Take a road trip with your baby and keep your sanity, too. Read our expert tips on how to plan a road trip with an infant.
Our daughter was an unexpected gift.
I don’t like to call her an “accident,” because we are so very happy to have her. My husband and I are extremely cautious people, the kind of people who talk every decision to death, and if we hadn’t been surprised almost four years ago, we’d still be talking about having kids.
Did we have the time? Did we have the patience? Did we have the money?
When that small face looks up at you, all those questions disappear. You find the time, patience and money. So it seemed natural to have another baby. It was a little strange, deliberately setting out to do so, but if one child made our lives so much better, having two could only double our happiness.
And our son, Henry, has stolen all of our hearts, his sister’s included. But I won’t lie, people. Having a newborn again is hard. Not hard like, “wow, algebra is hard,” but hard like, “wow, nuclear physics is hard.”
Super. Duper. Hard.
You forget about the sleep deprivation. You forget how frustrating it is to hear your baby cry and not know what to do. You forget how incredibly stinky baby poop is.
And it’s a good thing, too, because otherwise the human race would have died out generations ago. You know what else you forget? How hard it is to travel with a baby who basically has no routine at all.
Newborns are notoriously unpredictable, sleeping at random times and eating on demand. Taking that hot mess on the road means a lot of stress, not only for your kid, but for you, too.
I know this, because I decided to take my preschooler and 8-week-old on a 700-mile, two-week road trip. (Read my previous column How to Pack for Road Trips with Infants.)
I’m thrilled to be back East, but I’m less thrilled about managing my infant so far from our familiar environment. Fumbling around my mom’s kitchen at 5 a.m. looking for bottles and nipples isn’t exactly what you’d call a vacation.
The good news is that Henry is emerging from that tadpole stage and becoming more and more stable as the days go by. Don’t tell anyone, but for the last three nights he slept for eight hours.
In a row.
I’m not the only mom crazy enough to take her new baby on an extended road trip. Mara Gorman of Newark, Del., took her eldest child, Tommy, on a tour of three states over three weeks when he a little less than 3 months old.
Just thinking about that makes me feel like weeping.
Gorman, a mom of two and author of the blog The Mother of All Trips, now admits it was a little “insane” to plan such a jaunt with a newborn, but she was eager to show her new baby off to all her friends and relatives—even though it was the dead of summer.
“He was not in any way scheduled and was nursing a lot, which meant that I nursed him everywhere,” she recalls. “Because it was hot, I didn’t always want to do it in the car, so I ended up feeding him in gas station bathrooms across the Midwest.”
She also advises new moms not to use a breast pump while riding in a moving car.
Besides making pit stops to nurse and pump, Gorman learned a few other key lessons about traveling with a young baby, one of which is that you must plan ahead. Make hotel reservations in advance, she warns, or you could wind up at the proverbial Bates Motel.
“We did the play-it-by-ear thing on the road and ended up spending one night in a really seedy place,” she says. “Tommy was actually fine, and wasn’t up any more than normal, but I was a wreck because it was so smelly and noisy.”
After that, she says, she was more “choosy” about lodging. Making reservations in advance can help manage costs and prevent meltdowns after a long day on the road.
Planning ahead can help minimize stress on parents, and mother-child relationship expert Nancy McElwain says frazzled folks equal cranky kids.
“Acknowledging and accepting that it might be more chaotic than usual during travel times is important,” says McElwain, who is an assistant professor of human development at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Part of that acceptance is realizing that children, especially infants, are creatures of habit. McElwain points out that research shows even the youngest babes recognize when they are in an unusual environment.
“Infants as young as two months of age can detect differences in context,” she says.
What does that mean for the lay parent? Basically, if your kid learned to sleep in a certain place, he or she will expect to always sleep in that place. One way to combat this is to bring along something familiar.
“If the child has a [portable crib] he is used to sleeping in, bring that with you, if you can,” she McElwain says. “Or maybe bring a piece of bedding that he’s used to.”
This trick works with toddlers as well. Heaven knows my daughter’s head would explode if we ever left her beloved, lovey, Bunsie behind. Even I bring my favorite pillow on the road with me, when I can.
Basically, McElwain says, you just need to realize that life on the road isn’t the same as life at home, and you need to go with the flow.
Which is, actually, great advice for all parents, in any situation. Sometimes, ladies and gents, you just have to say what the hell, let’s have ice cream for dinner and stay up all night.
Or at least, that’s what I like to say, because I’m crazy like that.
Crazy, and very, very tired.
Themes: Family Travel