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Tips for Infant Car Travel

Car travel should be a safe and pleasant time for you and your baby. It is a good time for you to talk to your baby and to teach your baby how enjoyable car travel can be. With your frequent praise and pleasant conversation, your child will stay interested and busy and will not spend her time crying for your attention.

  • Infants should ride in rear-facing car seats until they are at least 1 year of age and weigh at least 20 pounds. This is the best way to protect the infant's neck. The rear middle seat is always the safest place for your infant, even if you are the only adult in the car.
  • Make sure the car seat is installed correctly in the car. Read the instructions carefully. If you aren't sure if your seat fits properly in your car, contact a children's hospital or local fire department. Many of them have a child seat loaner program and can help you find a seat that fits properly and help you install it correctly.
  • Most infant car seats also have a tether strap that must be attached to a secure place in the car. The tether strap attaches the top of a car seat to an anchor point in the vehicle. It helps prevent a child's head from moving too far forward in a crash. Study your vehicle owner's manual for more information.
  • Don't dress your baby in so many clothes that the car seat can't be used properly. Dress the baby in clothes that keep the legs free.
  • Keep harness straps very snug and flat on the baby's shoulders, not arms.
  • Recline a rear-facing seat at no more than a 45°angle.
  • Do not place your baby in the front seat if your vehicle has an airbag on the passenger side. The airbag could cause serious injury to your baby.
  • Support a tiny infant by placing rolled towels, diapers, or receiving blankets on both sides of the safety seat to keep the head from falling side to side. Or buy a head support.
  • Any time your baby is asleep while you are traveling, don't disturb him. An infant safety seat is the most comfortable place for your baby to sleep and you don't have to worry about his safety.
  • Any time that your baby is awake and behaving nicely (quiet, jabbering, or looking around), interact with your baby. Sing or hum songs, or talk about what you are doing or where you are going. Your baby will learn to enjoy car travel because you are fun to ride with. If your baby has a favorite blanket, place it in the safety seat within her reach.
  • Carry 1 or 2 soft, stuffed toys that are played with only in the car. This helps decrease boredom. Remember your baby's attention span is very short. Don't expect him to stay occupied for more than a couple of minutes at this age.
  • Ignore yelling, screaming, and begging. The instant your baby is quiet, begin talking or singing to her again. You should not yell, scream, or nag. Do not take your baby out of the safety seat because she is crying. Doing so will only teach her to keep crying until you take her out. Try to take her out only when she is quiet.
  • Older brothers and sisters should also be expected to behave in the car and to ride with their seat belts fastened correctly. If your baby grows up always riding with a seat belt on, he will not mind having it on.
  • When you know your child needs feeding or a diaper change, try to stop before she starts to fuss. You want your child to think of car travel as comfortable.
  • If your baby is going to travel in an car with other drivers (grandparent, aunt, uncle, or baby sitter), make sure that they use the infant safety seat. Make sure it is correctly fastened with the car seat belt.
  • Park where you can remove your child from the car on the sidewalk side away from traffic. Never leave a child unattended in a parked car even for a minute.
  • Do not have packages or heavy or sharp objects loose in the car. A sudden stop can cause them to shift and injure your baby.
  • Hot belt and harness buckles can cause burns. Cover metal parts during hot weather. Install shades for the windows in the back to protect your baby from bright sun.
  • Make sure all doors are locked before staring the car. Teach children never to play with doors and locks.

If your child outgrows the infant seat before his or her first birthday, use a convertible car seat in the rear- facing position. Sometime around 12 months of age, you will need to either switch to a toddler safety seat or change the riding position of the convertible car seat. Read the directions that came with the seat or ask your health care provider when to switch to a toddler safety seat. Your child should continue to use a safety seat until she is about 8 to 10 years old. Booster seats are available for children who are more than 4 years of age.

In all states it is illegal for a child to ride in the car without being securely buckled into a safety seat. It is illegal because it is very, very dangerous. Please do what is best for your baby--use a safety seat during every car ride.

For more information, see the Child Passenger Safety section on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Web site: http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov

Written by E. Christophersen, PhD, author of "Pediatric Compliance: A Guide for the Primary Care Physician."
Published by McKesson Provider Technologies.
Last modified: 2006-09-12
Last reviewed: 2006-08-24
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright © 2006 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All Rights Reserved.
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