The Fussy Baby Site

Top 10 Tips For Driving With a Fussy or High Need Baby

Baby in car seat

“All babies love the car!”, they said. “When your baby won’t sleep, just put him in the car and drive around a bit. That will knock him out in no time!”.

If that’s your hysterical laughter I hear in the background, chances are you have a high need baby. While it’s true that some high need babies do love the car, more often I’ve heard from parents that driving – or any type of travelling, really – is a nightmare.

Neither of my kids did great in the car. In fact, when my daughter was 13 months old, we took a picture of her in the car one evening….because it was the VERY first time she had ever fallen asleep in the car. The supposed “lulling noise and gentle motion” of a moving vehicle was obviously lost on her!

To be honest, I can’t really tell you why some babies don’t like the car. My guess is that much of it has to do with the fact that they’re restrained, and can’t be held, nursed or comforted as per usual. We spend all day using various techniques, strategies and products to soothe our babies, but then once we’re in the car, all that goes out the window.

This post will offer 10 strategies you can use to survive the car with a high need baby. Please share your best tip in the comments below!

1. Use loud white noise

You likely already use white noise at in the nursery, so why not in the car? Keep in mind that it needs to be loud enough to soothe your little one; which may be louder than you think. Alexis at Precious Little Sleep posted this great chart to give some perspective on how loud the womb actually is:

Baby white noise how loud

Image courtesy of Precious Little Sleep

Your favorite white noise app pumped through your car speakers is great. If you don’t have a favorite, you can try using Harvey Karp’s white noise CD (also available as a download on iTunes). If you have a passenger in the car who’s willing to help, you may also have success with the Baby Shusher (yes, that’s a real thing!). Turning your radio to static can also work in a pinch.

2. Timing is key

You know your baby best. Does she ever fall asleep in the car? No? Then don’t take the popular advice to travel during baby’s nap time. Instead of a sleeping baby, you’ll more likely end up with an overtired, screaming mess. Instead, try scheduling errands for times when your little one is rested, fed and changed. While this may not make your driving experience any better, at least you don’t have to second guess whether she’s hungry or needs a nap.

3. Use a car seat swaddle

Swaddle car seat

My kids were addicted to the swaddle (ok, well they hated it when I would first put them in it. But it was the only way they could sleep as newborns!). I think this is one reason they had trouble sleeping while in the car or stroller. Enter: The Car Seat Swaddle! This is a brand new product you can use to safely swaddle your little one in the car, swing, stroller or bouncy seat (any place where you use a 5 or 3-point harness). And because of the lightweight fabric used, there’s nothing thicker than a t-shirt between your baby and the straps (this is recommended for car seat safety).

The makers of the Car Seat Swaddle have generously offered a 10% discount to Fussy Baby Siters using the code fussy10. Let me know how it works for you!

4. Take advantage of siblings

While I usually don’t recommend taking advantage of people, when your baby is screaming, all bets are off. Beg, bribe or cajole your other kids or passengers into helping you. For younger babies, try having them hold in the pacifier. For older babies, doling out snacks or distracting with toys or funny faces could work for the short-term.

5. Use a car mirror

Cozy Greens Baby Car Mirror

I’ve heard of this one working on the rare occasion. If your little one is extremely separation-sensitive, seeing your face in a car mirror could do the trick; on the other hand, seeing you could also send your baby into further hysterics because they can see you but can’t touch you! In any case, it doesn’t hurt to give it a try. I’ve heart the Cozy Greens Baby Car Mirror is one of the best and safest on the market.

6. Use a DVD player. For God’s sake, use it!!!

We were “those parents” who said, “We will never have a DVD player in our car. Kids these days get way to much screen time as it is”. This was all fine and dandy with our first child, the easier of our two. When Sammy came along, we continued with our plan….until we started on the 1,800 km trip from Vancouver to Winnipeg. Even then, we thought that a combination of music, snacks and games would do the trick (“They’ll get to see the whole country without the distraction of TV!”).

300 kms in we bought a DVD player and never looked back.

7. Distract with car seat toys

Car seat toy

This is another trick that may work better for non high-need babies, but it’s worth a mention. While I wouldn’t recommend using those hard plastic mobiles while in transit (safety issue), you may have some luck with hooking a soft toy to your little one’s car seat while driving. Keep in mind that you car seat handle should be pushed back while driving, so car seat mobiles aren’t recommended (unless you want the toys hanging directly ON your baby’s face).

8. Make frequent stops 

From time to time I hear from a parent whose little one hates the car so passionately that he or she vomits from crying so hard. If this is your situation, be sure to work in frequent stops so your baby doesn’t get to this point. While this may not always be possible, I think planning ahead for frequent nursing or fresh air breaks during long trips can make them more tolerable for everyone involved.

9. Go easy on yourself

I know what it’s like to drive with a screaming baby. I know it makes you want to rip your hair out. It’s like nails on a chalkboard, except much, much worse. And sometimes, no matter what you do, your baby is going to cry. But trust me when I say this: the crying isn’t going to hurt your baby. This isn’t “cry it out”, and you’re not endangering your attachment with your baby. In fact, I’m actually more concerned about YOUR safety and well-being while driving with a crying baby. While it’s much easier said than done, try to go easy on yourself. If all else fails, turn up your favorite music to mask the crying and preserve your sanity!

10. Be realistic

Having a high need baby means that sometimes conventional wisdom just has to go out the window. And sometimes it means just plain lowering your expectations. My babies both grew out of their disdain for the car. Eventually, driving actually became pleasurable instead of intolerable. I’m quite certain the same thing will happen for you. But in the meantime, it might be best to let go of some of your preconceived notions about babies and cars. Drive when absolutely necessary, and forgo long car rides. And when you do go somewhere? Prepare yourself emotionally for the fact that the crying comes part and parcel.


A final note: I know some parents think their little one will be happier once they’ve gone forward facing.  In my experience, turning the car seat around doesn’t make a big difference in terms of fussiness. I would recommend using the strategies above and turning your baby around only when you absolutely have to!

I would love to hear your best tips for travelling with a fussy or high need baby. Please share in the comments below!


photo credit: Ready for my first car ride via photopin (license)

*Disclosure: I was compensated for this post. All opinions are 100% my own.