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Car seats, while immensely safe and necessary, can be tricky for parents who wish to take their babies on long drives. Let’s face it. None of us would enjoy being strapped to a seat and have our movement restricted.
At nearly four months, Raahi has been on several car journeys and three road trips with us in the New England region. While we can’t claim that she’s been easygoing throughout, we have certainly managed to survive some of our adventures together. Making our baby travel-friendly is a constant work in progress and a learning experience for both Raahi and us. And we’ve enjoyed every bit of it. Okay, maybe not the inconsolable meltdown at the end of a day on a road trip – but you get the drift.
A note about naps & feeds
Not all babies are the same and some might genuinely nap longer or quicker on a road trip. During a regular day, Raahi pretty much follows the eat-play-sleep routine. (thank you Baby Whisperer and Baby Calm for helping us identify the pattern). Replicating that routine on the road can be tricky as we have to adjust our journey to fit her feeding needs. Since I am breastfeeding (bottle training is a WIP currently), we have to stop our car to get her out of her seat to feed. Further, she can sometimes be a pretty easy on-the-go napper but can also get super cranky at other instances, especially if she has been in the car for long or is simply exhausted. Also, at this point – she can’t completely occupy herself for long stretches so we have to keep being creative.
When she’s not napping or feeding, we try to keep her occupied in the ways mentioned below. The first two ideas in this list were super helpful while she was younger than 6 months. The last three tips have been most helpful during the 6-12 month phase.
If you’re not singing to your baby, you need to start now. Research shows that singing helps parents bond with babies, and keeps them calm. More importantly, it gets their attention like no other, especially when they’re strapped. We use songs as a way to distract Raahi at home and even on the road (sneaky, I know). When she’s playful we sing cheerful songs. When we see that she’s ready to nap, we sing western or Bollywood inspired lullabies or simply made up songs in soft voices. It also helps to look into her eyes while singing. At her current age, we have started to get reactions from her: smiles, coos, recognition, and 100% attention. Her eyes simply light up when I sing to her. If you’re driving and are unable to look at your baby, don’t sweat – try some singing if your baby is crying.
Sometimes, it also helps to keep lullaby playlists handy.
Unless it’s a meltdown and you absolutely must stop the car, singing will help you engage with your baby while on the move. Also, I’m one of those mamas who accompanies her baby in the back seat. Our idea is to first make sure she is comfortable enough to survive in the car seat, and then slowly let her sit alone.
2. A colorful car seat canopy
I must admit that we discovered this form of entertainment by accident. We happened to order a sunshade for Raahi’s side of the car window, but it barely seemed to block the sunlight from falling on her face. As she is below six months of age, we try not to expose her to harsh sunlight for too long.
I had been keeping a long colorful scarf (similar to this one) that has traditional Indian embroidery in the car as a cover-up for our feeding sessions. On one of our road trips, I looped the scarf around the roof handle to cover her side of the window. Then I extended a part of the scarf to one end of her car seat handle to form a canopy on one side (see below). The colors and patterns on the scarf have managed to keep her engrossed during our rides. We also use it for peek-a-boo sometimes although she hasn’t understood what that’s all about 🙂
3. Dangling toys with sounds
Many parents attach dangling toys to their car seats for their babies to look at when they’re in their strollers. We’ve noticed that waving a dangling toy that has bells or some sort of a sound in front of Raahi seems to get her attention. But unfortunately, this can’t be replicated in the car seat as the seat handle has to be kept behind, away from the baby’s head. So I simply next to her and show her some dangly toys. Her favorite is a woolen sheep with bells that I picked up in Mexico City (couldn’t find anything similar on Amazon. Note to self, always pick up local souvenirs as toys!)
Some of these tips also help to extend her wake times, which allows us to cover a bit more distance. We’ve always found it tougher to extend her naps beyond the regular 40 minutes in the car. I must add that we do have a car seat mirror but it doesn’t seem to have caught her attention yet.
Update: By 12 months, Raahi tends to get bored with the same toys, and once she’s done playing, she conveniently throws the toy aside. The following toys have been our constant car seat companions:
How to entertain a baby in the car without resorting to technology? Give them a book, or many books! Over the past few months, books have been our answer to several situations when we’ve needed to occupy our baby. She looks at pictures, flips the pages, and also attempts to chew the books. As long as it keeps her busy and inspires her to engage with the book, we can’t complain! We’ve found a combination of lightweight and board books to be especially handy during road trips. The Indestructible series of books are especially chew-friendly. Whatever you pick, make sure they’re small and easy to tuck into a car seat organizer. Here are some of our recommendations:
5. Car seat mirror
For the first few months upon introducing the car seat mirror, Raahi seemed to not care for it much. It is only after a while did she start acknowledging it. She looks at herself, says hi and we often hear her babbling to herself too. We now try to get her to interact with herself and attempt to get her to realize that the baby in the mirror is indeed her! We’ve been using the Shynerk car seat mirror and it works well for our needs.
On a side note, read this post if you’re looking to keep your baby or toddler entertained on a flight. Do you have any tips and tricks up your sleeve to keep your little one entertained? We can imagine how many more ideas we’d have to come up with as she grows older, but for now, these are lifesavers!
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