Updated: Apr 27
As we enter the holiday periods (and after 2 years of restricted and disrupted travel and limited opportunities to see loved ones due to a certain worldwide pandemic), you may now be thinking of doing a long car journey with a small baby.
But how to travel safely in the car for long periods and why do we need to take extra care with young babies?
Young babies, especially newborns, are at higher risk of the following dangers which can occur in any car journeys but are exacerbated during longer trips:
Low Blood Oxygen: They may be in too much of an upright position with their heads flopping forward obstructing airflow to their windpipe
Suffocation/Strangulation: They can’t move away from strangulation or suffocation risks like blankets over their mouths/noses or carseat straps that have slipped and ended up around their necks in same the way that older babies and toddlers may be able to
Crash Injuries if not rear-facing: They are more vulnerable to head, neck and spinal injuries (in the event of a crash) than older children as their heads are proportionately bigger and heavier than their bodies and their neck muscles still quite weak
Over-heating: They are at higher risk by age for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) anyway, and one of the risk factors is overheating (which may occur on long car journeys). So, the safety advice on car journeys with young babies centres around 5 things:
Using a Rear-facing car seat to provide better protection for the baby's head, neck and spine in the event of a crash than forward-facing seats. In a forward-facing seat their heads would be thrown forward, causing potentially fatal brain neck or spinal injuries. In a rear-facing seat their head and neck are thrown backwards and the impact is absorbed by the back of the car seat.
Follow the ‘2 hour rule’: Baby should be a maximum of 2 hours in the carseat before stopping and getting them out (for at least 15 minutes) and allowing them to stretch. And actually…for babies under 6 months old (unless in lie-flat car seats - more info on these here) it would be advisable to reduce 2 hours to as close to 30 minutes as possible. You should especially try to stick closer to 30 minutes with premature babies, who are already at higher risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
As soon as you have arrived at your destination, transfer your baby out of the car seat and into a lie flat pram/buggy/crib (even if they are asleep in their carseat and you could just clip the seat onto a travel system). This is because a firm flat surface is always the safest sleep place for small babies to prevent suffocation or strangulation. If in doubt, remember - Car seats are for travelling, cribs are for sleeping. We cover safe sleep in Session 4 of our Group Antenatal Course.
Coats versus overheating in car seats (another SIDS risk factor) and crash safety - Use a blanket over baby (rather than dressing them in a coat) if needing to keep them warm. A blanket can easily be removed to prevent overheating and also doesn’t cause a dangerous gap between baby and car seat straps in the event of a crash.
Keep the car comfortably cool - use rear seat and rear window sun shades if possible (or tinted windows), a sleep canopy over car seat, and keep the car well ventilated or cooled.
Do you have any more tips for safety while doing long car journeys with small babies? Leave them in the comments below! Happy Travelling!