There is only one way to describe the feeling you get when driving with a crying baby in the car AND to top it off you’re alone; Helplessness. You can try to ignore the crying for a few minutes but sometimes it can go on and on. It can feel like there is nothing you can do to help, but there actually are ways to calm a baby even when you can’t touch him.
Many parents claim that their babies just love the car and fall asleep within minutes of leaving the house. The truth is just as many babies don’t always love riding in the back while facing the opposite direction, especially when they are all alone.
If you’re driving with someone else, you can always have one person in the back keeping baby entertained and happy, but what do you do when you are driving alone and he just won’t stop crying?
I understand this struggle very well from personal experience and helping others overcome it. My little guy just hated the car, and I couldn’t stand to hear him cry. I tried everything to get him to calm down and started to take mental notes of what worked and what didn’t. I then shared my tips with all of my friends who had babies around the same age (6 of them to be exact) and compiled this list of everyone’s go-to tricks to calm your baby in the car.
Here are some or our favorite ways to distract babies and keep them happy in the back seat while driving alone.
Prepare well before leaving the house
When you decide to leave the house alone with your baby, make sure to prepare really well to guarantee a smooth trip. Here are some good practices when preparing for an outing:
- Dress him up appropriately for the weather. If it’s summer time, make sure he won’t get too hot back there. If it’s cold outside, remember to remove blankets and hats once the car warms up (stop the car if you have to).
- Don’t leave the house with a hungry baby! Make sure he is well fed before leaving so you don’t give him a reason to start crying just after leaving the house.
- Do a diaper change before heading out.
Time your exit (whenever possible)
Try to time your outing right before nap time or just after he wakes up and eats a full meal.
If you can time it with a nap, that’s perfect. Put baby in the car seat just as he is getting ready for his nap. If you notice he’s already tired and fussy, bounce him around for a bit to calm him down before strapping him in. Some babies hate getting buckled into the car seat and can make a scene.
Your goal is to keep him as calm as possible during this transition so he can doze off as you start driving. Sometimes he may let out a little cry right before falling asleep but this trick works wonders.
If the nap already happened, ensure to give him a nice big meal before hitting the road. The last thing you want is a hungry baby alone in the back seat.
Lastly, avoid leaving during times when you know your baby is usually fussy. “Unhappy hour” or the evening time can be rough for some newborns (and parents). If possible, try to avoid going out during the times you already know are tough for your baby.
Bring a portable sound machine
If you don’t have a portable sound machine yet you need to get one. White noise can work wonders to calm babies, especially newborns. When you are driving alone and can’t really soothe your baby, make sure he has all the help he can to stay calm.
Play any kind of white noise (wave, rain, heart beat, or just plain white noise) at an adequate volume as soon you get them in the car seat and let it play throughout your trip.
Keep the sunshine out
Get some sunshades for the side windows, even if your windows are tinted. Also don’t forget to close and cover the panoramic sun roof.
If you’re driving in a direction where the sun is shining straight in your baby’s face for an extended period of time, you can be sure he will start screaming. Pay attention to the direction of the sun when you are driving to ensure your baby is not uncomfortable.
I used to put 3 or 4 different toys in the car seat on my son’s lap before leaving the house so even if he dropped a couple while playing he still had others available.
If you are dealing with a newborn, hang some toys from the car seat handle and give him a binky or pacifier if he takes one. Stack the deck in your favor for the highest chance of a smooth ride.
Set up a tablet or phone
OK, this one might be a touch controversial. Yes, screen time is something parents should watch out for, but your sanity (and your baby’s) is also important.
When I know my son is in a cranky mood and I need to head out quickly, I’ll set up the iPad with some entertaining shows or YouTube videos for the ride. We found that no matter the age, baby’s just love the colors and sounds of a kids’ show and will stay engaged alone for a pretty long time. Sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do.
There are some really good tablet holders available to have it hanging out of reach but in his line of sight.
Play kids songs on the radio
If you didn’t set up an iPad or table before leaving and now he’s wailing back there all alone, try playing children’s songs in the car speakers. If they already have a favorite song, play that.
The high pitch voices and melodies in the songs work wonders and if it’s something familiar to the already, even better.
I suggest having a few of his favorite songs lined up in a playlist on your phone in case of emergency. “The wheels on the bus” is a great singalong and works wonders for us.
Shushing can also work really well, the trick here is that you want to shush really loud. Louder than you think. You should actually shush louder than his crying volume.
You can try long shushes or short bursts. Whatever works, stick with it. It may surprise you how effective shushing can be.
Set up a back-seat headrest mirror
If you don’t already have a mirror set up to see your rear facing car seat, I suggest you get one. Your baby can actually see your face through the mirror as well and it’s sure to calm him down.
Look him in the eyes when you are stopped at a light and talk to him in a calm voice. You may even get him out of the crying fit and have see him shoot a smile back at you. Literally the best feeling.
This may sound obvious but for your safety, don’t be looking back there while driving.
Open a window
Some fresh, moving air can do wonders. It also adds some “white noise” to the environment which can be helpful.
Crack a window slightly but not so much the there is direct wind on your baby. Remember to keep the temperature at a comfortable level in the car.
Give baby some time to settle
If all else fails, take a deep breath and keep driving. Sometimes all he needs is a bit of time.
Crying normally comes in cycles so even though it may seem like he will never stop screaming, there is a good chance he will get tired and slow down, even stopping completely for periods of time.
As always, keep an eye on him and make sure he’s ok. If you’re on a longer drive, stop the car and pull him out as needed to feed, change or just calm him down and remind him that he’s not alone.
Paul is a passionate dad who founded Upside Dad to share his parenting journey with other new parents. He graduated from Concordia University and worked as a test engineer for over a decade. Paul loves dad jokes and craft beer.
Learn more about Paul and Upside Dad here.