As much as I enjoy taking road trips, I wouldn’t recommend driving far distances with a newborn unless it’s necessary. Sometimes there are pressing reasons for a long car trip with a baby though, and going on a shorter road trip with a newborn can be very doable.
Even driving cross country with a newborn is definitely possible. Whatever the distance, when planning your trip, you’ll want to focus on keeping baby safe and comfortable. These essential tips will help you get started.
Limit Daily Driving Time
Many cross country road trips involve a total of more than 40 hours of driving time. While it can be tempting to try to get in as many hours per day as possible, with a newborn baby this isn’t practical. Instead focus on making slow but steady daily progress toward your destination. If your finances and schedule permit, driving as few as 3-4 hours a day is preferable.
Break shorter road trips up into multiple days as well, if possible. This will help everyone to stay comfortable and make the trip more enjoyable.
Take Frequent Stops During Drives
The upside to taking a road trip with an infant is that most newborns tend to sleep a lot. While baby is sleeping, try to get some uninterrupted driving time in. Then, when baby wakes up, don’t hesitate to find a place to stop as soon as possible.
Take advantage of these stops to feed baby, change diapers, and spend some time allowing the whole family to relax together. This is a great time for other family members to use the restroom, have something to eat and drink, and walk around a bit.
Plan Your Route Carefully
It’s always important to take care when planning your road trip driving route. With a newborn in tow, however, proper planning is even more crucial.
Your ideal route will depend on the time of year you are traveling and what kind of weather can be expected with each possible itinerary. Sometimes a longer distance is actually preferable if it means safer and smoother road and weather conditions.
To the extent possible, you’ll also want to avoid routes that involve long stretches without services. With this aim in mind, you’ll generally need to stay on the major interstate highways for the most part.
If you do end up needing to drive some more deserted stretches of highway, make sure you do so during daylight hours. This will make it easier to quickly access the help you’ll need if you happen to run into car trouble or need assistance for any other reason.
Check Weather Forecasts Frequently
This ties in with the previous tip. Weather forecasts change frequently and so do National Weather Service advisories. Make sure to continually check the forecasts of the regions you’ll be passing through each day.
In addition to using a weather app on your phone, for cross country trips in the United States, check out this page from the National Weather Service. This page is particularly helpful because you can scroll down and click the links for the state and/or county you will be driving through. There you will find a list of current weather advisories for that region.
Make Sure Your Car Is in Good Working Order Before Leaving Home
This is always an important step before long drives, but it is even more crucial when driving with a newborn. In addition to making sure the tires, brakes, fluid levels, and such are all in order, make sure your heating and air conditioning system receives a thorough check-up as well.
You won’t want to risk your car breaking down or getting too hot or cold because of a poorly functioning heating and cooling system. Taking your car to a reputable mechanic before the trip can help reduce the chances of problems later on.
Have One Parent Ride in the Backseat Next to Baby
Newborn babies need fairly constant care. If both parents are in the front seat, it will be much more difficult to adequately care for baby. Ideally, have one parent ride next to baby for the entire duration of the trip. This will help to ensure that baby is safe, comfortable, and well-cared for as you progress on your journey.
Self-Care Is Important for Mom as Well
While focusing on properly caring for baby is essential, self-care for mom is crucial as well. Pregnancy, giving birth, and caring for a newborn all take a toll on mothers. Keeping up mom’s strength, health, and spirits should be a key priority as you plan and embark on your trip.
Care must be taken to ensure that mom is getting adequate nutrition, rest, sleep, and downtime. Nursing mothers in particular will need to make sure they are eating and drinking at regular intervals throughout the day. Additionally, make sure that mom is getting enough opportunities to get out of the car, stretch, and walk around fairly frequently.
Try to avoid letting the stress of reaching your destination quickly take precedence over caring for the well-being of each member of the family.
Keep a Well-Stocked Diaper Bag Inside the Car
When your newborn wakes up and you find a place to park and get out for a bit, you won’t want to be scrambling around gathering baby’s change of clothes, diapers, a baby thermometer, and such. Make things easier for everyone by having a well-stocked diaper bag packed and readily available inside the car.
With your diaper bag always at hand, you’ll also be able to reach in and grab baby wipes, burp cloths, and such as needed during the drive.
Don’t Skimp on Hotel Rooms
Now’s not the time to try any of those road trip hacks such as sleeping in the car, camping, or taking turns driving extremely long stretches. It’s also not the time to shop around for the cheapest possible motel room.
Instead focus on safety, cleanliness, convenience, and comfort for everyone in the family. This will often mean sticking to nicer, reliable chain hotels and reading online reviews to make sure things are up to par before booking.
There will be other opportunities to economize and rough it a bit in order to save money. The newborn stage is short and now’s the time to focus on your family’s well-being as much as possible, even if it stretches the budget a little.
Protect Your Newborn’s Eyes and Skin from Harsh Sunlight
The eyes and skin of newborn babies tend to be very light-sensitive. If the backseat windows of your car aren’t tinted a fairly dark shade, you’ll want to take extra steps to make sure the sunlight isn’t bothering your infant. Try putting a removable mesh car window shade or shield over the backseat passenger windows.
When you take baby outside, make sure she’s wearing a wide-brimmed hat and long sleeves and pants. Similarly, if you bring along an infant stroller, ensure that it has an adequate shade in place.
Bulky Clothing Shouldn’t be Worn by Babies in Car Seats
Bulky clothing such as winter coats and jackets can pose a danger in the event of a car accident. Because bulky clothes get compressed with the force of an accident, the car seat harness will no longer be tight enough to hold baby in place adequately.
Instead, dress baby in warm layers and use a blanket as necessary. At the same time, it’s important to avoid the possibility of overheating baby, so monitor the temperature in the car and make sure the thermostat isn’t set too high. This is one of the reasons why it’s so helpful to have one parent ride in the backseat next to the baby.
Make Sure Everyone in the Family is Getting Adequate Sleep
As we all know, newborns tend to wake up and cry during the night. This often means that both parents are tired throughout the day. Older siblings may also be affected by the interruptions in sleep caused by hearing the baby up during the night.
It is important to make sure everyone gets enough sleep to be adequately rested during the day. This is especially essential because one parent is likely to be doing a large amount of daily driving and will need to be properly alert.
Since nighttime sleep is likely to be interrupted, try going to bed earlier than normal and sleeping in whenever possible. Also, consider taking a brief family nap as soon as you check in at your hotel each afternoon. With adequate planning, you should be able to make sure everyone is getting the rest they need.
Maintain a Flexible Schedule
When planning for your road trip, it’s good to make an outline of the cities you anticipate stopping in for the nights. This helps to provide you with an idea of how long you’ll be in the car each day and how long the entire duration of the trip is likely to be.
When driving long distances with a newborn, however, flexibility is paramount. For this reason, try to avoid booking hotels in advance and make an effort to shift your mindset away from set deadlines.
Even if you only manage a three-hour drive, you are that much closer to your destination. Appreciate these small victories and try to focus on enjoying your time together as a family. One day you may look back and enjoy telling the story of your epic drive with a newborn baby.