Last weekend our baby was quite fussy after we came back from a road trip. That got me wondering whether she had stayed in the car seat longer than she should have.
We love traveling and with all those daily trips to the daycare, she has to stay in the car seat a lot.
So I decided to dig in deep and find out what the experts say. Read on along to learn about how long a baby can really stay in the car seat.
How long should a baby be in a car seat when driving?
Remember that the two hour rule does not imply you stop every two hours as some might mistake it for that. It means the total time a baby spends in a car seat should not exceed two hours within 24 hours.
Also the two hours refer to all the time baby stays in the car seat including being carried to and away from the car in it.
This is, however, no set-in-stone rule but what is advised by many experts. Let’s see why these infant healthcare specialists swear by this rule.
Why the two-hour rule?
Car seats can be stiff and sweaty, so the more often you pull over, the better. Also and more importantly, research has produced evidence that links longer stays in the car seat to SIDS.
It is also believed that little spines can hurt from staying in a semi-upright position for long periods.
I probed some more about why the experts recommend we follow the 2-hour rule.
- The connection between SIDS and car seats: According to a 2016 study by the University of Bristol, there is a connection between SIDS and car seats.
The study reveals that very young babies are prone to breathing difficulties when seated in a semi-upright position for long stretches.
This can occur due to restrictions in the airflow due to the scrunched-up position.
According to the study, if newborns sat in the car seat longer than 30 minutes, their breathing and heart rates were impacted.
Parents and carers should immediately spring to action if they find the baby’s head is slumped forward because it can restrict airflow.
- Spine issues: It is also believed that the upright position may not be suited for the wee ones’ delicate spines. Hence, it is all the more important to take breaks and let the babies stretch and relax on flat surfaces.
- Flat head syndrome: Although not life-risking like the other two, still your baby will hardly thank you if they grow up with a flat head.
Babies’ heads are malleable during the first two months and they can turn flat from behind with excessive car seat use.
At what age does the 2-hour car seat rule end?
Government guidelines in the US suggest that children should travel in a car seat until they turn 12 years of age or grow 135cm in height, whichever comes first.
But there is no definite rule as to at what age of the baby you can start getting lenient with the two-hour rule.
The good practice would be to wait until the baby can sit without assistance, occurring around six months of age.
That said, you can always ask your pediatrician about it and see if you can observe clemency with the 2-hour rule.
When can the baby be in a car seat longer than 30 minutes?
It is recommended that you should stick to a 30 minutes drive up until your baby is at least six weeks old.
‘In the first four-to-six weeks after birth parents should try to avoid car journeys of more than 30 minutes for their baby, and whenever possible an adult should travel with the baby in the back seat of the car to keep a check on their position and well-being.’
However, for preterm and newborns, the risks associated with the prolonged stay in a car seat are even more vivid and the repercussions greater.
So it is advised that neonatal and newborn babies should not stay in a car seat longer than thirty minutes.
How do you take a baby on a long road trip?
It is suggested that you stall long road trips if you can until your baby is at least six weeks old. However, if you have to go on one, get the infant seat that allows for babies to lie down flat, if of course your car permits.
If not, then get a rear facing car seat and take breaks frequently between hours to let the wee ones straighten out on flat surfaces.
You can follow these tips for a relatively smooth journey.
There is no such thing as ‘too much planning’ when it comes to planning trips with kids. Prepare a bag of all baby essentials. Food, bottles, diapers, bibs, napkins, blankets, toys, and change of clothes. Then double-check. Plan the timings, the rest spots, and everything else in between.
Car seat safety:
Get a car seat that adheres to safety standards that are in place in your area. Buy one that is ideal for your baby’s weight and age.
See that the car seat is installed properly, it should be neither too reclined or too upright. Ensure that your baby is strapped nice and tight. For infants, use an infant insert in the car seat.
A good night’s sleep:
Who wants a cranky baby on a long drive or honestly any other time? And cranky they will be without proper rest.
Try to get your baby to get a good night’s sleep a day before the long road trip. Ensure that he is dry, comfortable, and fed before you pop him into the car seat.
Create a peaceful vibe in the room, and sing him lullabies. Hey, do whatever you can to let those tiny toes take a nice long 8 to 10-hour rest.
Stop for feeds, and nappy changes, and also to let them get some fresh air. If you have an infant, put them on the blanket to change the position of their back. Don’t rush the breaks even if they prolong your drive more than you planned.
Stop more often if you find them uncomfortable. Follow the baby’s cues and be guided accordingly.
Clothes, naps, and feeds:
Lay them in the seats after good, long sessions of nursing. Dress them in loose clothes and loosen up their diapers to stop them from biting into skin. Use pacifiers. Massage them a bit, give them tummy time and gently rub their backs during stops.
Keep it dark in the back seat to create a cozy dark ambiance that encourages your child to nap. Use window shades. Make sure the temperature in the car is comfortable for the baby.
Singing and playing:
Sing them songs and dance a little while you are at it. Entertaining them is never a bad idea, particularly when done on long road trips, longer than the little ones are happy with.
Don’t forget to stock up on their acquainted toys in the car. Save the most favorite ones until last, it’s when the babies might be extremely fussy.
Car seats are essential traveling gear for babies that keep them safe and are also required by law. Simply put there is no way around them. But it is imperative that car seats are used correctly and safely.
Car seats are designed primarily for transport. Do not use them for sleep purposes. They are not alternatives to cots or bassinets.
Make sure one of the parents or caregivers is in the back seat with the baby to monitor their breathing and comfort.
If you were also concerned about your child’s long stays in the car seat, I hope this article helped. Leave us any queries you might have in the comment section below.
How soon can a newborn travel long distances by car?
Wait at least six weeks before embarking on a long journey with the baby in tow. But it’s best that long distances are avoided with newborns.
How long can a 3-month-old be in the car seat?
The 2-hour rule applies to a 3-month-old as well as older babies. It is recommended to take breaks of at least 15 minutes to let the baby stretch on a flat surface.
Can a 3-month-old sleep in the car seat?
Yes but for short stretches. Also, take out your baby as soon as you stop driving. Where car seats are crucial for safe travel, they are not designed for sleeping.
Emily A. Thomas, Ph.D., an automotive safety engineer and specialist in pediatric injury biomechanics and certified child passenger safety technician, has warned that ‘car seats aren’t appropriate for extended, unobserved sleep.’