Help! My Baby Cries in the Car Seat! Coping with a Car-Hating Baby
Car seat crying - more common than people think
Before having my own child, I believed all babies loved the car and fell asleep within seconds of being strapped into a car seat. Oh how wrong I was.
My precious baby hated being in a car seat, and would scream and cry for the entire drive. He would only stop screaming if I pulled over on the side of the road and took him in my arms. Sometimes, I would have to stop 4 or 5 times on a short trip just to calm him down, as the crying was extremely distressing for both of us.
I couldn't believe it, and the stress and distraction of driving with a screaming child in the back was getting too much. Was he in pain? Hungry? Carsick? Wet? I checked everything and still couldn't figure it out.
If you've got a baby who hates riding in the car, you'll know how dangerous it is to drive while they're screaming. It's not something you can just ignore. I had to find a solution, and quickly.
Looking around the internet for information, all I found were suggestions to take public transport and avoid the car until this 'phase' was over. Ditching the car wasn't an option for us, living on top of a mountain on a tiny island without good public transport.
During those stressful months, nearly every time I told people I had a car hater, they'd nod their head and tell me their stories about their own babies screaming in the car seat. How could it be so common, yet there was hardly any information available on how to cope?
I talked to some close friends with kids, read a lot of books and experimented with many different ways to make car trips more bearable. Finally, I figured out some ways to get my baby to like (or at least accept) the car seat. It turns out that lots of babies cry in the car seat, although hardly anyone talks about it.
I've compiled several of these successful tips and tricks here so that other parents with car-hating babies can benefit from my experience. I'm so glad the car crying is over, and empathise with anyone going through this right now.
Car seat crying poll
Did you or do you have a baby that cries in their carseat?
10 tips to make car trips easier
From a mother who's been there
Check the car seat
You might think that all infant car seats are comfortable for babies, but there's a huge difference between brands and models.
It could be that your baby has outgrown the seat and is feeling cramped. Heavy foam cushions covered in velour or other warm fabrics could be overheating your little one, or the angle at which they are reclined at is uncomfortable.
Many babies have silent reflux, and leaning back at an angle could be making it worse. Having their legs stretched out in certain ways leads to painful trapped gas. Not to mention that some babies feel very exposed and vulnerable in a seat that's much larger than they are.
Using a car seat positioner is great for babies with colic or reflux, as it gets them in a comfortable angle. Many babies without colic love these products for the cocooned and safe feeling it gives them.
The best car seat for car-hating babies?
In general, once you transition your baby from an infant seat to a convertible seat the crying will lessen as they are finally able to see around and have a better view.
I talked to several parents of babies who cried in their infant seat, and the True Fit kept coming up again and again as the best choice for car hating babies. Why?
Only babies know the real reason, but it must be something to do with the upright angle, comfortable pillows and width of the seat. It feels soft, safe and babies can see around them while in the back seat.
As an added bonus, it's far less expensive than comparable models even though it has excellent safety results and a 5-star rating from the NHTSA.
Many babies feel alone and exposed in a car seat. These car seat positioners give your baby that snuggled-up, cocooned feeling that reminds her she's safe.
They're especially good for babies with colic or reflux, and premature infants love the extra comfort, too. But nearly all babies appreciate the cosiness, and you can make it even more familiar by sleeping with the positioner so it smells like you.
Snuzzler video review
This is a fantastic product - it stops infants from slumping, gives greater comfort to babies with reflux and gives an all round cushioned and snug feeling to all little ones.
Art and toys keep baby's interest
If your baby is crying because she's bored, it could be really easy to get her smiling again. Most babies calm down quickly when shown beautiful things such as art, a favourite toy or a photo of their parents.
Over the years, child researchers and psychologists have found that the contrast of black and white images is particularly soothing for babies. The following two collections of black and white art were specially designed for infants, and many parents swear by them to calm their little ones down.
For very young babies, you can try hanging one or two of the cards in front of your baby's carseat and changing the images every few days. Older babies can hold the book themselves and turn to their favourite pages.
Art for Baby - BoardbookCHECK PRICE
Art Cards for BabyCHECK PRICE
Why is contrasting art so calming for babies?
- Rapt on Art - Black and White Art for Babies
Never mind a pacifier - there's another, less conventional, way to calm a fractious baby: a dose of contemporary art.
Beautiful contrasting art and toys
I highly recommend getting at least one or two contrasting items to hang in the car in front of young babies. In my experience, it goes a long way in calming a baby and keeping their attention for a while so they forget that they hate the car.
Mobiles or cards that can be hung are the most practical for infants. But books are useful if a second person is sitting in the back seat with baby - or you can photocopy the pages and hang them up, while keeping the book for in the house. This way, your baby will be familiar with the pictures.
Easy to hang in the back of the car, this mobile uses specially formulated art that mesmerises babies of all ages. A mix of coloured and black and white images provide variety. Babies love it!
Play music and sing songs
Singing to your baby is one those universal acts that all parents do, and all babies love. Whether it's a meaningful tune you hummed to your baby while in your belly, or a fun song they've recently discovered this is one of the best calming techniques around.
My son nearly always stopped crying when we sung the Do Re Mi from the Sound of Music to him. And there was a list of 3 or 4 other songs that would work well, too. They had to be upbeat and fun, though. Slow songs and lullabies would frustrate him and lead to even louder screaming.
The key here is to experiment. Find a song your baby loves, and be prepared to change it often as of course once it works a few times they're going to change their minds again.
Having a couple of CDs in the glovebox is also a lifesaver if singing loudly for 30 minutes makes your throat dry. Luckily, there's a huge range of amazing compilations for babies available now. From soothing lullabies to rock and reggae, there's something for every baby.
Which music for car-hating babies?
Lots of parents - myself included - swear by music to help a car seat cryer last the journey home.
But what kind of music is better: soft, soothing sounds to calm baby down, or upbeat tunes to distract baby's attention from the fact they're in the car?
Which type of music is better for car-hating babies?
A variety of music for babies
During those stressful months when my baby screamed in the car, having a rotating stack of CDs in the glovebox was a lifesaver. Most of the time he reacted well to energetic and happy songs, but sometimes the only thing that worked was a calming tune.
Here are a few of our favourite CDs from this time.
Designed to calm, stimulate and build your baby's brain, this compilation of Mozart's music is soothing yet fun at the same time for babies of all ages.
Honestly, every single Putumayo CD I've listened to has been fantastic, and this one especially for children is no different. No baby or child can resist tapping their feet or nodding their head to the upbeat tunes. And it's perfect for adults, too.
Watch a baby calm down with music
This video has been around for a while, but it's still fun to watch. Watch how easily this baby calms down in his car seat, with the help of his favourite music.
Install a baby mirror
One of the reasons that babies can get so distraught in the car is because they feel alone and under-stimulated. Facing backwards, without any company is boring and your baby may be at an age where they think you've disappeared if they can't see you.
A specially-designed mirror for the car can help your baby be reassured by seeing your face, as well as keeping them entertained.
This particular mirror by Baby Einstein is really cool. It features music, lights and talking in 4 different modes that can be programmed to play for between 10 and 60 minutes. It even introduces your baby to colours in several different languages!
What's particularly important to me as a driver is that it's not too loud - the sound is enough for baby to be entertained but not so harsh that it's annoying to me in the front of the car.
Baby Einstein Travel MirrorCHECK PRICE
This is such a cute mirror, and it comes in other animal versions, too.Reviewers like it because the mirror is good quality, with a clear reflection so it only takes a quick glance to check on baby. It's also very easy to install.
Build positive associations
If your little one has been screaming in the car for a while now, chances are they have very strongly ingrained negative associations with the car seat.
To overcome this, it's a good idea to gently place baby in the car seat outside of driving times, so they can start to associate it with positive emotions.
Take the car seat out of the car regularly, and
- Read a story to baby while in the car seat
- Place them in there for a few minutes while you brush your teeth, pack the diaper bag or get ready in the morning
- Give them their favourite toy while in the car seat
- Sing songs, pull faces and massage their feet; anything to get them smiling
- While the rest of the family is enjoying a meal, place baby in the car seat at the table so they can join in
Of course, if you try these things and your baby starts screaming or looks upset, stop! The whole point is to break the cycle of negativity around the car seat, not add to it.
Try white noise
Sometimes, babies cry in the car because they're just feeling so overwhelmed that they don't know what else to do.
