Driving with your baby

If you’re taking the car to your holiday destination or heading off on a road trip, here’s how to make your drive go smoothly

Car seats: the important part

Before you go anywhere in a car with your baby, the car seat needs to be fitted correctly. Most shops will make sure your car seat is properly fitted when you buy it. Follow all the safety instructions and make sure it’s right for your child’s height and weight.

Your child’s straps should be pulled tight so you can only fit one finger’s width between the strap and their body. Apart from being safe, this will also ensure your baby is comfortable enough in their car seat (Parents, 2012).

If you’re hiring a car seat, make sure that it fits all of the same criteria. For full instructions, head to the government’s website (GOV.UK 2018).

Be prepared…for everything

If your child suffers from travel sickness, talk to your GP or pharmacist about suggestions. You can then make sure you have whatever you need for the journey.

If your baby likes a dummy, keep some spare in the front of the car. You’ll be ready to pass one over every time they (inevitably) drop them on the floor (Baby routes, 2012).

It can be handy to keep some first aid essentials too. This could include any prescription medicines that your baby might need, plasters or travel sickness pills (Parents, 2012).

If it’s going to be sunny, bring shades for the window. These window shades can protect from lights at night time as well (Child Development Institute, 2003).

In case you get stuck in traffic, make sure you’ve got snacks and drinks for yourself (Telegraph 2008; Child Development Institute 2018).

Should I let my child have snacks in the car?

While having some snacks to chomp on can be a handy distraction for a toddler on a car journey, choking is a concern (Consumer Reports, 2018). The general advice is to avoid giving your child snacks on a journey for two main reasons. First, the risk of choking and being able to deal with it quickly (Consumer Reports, 2018). Second, the risk of accidents happening if you’re craning round to offer your child a snack (Consumer Reports, 2018).

Instead, it’s safer to allow time for snacks before the journey and to pull over if you have to during the journey (Consumer Reports, 2018).

If you’re breastfeeding or bottle feeding, always pull over too. It’s risky to take a child out of their car seat and feed en route (even if you’re sitting in the back seat).

Make the car fun

If they’re having fun, most babies and toddlers will enjoy a car journey. They might be interested enough in a lorry you pass or the child waving from the car in the next lane on the motorway. But toys attached to the overhead bar of the car seat or a book clipped to the seat can also help distract younger babies.

For toddlers, go for sticker books or a child-friendly tablet where they can catch a few episodes of Peppa Pig. Don’t forget music and nursery rhyme CDs on car journeys (Which?, 2018). You could borrow some books from your library for your child to read or look at during the journey too (Child Development Institute, 2018).

Having one person in the back seat to comfort or entertain can make journeys easier. Someone singing or playing games can help distract a baby or toddler a little while longer. Babies often prefer face-to-face time with their family than spending playing with their toys (Baby Can Travel, 2017).

Schedule in breaks and nap times

It’s easiest to accept that with babies or toddlers, your journey is likely to take a lot longer than it would if it were just you (Child Development Institute, 2018). The best thing to do is schedule your drive around the time that your child would normally sleep.

If it’s a long journey, allow plenty of time for breaks so they can stretch their legs and get a break from the car seat. It’s important not to keep them in their car seat for too long anyway (Baby Routes, 2012; Baby Can Travel, 2017).

Don’t let your baby sleep too long in their car seat

Experts have warned not to use car seats as a general place for your baby to sleep in (The Lullaby Trust, 2016). The advice is not to use car seats for longer than 30 minutes for babies younger than four weeks and not using car seats for more than two hours in one go for babies of all ages (The Lullaby Trust, 2016).

If it’s essential to make a longer trip for babies younger than four weeks, it’s important to take breaks every 30 minutes. Once you’re home, always move them into their cot, even if it means waking them up (The Lullaby Trust, 2016).

Safety first

Never leave your baby alone in the car, even for a minute (Child Development Institute, 2018).

We know how a stressful and distracting a crying baby in the car can be. Rather than keep going, take time to stop and calm your baby before continuing with the journey (Child Development Institute, 2018).

It’s illegal to smoke in the car with anyone under 18 because second-hand smoke in such an enclosed space is dangerous (GOV.UK, 2015).

This page was last reviewed in May 2019.

Further information

Our support line offers practical and emotional support with feeding your baby and general enquiries for parents, members and volunteers: 0300 330 0700.

You might find attending one of NCT's Early Days groups helpful as they give you the opportunity to explore different approaches to important parenting issues with a qualified group leader and other new parents in your area.

Make friends with other parents-to-be and new parents in your local area for support and friendship by seeing what NCT activities are happening nearby.

Parents. (2012) How to travel with baby in the car. Available at:https://www.parents.com/baby/care/american-baby-how-tos/how-to-travel-with-baby-in-the-car/ [Accessed 12th June 2018]

Child Development Institute. (2003) Taking a road trip with your baby. Available at:https://childdevelopmentinfo.com/ages-stages/baby-infant-development-parenting/road-trip-with-babies/#.W9f3ytX7TIU [Accessed 12th June 2018]

Consumer Reports. (2018) Distracted driving: Why kids’ snacks and mom’s driving don’t mix. Available at https://www.consumerreports.org/cro/news/2010/06/distracted-driving-why-kids-snacks-and-mom-s-driving-don-t-mix/index.htm [Accessed 12th June 2018]

Family Off Duty. (2018) Tips for road trip with toddlers and babies. Available at:https://familyoffduty.com/tips-for-road-trip-with-toddlers-and-babies/ [Accessed 12th June 2018]

GOV.UK. (2018) Child car seats: the law. Available at:https://www.gov.uk/child-car-seats-the-rules [Accessed 12th June 2018]

The Lullaby Trust. (2016) The Lullaby Trust's statement regarding new research on car seats. Available at: https://www.lullabytrust.org.uk/the-lullaby-trusts-statement-regarding-new-research-on-car-seats/ [Accessed 12th June 2018]

Which? Top 10 baby and child travel tips. Available at:https://www.which.co.uk/reviews/travelling-with-children/article/travelling-with-children/top-10-baby-and-child-travel-tips [Accessed 12th June 2018]

Baby routes. (2012) Ten top tips for long car journeys with babies and young children. Available at:https://babyroutes.co.uk/ten-tips-long-car-journeys-children-babies/ [Accessed 12th June 2018]

Baby can travel. (2017) Road trip with a baby: 7 essential tips. Available at:https://www.babycantravel.com/2015/09/14/road-trip-with-a-baby-7-essential-tips/ [Accessed 12th June 2018]

Telegraph. (2008) Twenty tips: Travelling in a car with children. Available at:https://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/familyholidays/2433320/Twenty-tips-Travelling-in-a-car-with-children.html [Accessed 12th June 2018]

GOV.UK. (2015) Smoking in cars with children banned from today. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/smoking-in-cars-with-children-banned-from-today [Accessed 12th June 2018]

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