How Soon Can a Newborn Travel Long Distance by Car?

How Soon Can a Newborn Travel Long Distance by Car?

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A recent study that revealed babies have a lower oxygen rate combined with an increased heart rate when in a car for more than half an hour has raised quite a few eyebrows, and plenty of questions.

It’s left most parents wondering if their child can die during long road trips, and when can they travel with their new baby. In short, is it safe to travel with your newborn baby?

The study conducted can be concerning, but there is not enough evidence to support that babies are in danger when in their car seats for long periods of time. 

Newborns In Car seats: Is It Safe?

While the previous study mentioned was not large enough to produce conclusive evidence that newborns in car seats can experience a complete lack of oxygen when left in a car seat for an extended period of time, it is a bit concerning.

The main concern that this study brings to light is that newborns have a decreased level of oxygen. This is believed to be due to the angle that their neck is at.

Also because they do not have the muscles in their neck to properly support their head, leading to a decrease in oxygen because of the obstruction. If your little one falls asleep in their car seat, there is a greater chance of suffocation. 

How Big Is The Risk?

While there is obviously a risk, it often comes down to how big the risk is. This depends on the car seat, the age of the newborn, how strong their neck muscles are, and several other factors. 

Age

When babies are born, they have very little if any control over their head movement. They also are not able to support their own head. This drastically increases the risk of newborn babies in car seats suffocating.

baby in an infant car seat

As children get older and develop more muscles in their neck, this risk begins to significantly decline.

While the risk might be minimal for older babies in car seats, most pediatricians do not recommend taking children under one year old on extended car rides if it can be avoided. 

Head Support

Babies that are able to support their own heads have a significantly lower risk of suffocation than newborns in car seats that cannot. However, this doesn’t always coordinate perfectly with age.

For example, my grandson began to really be able to control his head around five or six months because he was a preemie and was a bit on the smaller side.

My son, on the other hand, could turn his head and hold it up for brief periods when he was only a few days old. He could control his head movement sooner than most other babies could.

So, take a look at your own child to determine how much of a risk is there. 

The Car seat

If the car seat is positioned in an upright position, your newborn is at an increased danger of positional asphyxiation. However, revolutionary car seats are being designed that can lay flat like a cot instead of sitting upright.

This one is one of the more popular versions. They can be a bit pricey, but if you’re one to take plenty of road trips and want to take your newborn along, it can be well worth the additional cost. 

When you opt for a lie-flat car seat for newborns, you instantly eliminate the risk of your little one suffocating due to their position. In this situation, you can take your little one on long-distance trips as soon as you’re ready to. 

The Risk Is Small

For those that are stuck with a long-distance trip without a lie-flat car seat, the risk is small. According to this study, only 3% of infants died this way in ten years.

It’s still a large enough risk that I wouldn’t be comfortable taking my newborn in a car seat for long periods without taking precautions, though. 

Newborns In Car Seats: Always Take Precautions

Sometimes, it can be unrealistic to not travel with a newborn baby for long periods of time, and the lie-flat car seat hasn’t been delivered yet.

mother and baby in a car

If that’s the case, it doesn’t mean that you’re stuck at home or will have to delay a move. Instead, you can take these precautions for the one-time trip. 

Additional Head Support

Although car seats do not come with additional head support, and most pediatricians do not recommend them, it would be wise to use them on long car trips.

These provide additional support for your little one’s neck, preventing their head from falling to the side. 

Take Frequent Breaks

Some pediatricians recommend not leaving a newborn in a sitting up position for longer than 30 minutes. Others state that two hours is acceptable when in a reclined car seat.

Opt for taking a break every hour or two to take your little one out of the car seat. If possible, lay them flat. 

This shouldn’t be a problem for those traveling with a newborn, though. Most newborns need to be fed every two hours and sometimes changed in between.

When you pull over to change your baby, take them out of their car seat and lay them flat on the seat in the car. To feed them, do not cradle them in your arm as you normally would.

Instead, lay them on the seat in the car or in your lap. Then, gently lift their head up to prevent choking. (Feeding a newborn baby in a lie-flat position can increase the risk of choking.) This will give them the break that they need from being scrunched up in a car seat. 

Make Sure Someone Can See Them

When traveling long distances with a newborn in a car seat, make sure that someone can see them. If more than one person is going on the road trip, make sure that an adult sits next to them.

parents and baby in a car

If not, pick up a mirror and velcro or tape it in place so that you can glance back to see your newborn. 

This will give you both peace of mind and can alert you if there is a problem. Someone sitting next to the baby can notice if the baby stops breathing, or begins to turn purple.

A mirror in the perfect position can let you see if your little one’s head falls over as well. 

Travelling Long Distance With A Newborn

If you’re ready to take the leap and drive across the country with your newborn baby, it’s important that you’re prepared. Driving with a newborn baby is not the same as driving with an older child.

This article is packed with information, from a pack list to diaper changing tips for the car and more. In addition to that list, there are several other things to keep in mind when it comes to traveling with a newborn baby. 

Mark Rest Spots On The GPS

The further you get away from larger cities, the further rest stops seem to get from each other. You might see one every sixty miles instead of every twenty miles.

This can be stressful when you don’t see a rest stop but it’s time to stop for a two-hour break. Instead, strategically plan your road trip by marking rest stops along the way.

map and keys

If you get there before two hours, that’s fine. You can stretch your legs while you give your little one a chance to lay flat on their back before feeding time. 

Stop Even At Night

Most people will enjoy their baby sleeping through the night on a long road trip, but this isn’t safe for newborns. In fact, pediatricians recommend never letting a baby sleep through the night in their car seat due to the position that they are in.

This makes it essential to stop every hour or two so that your little one can have some time laying flat on their back. They’ll need that break after being scrunched up in a car seat. 

Bring Extra Supplies (Just In Case)

Even if your little one is not sick when you leave, that doesn’t mean that you won’t need a few things while on the road. It’s a good idea to put together a baby first aid kit full of the necessities just in case you need them.

Bring along baby Tylenol, diaper rash cream, fingernail clippers, a thermometer, and other things that might come in handy while you’re on the road. It’s always better to have them and not need them instead of needing them and not having them. 

Traveling with a newborn in an upright car seat for long trips is discouraged, but sometimes it is unavoidable. If you find yourself in this situation, pick up a lie-flat car seat before the big trip.

When that isn’t an option, take extra precautions to help keep your little one safe. 

My name is Amber Dixon. I am a mother to three wonderful children, and recently welcomed a beautiful grandson into the world as well as into my home. I've learned a great deal about raising children through my own experiences as a mother, but also from several other places. While working at a daycare full time, I learned about childhood development, teaching children, and more. Through earning degrees in Social Work, I was educated about human development, including a great deal about children and childhood development. My education and experience combined have taught me a lot about children of every stage and age, and I hope that I can help you on your journey to becoming the best parent that you can be!

My name is Amber Dixon. I am a mother to three wonderful children, and recently welcomed a beautiful grandson into the world as well as into my home. I've learned a great deal about raising children through my own experiences as a mother, but also from several other places. While working at a daycare full time, I learned about childhood development, teaching children, and more. Through earning degrees in Social Work, I was educated about human development, including a great deal about children and childhood development. My education and experience combined have taught me a lot about children of every stage and age, and I hope that I can help you on your journey to becoming the best parent that you can be!