip