Car Seats

What To Do If Baby Hates Car Seat

Sarah Davis

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Wondering how to deal with a 1,2,3,4,5 or 6-month-old infant who hates car seats or have you ever found yourself in tears along with your little one, just like Toronto parenting coach Sarah Rosensweet describes in this Today Parents article?

She shares the challenges of car rides that always seemed to end in tears—her baby, and sometimes hers. Her daughter’s short attention span often led to wails, making outings close to home preferable to citywide meetups with friends for a while.

I’ve been in the same spot as well. I could relate very well to Sarah’s experience with her baby. It’s never easy to deal with a fussy little one, especially when you’re stuck in a car for hours on end. However, after reading Sarah’s tips, and others suggested in different forums, I have found some to be particularly very useful. I’ve been able to literally turn things around.

Studies have shown that using a car seat reduces the risk of injury in a crash by 71–82% for children, compared to using a seat belt alone. This highlights why opting out of safety restraints isn’t a good or safe choice and have to deal with your baby’s resistance to the car seat.

I’ve noticed the anti-car seat crowd isn’t just kids. Some grown-ups opt to ride without a safety belt. I always remind my passengers to buckle up but at least for adults, they are less likely to die in the event of a crash, compared to babies. Not using seat belts with kids is riskier because their vertebrae (atlas, axis, and cervical) are still developing, leaving them more vulnerable in case of a crash.

The way a baby was delivered can explain why a baby car seat as explained in the video below;

Why does my baby hate car seat?

Babies may dislike their car seat for various reasons, and understanding these reasons can help caregivers address the issue more effectively.

Here are some possible reasons why a baby might hate their car seat, along with examples and explanations:

Discomfort or pain:

Babies may dislike their car seat if they experience discomfort or pain while sitting in it. This discomfort could be due to factors such as incorrect installation of the car seat, improper positioning of the baby, or discomfort caused by straps or harnesses digging into their skin.

Here are some aspects of discomfort concerning car seats:

  1. Improper installation: If the car seat is not installed correctly, it can lead to discomfort for the baby. This could include issues such as a loose installation, which can cause the car seat to shift or tilt during the ride, or an overly tight installation, which may make the baby feel confined or uncomfortable.
    • Example: If the car seat is not securely attached to the vehicle’s seat, it may wobble or shift during the ride, causing the baby to feel unstable and uncomfortable. Similarly, if the car seat is installed too tightly, it may press against the baby’s body, leading to discomfort or even pain.
  2. Incorrect positioning: The way the baby is positioned within the car seat can also contribute to discomfort. Improper positioning, such as reclining too far back or sitting at an awkward angle, can put pressure on certain parts of the baby’s body and cause discomfort or pain.
    • Example: If the baby’s head flops forward while sleeping in the car seat, it can restrict their airway and lead to discomfort or difficulty breathing. Similarly, if the baby’s legs are cramped or pressed against the sides of the car seat, it can cause discomfort and restlessness during the ride.
  3. Harness or strap issues: Problems with the car seat harness or straps can also cause discomfort for the baby. This could include straps that are too tight or too loose, straps that are positioned incorrectly, or straps that dig into the baby’s skin.
    • Example: If the car seat straps are too tight, they can dig into the baby’s shoulders, chest, or groin area, causing discomfort or pain. Conversely, if the straps are too loose, the baby may not be securely restrained in the car seat, which can lead to feelings of instability and discomfort.

Here are ways to make your baby more comfortable:

Addressing discomfort in the car seat is essential to help babies feel more comfortable and content during car rides. Here are some steps caregivers can take to solve discomfort issues and help their baby enjoy the car seat:

  1. Ensure proper installation: Caregivers should carefully read the car seat manual and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for installation. This includes using the appropriate installation method (e.g., LATCH system or seat belt), securing the car seat tightly to the vehicle seat, and ensuring that it is installed at the correct recline angle for the baby’s age and size.
  2. Check positioning: Pay attention to the baby’s positioning within the car seat. Ensure that they are correctly positioned with their back flat against the seat, their bottom and back supported, and their head properly supported to prevent it from flopping forward.
  3. Adjust harness or straps: Check the fit and adjustment of the car seat harness or straps. Straps should be snug but not too tight, with the chest clip positioned at armpit level. Avoid bulky clothing that can interfere with the proper fit of the harness.
  4. Provide comfort accessories: Use accessories such as padded inserts, head supports, or strap covers to provide additional comfort for the baby. These accessories can help cushion sensitive areas and improve overall comfort during the car ride.

Motion sickness:

Some babies may experience motion sickness while traveling in a car seat, which can lead to feelings of nausea, discomfort, and aversion to car rides.

Example: A baby who experiences motion sickness may become fussy, sweaty, or nauseous shortly after being placed in the car seat. They may cry or protest when they see the car seat or when the car starts moving.

