Cars are dangerous places for a baby. They can get too hot. They can get in accidents. Baby's head always flops forward and you wonder if they can breathe like that. And, of course, they're not comfortable, babies often hate their carseats, and they can get carsick and scream and cry and be miserable because they can't crawl around.
I would love to avoid cars altogether, but I can't. There are too many places (like work and the train station) I have to go to and can't walk to. I miss the days when I could walk everywhere!
So, in view of accepting this necessary evil, let's review a few safety tips for traveling by car with a baby.
1. Make sure the baby gets out of the car with you. You've probably heard stories about babies that died in hot cars because their parents forgot to take them out. Continuity of care -- the baby always being with the same person -- reduces this danger by a lot. It's when someone who doesn't usually have the baby, like the dad, brings the baby along and doesn't remember.
Keep contact with the baby while in the car -- ask him if he's awake, sing to him, comment on what you see. Even a tiny baby enjoys the sound of your voice. If you haven't got the baby with you for some reason, still walk around to the carseat side and look at the empty seat. Make this a habit you do every time.
Large families are especially at risk for forgetting someone. Make it a rule that only Mom is responsible for the youngest child. I heard recently of a family that lost their baby because two different siblings thought the other one was supposed to get the baby out of the car. Just don't delegate this job! Siblings can help the toddlers, who can talk and make a fuss if they aren't taken out. But only Mom should be responsible for getting baby out. If and when my family gets much bigger, I'll probably use my mother-in-law's trick. She calls roll every time she gets into the car to make sure she didn't leave anyone anywhere. And she mentions every one of her ten children, taking the time to remember where each absent child is. When you've got ten kids, it's responsible to take precautions like this!
2. Watch out for hot carseat parts when getting into the car. I know our carseat heats up a lot: some of the fittings are metal and some are black plastic, both of which absorb a lot of heat. Feel the carseat before putting baby in, and if there are hot parts, cool them off with your hand before you put him in. Also let the hot air out a bit to make him more comfortable. One way to keep the carseat from getting overheated when you have to park in the sun is to drape a blanket over the carseat when you get out. When you get back in the car, the carseat won't be so hot (though still feel it!)
3. Make sure baby's securely buckled before you start the car! My trick for making sure I've buckled Marko properly is kissing him. First I buckle, then I check over all the buckles, then I give him a kiss. As I'm getting behind the wheel, I sometimes wonder, "Did I get everything? Or did I get distracted and leave something unbuckled?" I can't really remember doing it sometimes. But I always remember kissing my baby, so I know I checked the buckles.
4. Keep baby rear-facing as long as he can fit that way. Generally, the law only requires you to keep a carseat rear-facing until the baby is a year old and 20 pounds -- but rear-facing is still much safer for kids up to four. Take a look at a baby or toddler's head and neck. They have huge heads and little noodle necks! You don't want those necks snapping forward when you make an abrupt stop -- you want them to be supported by the carseat behind them.
5. Can the baby breathe with his head flopped forward like that? The answer is not as well, so try not to let baby's head flop. Make sure the carseat is reclined the proper amount (about a 45 degree angle or so) and include a head cushion for newborns. When you're not driving, take the baby out of the carseat. The carseat isn't a good place for sleeping on a regular basis. A wrap or sling keeps baby way happier as I do my errands.
That's all I can think of, but feel free to add more in the comments. I probably won't get a chance to blog over the long weekend, so see you Tuesday!