How to travel with babies and arrive calm

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You don't have to take the highway to hell when travelling with babies. Here are 20 tips to ensure your road trip runs smoothly when you have precious bundles in the back seat.


You don't have to take the highway to hell when travelling with babies. Here are 20 tips to ensure your road trip runs smoothly when you have precious bundles in the back seat.

Listening to a lullaby for hours on end may not be everyone's idea of a dream holiday. But it's just one of the ways parents can soothe babies and ensure a smooth car journey with children.

Jennifer Tait is a Mothercraft Nurse at Solve Babies who offers advice on all aspects of childcare – from newborn care to toddler taming. Tait spends nine months of the year travelling around the world caring for children from high-profile families, such as the Packers. She says her best advice when it comes to surviving a long car trip is to travel during baby's sleep time.

"Newborns are often lulled to sleep by the movement of the car so make car time bedtime. Babies under 16 weeks don't have much of a routine so you don't have to stress about sticking to a strict schedule. If you have a baby older than 16 weeks and you have to be somewhere at a certain time, time your departure around their day sleep," says Tait.

"Think about it from a baby's perspective. Whether they are in a rear-facing car seat or upright in a fixed position, they are being restrained by a five-point harness, their neck is hanging at an uncomfortable angle and if they fall asleep they can't snuggle in."

Stop for regular breaks

Tait believes babies should not travel in a capsule for more than two hours and should have time out of the car to stretch, wriggle around and enjoy some affection. While the baby is restrained in a capsule or car seat Tait recommends dangling a toy in front of them, which they will likely focus on to fall asleep, and giving them snacks and toys to play with.

"If you are travelling with a baby that is more than six months old you should pack a variety of stimulating toys, books and music," says Tait.

"When babies are stuck in a car seat for hours they get bored. If they are older than six months, give them a little sippy cup full of water.  You should also leave with plenty of time to spare so that you can give the baby regular breaks, change baby's nappy and get some fresh air before getting back in the car again," she says.


The crying game

Tait's main form of expertise is travelling on long-haul overseas flights with the children of the families she works for so she says surviving a car trip with babies is a cinch. However, if you do find yourself on the highway to hell, Tait recommends "doing whatever it takes" to get things back on track.

"If there are two adults in the car and the babies are losing it, just sit in between them to comfort them. If you're in the passenger seat, put on a puppet show or play peek-a-boo – anything to distract them," Tait says.

Her personal playlist includes a lot of Beethoven, which she says babies seem to find very soothing. She adds that the biggest no-no is to give a baby under the age of two a screen to stare at.

"Any device is terrible for a child under the age of two. I absolutely hate seeing babies in cars watching portable DVDs or staring at iPads. There has been research done by the University College London that these handheld devices can impact the sleep of infants and possibly harm brain development," she says.

Pack healthy snacks

Tait warns that giving children juice or sugary snacks is a recipe for disaster. She advises parents prepare lots of little healthy snacks that can be doled out along the way.

"Never give your children juice. It's full of sugar. Just give them water because if they have sugary snacks or juice they will be off their trolleys in no time," Tait says.

"From six months on, you can give your child little rusks or sultanas, little sandwiches to suck on and a variety of snacks. One of the best snacks to prepare when you are on the go is simply mashed banana with avocado. It's delicious. It comes in its own packaging and can be prepared in minutes," she says.

Tait recommends making a few frozen meals such as sweet potato and leek mash or lamb shanks with roasted pumpkin so that when you arrive at your destination your baby can enjoy a home-cooked meal.

"If you are in a car and on the road and you don't want to buy fast food then take along an insulated lunch box containing natural yoghurt and stewed apple. Be clever about it. Take some cold boiled eggs and pre-prepared Vegemite sandwiches and don't give them junk. It will affect their behaviour and turn the road trip into a nightmare," Tait says. 

Top 20 tips and tricks for travelling with babies

We asked the Essential Baby audience for their ultimate tips. Here's what they said.

1. If your baby is older than 16 weeks, travel during their day sleep

2. If your child is under the age of two, avoid the use of handheld devices.

3. Don't give them sugary drinks or snacks.

4. Give them food and water regularly.

5. Stop for short breaks and fresh air every two hours.

6. Try to avoid peak traffic times.

7. If your baby can walk, let them run around at a park to stretch their legs.

8. Stop for a picnic at a playground.

9. Pack chemical-free wet wipes.

10. Have multiple toys on hand.

11. Take teething rusks and little snacks such as boxes of sultanas.

12. Stop for toilet stops or nappy changes.

13. Have a plastic toy box between the car seats that they can dip into.

14. Play their favourite Wiggles CD.

15. Take a Magna Doodle

16. Play peek-a-boo.

17. Put on a puppet show.

18. Have some prepared frozen meals and snacks.

19. Use window guards for shade.

20. If they start to cry, sing and it will quieten them down.

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