How To Keep Your Baby Happy-ish When Driving In The Car

At 13.5 months old, Baby L has spent a fair bit of her time fastened into a car seat in the back of a vehicle. With both sets of grandparents living 3.5+ hours away plus a few UK holidays already under her belt, the sprog has become accustomed to life in the fast lane – or more accurately life at a steady 70mph in the left-hand lane.

One of the biggest challenges when driving is keeping your baby happy-ish in the car. If that’s not possible, then I’m more than willing to settle for ‘babbling quietly’, ‘not crying’ or ‘asleep’. With so much of our lives revolving around travelling to places in cars, finding ways of making the journey as uneventful as possible is pretty high up my list.

Since hitting about six months old, car journeys with the sprog changed. As a newborn, she’d get in the car seat and fall asleep pretty instantly for long spells whilst we drove. As the newborn months were replaced with the baby months, it became more about coinciding long journeys with her nap time so that she’d naturally sleep in the car. If we didn’t, we’d usually have a bit of a cranky child in the back who’d often whinge, shriek and cry.

keeping your baby happy-ish when driving in the car baby asleep

At just over a year, she’s now at a stage where her mind and body is really active. I imagine that the last thing she wants to do is be fastened into a car seat, unable to escape and cause chaos. Staring at the back seat probably isn’t the most entertaining of things – although I bet it still beats watching Aston Villa – so distraction techniques are needed to keep the baby happy-ish and avoid the dreaded screams and tears.

We’ve tried a number of techniques – some with great success, some with none. So, whether your travelling with a baby in your own car, hitching a ride with friends and/or family, or driving a rental car, you’ll want to make sure you’re prepared with plenty of distractions for the journey. Here’s three of our most successful:

Feed, Feed and Feed Some More

Baby L loves her food. She may weigh a mere 17.5 lbs and be rocking the 9th percentile, but the girl knows how to eat. Logic therefore suggests that if there’s one thing to keep her happy whilst in the car seat, then it’s food.

keeping your baby happy-ish in the car Baby crying in car seat then happy with food

We’ve found that feeding her is a great way of distracting and keeping her happy if her mood is on the turn. By having snacks available which can either be easily popped into her mouth or put into her hand to feed herself, we’ve discovered that she’s more likely to stay in a decent mood…whilst piling on the ounces. Win win!

The key is having food which is easy to eat and not too messy – no-one wants a sticky car seat after all. Our usual choices have been fruit, such as blueberries or raisins, and snacks like Fruit Heroes bars or Nakd bars which can be broken up into bits.

A word of warning though. When sat in the passenger seat and trying to feed a baby positioned behind you, back, neck and arm injuries are inevitable. Some of the positions you have to get into in order to reach your sprog’s mouth would cause trouble for even the bendiest of contortionists.

Become A Back Seat Distractor

This one is something we’ve only discovered recently, in part because of a stupidly long 8.5 hour journey home after a weekend away in the Lake District. The solution is simple. Rather than sit in the front of the car, join the sprog in the back (obviously that’s if you’re not driving!).

Sitting in the back next to your little one allows you to be within prime distracting distance. As soon as the sprog starts to get grumpy, you can bring out all of your tried and tested parenting moves. Blowing raspberries, playing peekaboo, pretending to eat their foot, letting them bite your finger, honking their nose, pulling silly faces, singing, clapping, holding their hand etc etc. The point is that you’re able to distract them and keep the baby happy-ish as you’re right next to them.

This can be a pretty unforgiving role though, particularly on a long car journey. Not only do you have to contend with car sickness as you won’t be used to sitting in the back, but you have to entertain, entertain and entertain. Even when you’re at your wits end, the little one’s mood can change so suddenly that you’re required to jump back into action to stop the tears coming.

Give In And Pull Over

If all of your best in-car seat distraction techniques haven’t worked and your little one is still upset, then the best bet is to find the nearest place to pull the car over. Give them the biggest distraction – or is it called letting them get their own way – by releasing them from their seat and allowing them to have a stretch. Almost instantly you’ll see the tears replaced with smiles.

Keeping your baby happy-ish when driving in a car Baby against steering wheel looks like driving

It feels like we’ve spent more time during the last year at motorway service stations than at any other time in our lives, well if we ignore the fact that I used to work at one. We’re starting to get to know the various pit stops along both the M1 and M6 a little too well, but it is all in the name of keeping the baby happy-ish.

Baby L likes nothing better than leaving the back of the car to join us in the front – for any Police Officers reading, I strictly mean when the car has stopped. We learnt our lesson the hard way from when I tried to create my own baby version of Grand Theft Auto.

Being an inquisitive little soul, she enjoys pressing every button, pushing every lever and grabbing every handle within her reach. It definitely distracts her, but we have had a few glances from people who have accidentally been honked at.

That’s three of my top distraction techniques when driving with a baby in the car. How do you cope with a screaming little one in the back whilst you’re trying to drive? How do you keep your baby happy-ish in the car? Share your methods below!

Like this? Here’s a few more thoughts on keeping a toddler distracted in the car.