They've gone from being snug and warm in your arms to being thrust into a noisy, open, bright carseat where they don't see you anymore. It's an unfamiliar place, and they don't know when they'll get out again and see you.
You have probably heard of Harvey Karp and his theories on calming babies. Once of his great pieces of advice - which saved us on many occasions - is to make the shushing sound. Babies love this, as it reminds them of the constant whooshing sound they heard in the womb.
Of course, making a constant shhhhh noise during a 30 minute drive that's loud enough to be heard in the back seat is quite difficult and tiring. That's why some very clever people invented white noise CDs and toys. Try them, they nearly always work.
Happiest Baby on the Block Soothing Sounds - White Noise CDCHECK PRICE
Introduce a teether, lovey, or pacifier
Some babies have a very strong need to suck on something to calm them down.
A pacifier, teething toy or other lovey that helps them feel safe and calm could be the difference between a stressful car trip and a bearable one.
Whichever soothing object you and your baby like, it's a good idea to get them familiar with it before the car trip. Soft toys and loveys can be put under your shirt for a few hours to capture your familiar smell, and pacifiers offered during story or bathtime if your baby is relaxed.
Sleep Sheep On the Go
I hadn't heard of this product when my son was tiny, but I wish I had. Parents swear that it calms infants down instantly and helps them fall asleep. It features 4 different soothing white noise sounds and a timer so it turns off automatically after 23 or 45 minutes.
It sounds to me like a perfect tool to have stashed in the car for those days when your baby screams and screams. It's cuddly, calming and very effective. Small enough to put in a diaper bag, you can remove the battery box to make it into a soft toy.
Velcro strap to attach it to car seat or strollerEasy to washComes with batteries
Personal recommendations for soothing objects
Here are some items that we personally tried with my baby boy, and that I can highly recommend.
The very first customer review on Amazon had me convinced. The Ookie captures a parent's familiar scent and comforts baby easily. These super soft, squishy and satiny dolls last for years and almost become an extra family member. It's great for leaving in the carseat to remind baby that his parents aren't far away.
Stop and reconnect
Sometimes the only thing that helps is stopping the car and cuddling your baby for a while. Nursing or giving a bottle feed, singing, rocking or going for a short stroll all help calm your baby down so you can continue on to your destination safely.
My son would get so upset in the car that he'd be sweaty, red and at the point of vomiting when I stopped the car. I'd wipe his face, nurse him and explain to him that we'd be home soon.
I strongly believe in the importance of explaining to babies what is going on around them. I found that it helped calm my son to have me narrate what was happening and what would happen next.
Try a sunshade
It seems like such a simple and ridiculously obvious detail, but sometimes babies cry in the car because there's sun in their eyes. You won't be able to tell how much sun is getting in from your position in the front of the car, but glare in a baby's eyes can be very frustrating for them.
Putting up a sunshade is an easy and inexpensive way to make the drive a bit easier for both of you. I like these Britax ones - they're simple, well priced and do a good job of blocking the sun.
I'm not a huge fan of kiddy themed sunshades, so these classic style ones are great. The U.V protection is another plus.
These sunshades also don't use one of those annoying suction cups that keeps falling off. Instead, you just stick them on and peel them off. Easy.
Britax 3 pack Ez-Cling sun shadesCHECK PRICE
Simplify your life
Sometimes, even after trying everything our babies still get upset. It's hard, but you need to keep living your life and if driving has become a source of stress it could be time to slow down a bit.
By consolidating outings and simplifying the day, you can make it through the car screaming phase and out the other side. Here are a few tips that made my life easier during the days (or weeks) when driving wasn't an option.
- Get loved ones to come visit you instead of the other way around
- Buy in bulk, and do the groceries only every fortnight
- Better yet, buy your groceries online and have them delivered
- If possible, walk or take public transport so you can keep baby in your arms or stroller
- Lower your standards: it's not the end of the world if you haven't gone to playgroup for a while, or you haven't done all the errands you planned to do
- Pay bills online or over the phone
- Ask family and friends to help you by posting letters, picking up older children from school and getting bread on the way home
The crying phase won't last forever, so relax, stay at home and enjoy your baby.
I hope you found something in this article that works for your family, so you can drive again in peace and safety. Please leave a comment letting us know how you're doing (and feel free to share your own tips for how to cope with car crying).