Temperament. It matters.
Yes, in a perfect Pixar world you’d put your baby in the car seat and he’d sleep all the way to Radiator Springs. (If that’s you, congratulations. You can stop reading.)
For the rest of us, though, napping on a road trip is hit or miss. Today I’m going to share two main approaches to tackling this age-old problem.
The first approach I’m calling “The Mater Method”. It’s for those babies who are pretty easy to influence. A few little adjustments and tweaks and they’ll snooze for hours.
The second approach is called “The McQueen Method”. This for the more challenging and alert baby. He’s not going to be fooled by a few loveys and a pacifier. It’s going to take some serious street smarts to get this kid to Slumberville.
The Mater Method to
Napping in the Car
This method focuses on adjusting the small little details that can often make a huge difference on a child’s ability to settle themselves down to slumber. Starting with…
Checking the Comfort Level
Not all car seats are comfortable. Especially after an hour or more in the car. These car seats were rated the highest for safety and comfort levels.
If you’ve already got your car seat, consider adding a little extra padding under the bum with a burp rag.
Outsmarting Diaper Changes
I realize you can’t control your child’s digestive tract. You can, however, be proactive in keeping his bum dry and comfortable for as long as possible. (Bonus: no painful diaper rashes when you arrive!)
Here’s how to extend the life of your last diaper change:
- Use overnight diapers while you’re traveling.
- Purchase one size larger than he normally wears.
- Double-diaper him, cutting the inside diaper slightly so it drains into the 2nd when full.
Oh, and I would absolutely have a Piddle Pad to provide a strong boundary between diaper explosions and the car seat padding. It’s machine washable, and is your last-line of defense against eau de urine for the next 3 weeks.
Going to the Dark Side
Just like how a dark nursery is a nap-happy nursery, limiting the sun from shining into your baby’s face is going to be an important step in getting him to drift off to dreamland.
Here are three ways to help tone down the sun.
- Use a snoozeshade over a newborn carrier
- Ditch annoying suction-cup window covers and get this buttushki-kicking cover instead.
- A blanket over the car seat (if it doesn’t make him too hot.)
- Pray for a cloudy day.
Watch the Waketime Window
Your baby has something called a “waketime window”. This is a specific unit of time between when your baby woke up and when she needs to go back to sleep, or she’ll be overtired. (Overtired babies are cranky and very very hard to get settled down again to sleep.)
For example, for a 9 month old that’s around 2.5 hours. This means that you’ll want to pull over about two hours after he woke up last to…
- change his diaper
- make an coffee or snack stops
- fill up the car
- take a bathroom break
- Let her nurse or have a bottle before “naptime”
It’s the worst feeling in the world to finally get your little one to fall asleep, only to have an older sibling declare they need to you to pull over to go potty. You’re running a very high risk of waking your baby up the moment you slow down. #disasternap
If you’re having trouble identifying your baby’s waketime window, sit down with Gentle Sleep Coach Amy Potts. She can help you find a workable rhythm for your day, no matter how old your baby is!
Set Up the Soothers
As your baby is getting settled down to sleep, he may offer up a few cries of protest. You’ll do the whole car a favor by having a few soothers close at hand.
- Have something from his crib close at hand: a blanket, small stuffed animal, even the crib sheet. It will help him smell his familiar sleeping place.
- Feed him before naptime. Either pull over to breastfeed or use a bottle sling or bottle holder so he can feed himself (if he can’t hold the bottle yet, of course.)
- Have a nest of pacifiers tucked into the car seat for easy access.
- Sing some of his favorite lullaby’s or download some soft nursery tunes to calm.
The McQueen Method to
Napping in the Car
If you’ve done all the steps to the Mater Method and your baby is still protesting (loudly), it’s time to take a whole new approach.
The McQueen Method is best for those babies who are constantly on the go-go-GO. These babies are highly-alert. They want to watch and experience everything.
They are exhausted but still fight to stay awake because there’s so much to watch.
- That loud bright colored thing that just passed us (a semi truck).
- The green things zooming by so fast (trees).
- The rain on the window.
- The moving light on the ceiling (headlights).
This method centers around a singular goal: Complete and utter boredom. A boredom you’re going to implement by sitting next to his car seat and being the World’s Biggest Party Pooper.
- Keep the seat covered to limit external stimulations.
- If covering the seat isn’t an option, avoid making eye contact.
- Hold his hand and shush him on occasion, trying to make your voice louder than his.
- Intermittently stroke his cheek or lean in for a face nuzzle. (But only if he needs to be soothed, otherwise he may think this is a fun new game.)
Remember for him, the whole road trip adventure may be a little alarming.
You’ll need to take a more active role in helping him calm down and get ready to sleep.
When All Else Fails…
Invest in some ear plugs.
Just kidding! (It’s dangerous to drive with earplugs or ear buds in.)
If you know you’ve got a trip coming up and you’re baby is going to need to nap in the car, the best thing you can do is to help him get really good naps in before your trip even begins.
That way, even if the traveling is a bust, you’ll have some snooze in reserves to work with.
If your baby isn’t a good napper, even at home, you may want to think about signing up for a one-on-one help in a Sleep Session. The chances of baby taking a good nap in the car are much greater if they’re already used to taking great naps at home!
Mater? or McQueen
Which personality does your baby have when it comes to napping in the car? Is he a more laid-back Mater? Or a stubborn star like McQueen?
Share how you get your baby to nap in the car below in the comments!
Meet Heather Taylor
Heather is the Chief Encouragement Officer here at Incredible Infant and has been writing and encouraging parents online since 2007. She's certified in baby sleep coaching (yes, that's a real thing), has served as an Expert Parenting Panelist for numerous events, and has been a featured writer on blogs like DaveRamsey.com, SimpleKids.net, My Kid's Adventures, Cafe Mom, and others. If it's 2am and you're desperate to read SOMETHING, click here for all her darkest secrets, including why she really shouldn't be allowed to blog.