Taking a long road trip alone with your one-month-old baby is not advised at all. A child car seat provides safety but is rear-facing for young babies, preventing you from keeping an eye on your little one. Unfortunately, car seat cot death is a reality that most parents are unaware of, nor are they aware of the 2-hour car seat rule that helps prevent unintended injuries to babies.
Road trips are a great break away from the daily grind, and travel excites most children but is a one-month-old baby up for a long-distance road trip? I mean, they are still so young and fragile and will probably sleep through most of the trip anyway.
Unless a long road trip is absolutely essential and cannot be postponed under any circumstance, it is unwise to make the trip alone with your one-month-old baby. Long road trips need to be carefully planned, and the risks to infants need to be clearly understood.
If travel is essential and cannot be delayed, it is best to consider an alternative mode of transport like a bus, train, or plane instead of traveling in your own vehicle alone with your infant.
Child safety on the road is not just about buckling up. There are other aspects of child safety that especially relate to very young babies in car seats.
The car seat 2-hour rule
A recent survey found that 58% of parents have not heard about the 2-hour rule.
The rule comes directly from child car seat manufacturers and is supported by medical professionals. It states that 2 hours is the maximum amount of time a child can be in a car seat within 24 hours.
Some people may argue that a long road trip is not an everyday event, and one road trip will most likely not have any serious effects on children, no matter how young they are. Wrong!
It may not be a problem for younger children with already developed motor skills and enough neck strength to control their head movements. But infants who haven’t developed enough muscle strength to keep their airways open like one-month-old babies are at significant risk of car seat cot death.
Michelle Clark, a neonatal unit sister at Doncaster Royal Infirmary, South Yorkshire, England, researched the subject for over two years before presenting her findings in 2011 on car seat cot death which is basically an extension of SIDS.
Ms Clark’s findings
- It is dangerous to place young babies in a sitting position unattended as babies may experience respiratory problems because they lack the reflex to hold their heads up. This reflex is still underdeveloped in young babies. They will tend to let their head flop forward that may restrict their airway.
- Car seats should only be used to transport babies in a car and should never be used as a sleeping device. The recommended sleeping position for babies is lying flat on their back as it allows for an open airway.
- No seating type apparatus should be used in the home for young babies who do not have enough neck strength to support their own heads.
- When car seats are used for young babies, frequent stops should be mandatory, and the baby must be taken out of the seat even if asleep.
- Your baby’s warm outdoor clothing should be taken off once inside when transferred from the car into the home.
- Cars heat up quickly, so to prevent your baby from overheating, warm caps or hoodies must be taken off.
- Irrespective of the baby’s age, the 2-hour car seat rule should be adhered to. This will help prevent possible car seat cot death and spinal injury or deformity from long hours in a seated position.
A worrying trend
Many parents tend to leave their little ones asleep in the car seat.
They simply unbuckle the seat, carry it into the house with their baby still buckled up and fast asleep, and pop the seat down in the living room. As long as the baby is sleeping, parents presume everything is just fine and will only tend to their little one when they awake from their slumber.
Some parents will take their baby for a drive in the neighborhood as a way to cope with the constant crying caused by reflux, colic, or teething. Yes, it does help to calm your baby down, and many babies will fall asleep on the short trip, but they shouldn’t be left in the seat.
Leaving infants to sleep while in a sitting position can cause more harm than good.
If your little one is unsettled for whatever reason, it is better to calm your baby down using other “healthier” techniques like a warm bath, gentle baby massage, or holding your baby for some skin-to-skin time while talking or singing softly.
It is not just spending long hours in a car seat but also spending long hours in a pram. Both have your baby in the seated position, and the time in this position should be limited.
While traveling in a car, using the car seat is a must for obvious reasons, but most prams have a fitted bassinet which should be used whenever necessary.
Instead of a drive around the block, try the pram/bassinet combo and push your baby in the bassinet around your garden or street as long as it’s safe to do so.
The unavoidable long road trip
If you have no other alternative but to take on a long road trip alone with your one-month-old baby, you need to fully understand the risk so you can properly plan your trip. Here are points to consider:
- Observe the 2-hour rule by limiting the daily distance you travel.
- Stop every hour and take your baby out of the car seat for at least half an hour to an hour.
- Only stop at safe stopping areas to tend to your little one or rest.
- Plan your feeding routine. If you are breastfeeding, it will be advisable to pump some milk and keep it in a cooler bag for the times when you are unable to breastfeed.
- Make sure the baby car seat you are using is age-appropriate and fitted correctly into the vehicle.
- You will not be able to keep an eye on your baby’s neckline because the car seat will be rear-facing. Try and arrange for a designated driver for the trip so you can at least keep an eye on your little one.
With a long road trip, you may have to spend several nights in hotels or B&Bs, which can be costly.
It would be best if you considered leaving your vehicle with a friend or in a storage facility and taking a bus, plane, or train to your destination. You can arrange for your car to be driven or transported to you if need be.
Will it not be safer if I sit in the back with my baby and have someone else drive?
Not really. While in a moving car, all the occupants must be buckled up, including your baby. You cannot buckle your baby up in the recommended sleeping position, and you cannot hold your baby in a moving vehicle either.
However, you can help by positioning your baby’s head, so it doesn’t slump forward, but the sitting position also affects a baby’s spine. Read this article for more information.
Is an overland-type vehicle better suited to traveling with a young baby?
As far as having everything you need at hand, it’s a great vehicle option, but not while driving because all the occupants still need to be buckled up, and babies need to be secured in a safety-approved car seat. Your road trip planning may be a little easier, though.
Can I risk letting my baby sleep in a portable bassinet for a road trip on a quiet road?
No. It goes against road safety regulations, and if you have a blowout and lose control of your vehicle, your baby may sustain serious injuries or even die. It is definitely not worth the risk to bend the rules. A portable bassinet will work perfectly in an aircraft, a train, or bus but not in a car.
The 2-hour rule is strongly recommended for infants on a long road trip. With careful planning, you can take the trip with your one-month-old if absolutely necessary, but it’s wiser to explore other options first.
Road trips with young babies pose real dangers that most parents are not aware of. Safety car seats are designed to prevent injuries or death in car collision cases, but this is the only usefulness of a car seat as far as young babies are concerned. Car seat cot death is a reality mostly overlooked.
Spinal injuries may result from a young baby spending too much time in the sitting position. This is not just a car seat issue but also includes baby vibrating chairs used in the home.
Young babies sleep intermittently throughout the day and need to be placed in the natural sleeping position, lying on their back on a comfortable flat surface.
To sum up, avoid taking long road trips until your baby is strong enough to control their head movement and sit upright on their own. Even at this age, you still need to observe the 2-hour rule. Plan any road trip around the well-being of your baby.