When Can You Travel With A Newborn By Car?

The joy of traveling with a newborn is undeniable. You get to introduce your little one to new sights, sounds, and experiences, creating lasting memories for you and your baby. It’s a chance to bond with your baby and also an opportunity to take a break from the daily routine and enjoy some quality time together as a family.

Nonetheless, the thought of traveling with a newborn can be daunting, and as a parent, you are bound to have some concerns, especially if you plan to travel by car. Is your child old enough to be strapped on a car seat? How long should you be on the road with your kid in the backseat? What precautions do you need to take to ensure their safety?

All these concerns are normal. After all, you want to ensure the safety and comfort of your little one when you hit the road. And with careful planning and preparation, you can have a safe, fun, and rewarding experience. 

In this article, we’ll explore when it’s safe to travel with a newborn by car, provide tips for traveling with a newborn, and offer precautions to take while on the road to ensure your baby’s safety and comfort.

What You Need to Know About Car Seats and Travelling With a Newborn

Here are three essential things you need to know about car seats for your newborn:

When to Install a Car Seat: To ensure that you are properly prepared, you will typically need to install a car seat 3 to 4 weeks before delivery. This means that your baby can use a car seat from the moment they’re born and cleared to go home by the doctor.

In fact, in the USA, every state requires parents to have a car seat before leaving the hospital, making it a legal requirement and a safety measure.

When Can You Travel with Your Baby: While your baby can use a car seat from birth, that doesn’t mean they can travel. Typically, you will use the car when bringing them home and taking them for check-ups in the first few weeks.

Since newborns start using car seats and since birth, there are no restrictions on traveling by car unless a doctor warns you against it. However, for longer trips, newborns can only travel for 2 hours.

The 2-Hour Rule: Newborns can only travel for a maximum of two hours at a time, which can limit longer car journeys. Many car seat manufacturers recommend that a baby should not be in a car seat for longer than two hours, within 24 hours.

Sitting in a semi-upright position for an extended period can strain a baby’s developing spine and restrict its airflow, increasing the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). However, premature babies and babies under four weeks should avoid long care journeys of more than 30 minutes.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Guidelines on Travelling With a Newborn

Traveling with a newborn can be nerve-wracking, but the AAP provides guidelines for car seats that can help alleviate some of the stress. When traveling with a newborn, the three main guidelines are:

  • Use Infant-Only or Convertible Carseat (CCS) 

Car seats specifically designed for newborns, or convertible car seats that can be used both rear-facing and forward-facing, are the best options for your newborn.

Since traveling with a newborn typically requires many stops, this car seat can offer unmatched convenience. Rear-facing-only car seats usually have a handle for carrying and can be snapped in and out of a base installed in the vehicle.  

  • Keep The Carseat Rear-Facing as Long as Possible

The AAP recommends that all infants and toddlers ride in a rear-facing car seat as long as possible until they reach the highest weight or height their car seat’s manufacturer allows.

This is because the rear-facing position provides the best protection for your baby’s head, neck, and spine in a crash. This can be helpful when traveling long distances as you will be able to ensure your child’s comfort and safety. 

  • Use CSS Correctly and Consistently

Once your child using a rear-facing-only car seat reaches the highest weight for their seat, they should continue to ride rear-facing in a convertible seat for as long as possible.

Most currently available convertible seats can be rear-facing to at least 40 pounds, providing extended protection for your child. 

  • Use CCS With Harness Strap Positioning and Harness Tension

When travelling with a newborn, it’s important to ensure their safety using a child restraint system (CCS) with an inbuilt harness.

A rearward-facing CCS is a must for babies under six months, while those over six months can use either a rearward-facing or forward-facing restraint. Proper positioning of the harness straps is essential for maximum safety.

When rear-facing, the straps should be at or just below the shoulders. The harness tension should also be checked regularly to ensure it passes the pinch test. Additionally, the harness needs to be short enough to fit snugly over the small bodies of newborns to provide the best protection possible.

Tips for Travelling With A Newborn

When traveling with an infant, you should take steps that ensure their safety and make the journey less stressful. Here’s how you can do that: 

Make Frequent Stops: On long journeys, recent research advises stopping regularly to change the baby’s position (at most every 2 hours and taking the baby out of a car seat). Take this time to Check the baby’s back, head, and neck position regularly to ensure they are not slumped forwards.

Supervise your Child: Even when using a convertible car seat that is relatively safe, don’t leave anything to chance. Have someone sit at the back and ensure your child is safe throughout the journey. This person can be your partner, a nanny, or an older child. If you are traveling alone with your baby, you should consider stopping and checking the baby every 30 minutes.

Keep Your Child Entertained: Long car rides can be tough, especially with a restless baby or toddler in the back seat, which is why you need to entertain them! One great option is to have someone sit in the back seat with your child. Singing songs or playing games can be a great distraction and help make the journey more enjoyable. 

Babies love face-to-face time with their loved ones, so it’s a win-win! To keep them extra busy, be sure to bring along their favourite toys. And even if you’re driving, you can still bond with your little one by taking breaks to cuddle and play together.

Stock Up on Essentials: When preparing for a journey, it’s crucial to stock up on essentials to ensure that you and your baby are comfortable throughout the trip.

A diaper bag or cooler in the back seat is a perfect solution. Pack it with extra diapers, wipes, diaper creams, changing pads, clothes, garbage bags, and hand sanitizer for easy access.

Don’t forget formula or breast milk in a cooling bag, bibs, pacifiers, a favorite toy, books, and a music player for entertainment. Additionally, ensure you have snacks and water for yourself. However, always remember never to leave your baby alone in the car, especially in hot weather, and prepare for emergencies. 

Make The Journey Worthwhile

Traveling with a newborn by car can be hectic. But it doesn’t need to be. You can make it worthwhile by planning, following the guidelines and safety regulations, and taking the necessary precautions while on the road. This will ensure you and your baby have a safe and enjoyable trip. 

Babies are inherently different. Therefore, always consult with your pediatrician and consider the baby’s developmental and health factors when planning the trip. With proper preparation and care, traveling with a baby can be a memorable experience for the whole family.

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