Looking back at my last 7 years as a mother, many memories stand out, each for different reasons. I must say however, that many of the ultra-horrendous ones have involved being in a car with a baby or a toddler! I’ll give you a few examples:
Imagine the scene: It’s August, a hot day, my baby is a few weeks old. I’m driving along the M25 and she’s peacefully sleeping. I’m almost home and dry. Suddenly I see the queue of brake lights ahead. No! This can’t be happening! We stop. Around an hour later, people are starting to get out of their cars. Of course, the baby has woken up, and has started screaming. I’m now in full on panic mode. Should I take her out to feed her? Would this be safe or even legal? My bottled water is running out, and I soon find myself sobbing hysterically on the tarmac. The drama passes eventually of course, but MY GOD was that day stressful.
Then there was the time that my 2 older daughters decided to feed their 1-day old sister a Mini Cheddar in the back of the car on the motorway on the way home from hospital. Cue 70mph screeching from me and the awful realization that I couldn’t reach her from the passenger seat of our Alhambra.
Probably the worst though, was the day I nearly killed a white van man by causing him to have a heart attack on a mini roundabout. You see, I hadn’t closed the back door of my car properly, and as I swung round the roundabout, oblivious, the door flew open, revealing the baby car seat to him (safely clicked into the Isofix base thankfully)! He beeped and beeped like a maniac poor man. But I was exhausted, and in somewhat of a haze.
Trouble is, as new parents, we spend quite a lot of our time feeling that way. Sleep deprived, panicky, rushed, unprepared, and to be frank, not really sure what we’re doing. The experience of being trapped in a vehicle with an intensely unhappy baby, screaming at the top of their lungs makes us feel overwhelmed, desperate, and fearful. A baby’s cry is designed specifically to be difficult to ignore, and boy is that true! There are times that we can’t avoid driving with our babies and toddlers, so how can we survive those stressful situations, and what else do we need to know about car safety in general?
1. Don’t continue to drive if you feel excessively tired or distracted. I know you’re all rolling your eyes and saying, ‘But I’m always tired!’ Just use your common sense on this one. For example, don’t drive if you’ve had a run of particularly bad nights. Tiredness has very similar effects on our reflexes as alcohol. It’s just not worth the risk.
2. If you do start feeling drowsy during a drive, pull over, have some caffeine, swap drivers if possible. If you are distracted by your baby’s crying, always attempt to calm them before continuing.
3. Learn some breathing or relaxation techniques to help to control your anxiety if your baby has lost the plot, and you are not able to stop.
4. Use music, your own voice, or audiobooks to calm and soothe your baby, and maintain your own alertness.
5. If possible, with a new baby, have someone travel in the back of the car with them, for reassurance. If this is not possible, use a specially designed mirror so that you can see your baby. If your baby slumps forward, stop immediately and take the baby out of the car seat.
6. Always place your child in an appropriate car seat for their age/size, and make sure you fasten the straps correctly (take advice from your retailer if necessary, and always retain the fitting instruction manual). Rear facing car seats are safest for babies and toddlers in the event of collision, so consider using one of these for as long as possible.
7. Never strap your child into a car seat over padded clothing, as the straps cannot be pulled tight enough to be effective. Do not swaddle a young baby beneath the straps of their car seat. Always wrap blankets OVER the straps if it’s cold.
8. Heed the warnings regarding maximum journey times for babies. This is especially important for newborn and premature babies, where adverse cardiorespiratory effects have been seen in babies seated in an upright position at 40°. Some experts recommend travelling for only 30 minutes at a time during the first month. But for all young children (and yourself) never exceed 2 hours without a break.
9. The time limits are also relevant if you are clipping your car seat onto buggy wheels. Better just to transfer into the carry cot where they can lie flat. Car seats were NOT designed as a place for long term sleep.
10. Dress your baby in something comfy and breathable, e.g. a cotton all-in-one, that doesn’t ruffle up under them. Make sure there are no buttons or poppers down the back of the outfit.
11. Avoid using head cushions, soft strap covers or other third-party accessories that attach to your car seat. These can void car seat warranties and put babies in danger.
12. For older babies and toddlers, if using toys as a distraction, make sure they are lightweight (e.g. soft fabric books), as in the event of a collision, heavier objects could cause serious injury (this applies to all objects in your car, so keep it as clear as possible).
13. Make sure the child locks are on in the rear of your car. You may find your toddler has suddenly had a growth spurt and can now reach the handle!
14. Avoid turning around to pick things up off the floor in the back whilst driving, or to change a DVD on the headrest monitor (yes, some people are that desperate to keep Peppa Pig going!). keep a bag of small toys in the front with you, so you can easily pass a new one when the first inevitably drops. Invest in a strangulation-safe dummy clip for the same reasons.
Motoring with a baby may not always be happy motoring. But it can be calmer, and safer with a bit of planning. So, strap ‘em in and get ready to show them the world!