Here are some strategies to help soothe your baby when they experience motion sickness:

  1. Frequent breaks: Plan frequent stops during long car rides to allow the baby to get some fresh air, stretch their legs, and recover from motion sickness symptoms. Even short breaks can help alleviate nausea and discomfort.
  2. Positioning: Ensure that the baby’s car seat is installed properly and positioned correctly in the vehicle. For babies prone to motion sickness, a slightly reclined position may be more comfortable. Avoid placing the car seat in the rear-facing middle seat, as this position tends to amplify motion sensations.
  3. Keep the car cool and well-ventilated: A hot or stuffy car can exacerbate feelings of nausea and discomfort. Keep the car well-ventilated and maintain a comfortable temperature by using the air conditioning or opening windows slightly.
  4. Limit sensory stimulation: Reduce visual and sensory stimuli that may exacerbate motion sickness. Keep the baby’s surroundings calm and minimize distractions by using window shades to block sunlight and avoiding activities that involve rapid head movements.
  5. Offer small, bland snacks: Some babies find relief from motion sickness by nibbling on small, bland snacks like crackers or dry cereal during car rides. Avoid giving the baby large or heavy meals before traveling, as this can increase the risk of nausea.
  6. Provide distraction: Engage the baby in activities or provide toys to distract them from feelings of nausea. Soft music, singing, or talking to the baby may also help divert their attention away from discomfort.
  7. Use over-the-counter remedies: Consult with a pediatrician before using over-the-counter motion sickness medications or remedies for babies, as they may not be suitable for young infants. However, there are certain homeopathic remedies and ginger-based products that some caregivers find helpful in alleviating motion sickness symptoms in babies.
  8. Gradual exposure: Gradually expose the baby to car rides to help them build up tolerance to motion. Start with short trips around the neighborhood and gradually increase the duration as the baby becomes more accustomed to traveling in the car.
  9. Consider seating arrangements: Some babies may experience less motion sickness when seated in a forward-facing car seat. If the baby is old enough and meets the weight and height requirements, consider transitioning to a forward-facing car seat after consulting with a pediatrician.
  10. Stay calm and reassuring: Remain calm and reassuring during car rides to help soothe the baby’s nerves. Your calm demeanor can help reduce the baby’s anxiety and lessen the severity of motion sickness symptoms.

Fear or anxiety:

Babies may develop fear or anxiety associated with the car seat due to past negative experiences or feelings of discomfort while traveling.

Example: If a baby has previously experienced discomfort, such as being too hot or too cold, while sitting in the car seat, they may develop a negative association with it. This negative association can lead to anxiety or fear whenever they are placed in the car seat.

How to get baby to like car seat by managing fear and anxiety

Mitigating a baby’s fear or anxiety associated with the car seat requires patience, consistency, and positive reinforcement. Here are some strategies to help alleviate fear or anxiety and help the baby feel more comfortable with the car seat:

  1. Create positive associations: Associate the car seat with positive experiences by incorporating enjoyable activities or rewards during car rides. Offer praise, cuddles, or small treats after successful car rides to reinforce positive behavior.
  2. Gradual exposure: Introduce the baby to the car seat gradually to help them become accustomed to it. Start with short periods of time spent in the car seat during calm and relaxed moments, gradually increasing the duration as the baby becomes more comfortable.
  3. Make it fun: Turn car rides into enjoyable experiences by engaging the baby with toys, books, or music. Install a mirror that allows the baby to see their reflection or hang colorful toys within their reach to keep them entertained and distracted during the ride.
  4. Comfort and familiarity: Make the car seat a comfortable and familiar space for the baby by adding soft padding, blankets, or toys that they enjoy. Ensure that the car seat is installed securely and that the baby’s harness or straps are adjusted properly for a snug but comfortable fit.
  5. Stay calm and reassuring: Remain calm and reassuring during car rides to help ease the baby’s anxiety. Talk to the baby in a soothing voice, offer gentle reassurances, and provide physical comfort through cuddles or gentle touches.
  6. Routine and predictability: Establish a consistent routine around car rides to help the baby feel more secure and comfortable. Stick to regular schedules for feeding, diaper changes, and naps, and try to plan car rides during times when the baby is well-rested and content.
  7. Positive reinforcement: Use positive reinforcement techniques such as verbal praise, smiles, or small rewards to encourage the baby’s cooperation and confidence in the car seat. Celebrate small victories and progress, such as successfully buckling up or staying calm during the ride.
  8. Address underlying issues: Identify and address any underlying issues that may be contributing to the baby’s fear or anxiety, such as discomfort, motion sickness, or sensory sensitivities. Addressing these issues can help improve the baby’s overall comfort and confidence in the car seat.
  9. Seek professional support if needed: If the baby’s fear or anxiety persists despite your efforts, consider seeking guidance from a pediatrician, child psychologist, or other healthcare professionals who specialize in child behavior and development. They can provide personalized recommendations and support to help address the baby’s specific needs and concerns.

Restricted movement or feeling trapped:

Babies who prefer freedom of movement may dislike the confinement of a car seat, especially if they feel restricted or trapped.

Example: A baby who enjoys kicking their legs or moving their arms freely may become frustrated or upset when placed in a car seat that restricts their movement. They may cry or protest in an attempt to express their desire for more freedom.

Strategies for baby to like car seat when they feel trapped or restricted:

Mitigating feelings of restricted movement or the sensation of feeling trapped in the car seat is important to help babies feel more comfortable and relaxed during car rides. Here are some strategies to address this issue:

  1. Ensure proper positioning: Make sure the baby is positioned correctly in the car seat to maximize comfort and minimize feelings of restriction. Adjust the seat’s recline angle to a position that provides proper support for the baby’s head and body without causing them to slump forward or feel cramped.
  2. Check harness or straps: Ensure that the car seat harness or straps are adjusted correctly and securely fastened. Straps should be snug but not too tight, with the chest clip positioned at armpit level. Avoid over-tightening the straps, as this can cause discomfort and restrict the baby’s movement.
  3. Provide comfort accessories: Use padded inserts, head supports, or strap covers to provide additional comfort and support for the baby. These accessories can help cushion sensitive areas and alleviate pressure points, reducing feelings of restriction or discomfort.
  4. Promote frequent movement: Encourage frequent movement and stretching during car rides to prevent feelings of stiffness or confinement. Make regular stops to allow the baby to stretch their legs, move around, and explore their surroundings.
  5. Offer distraction: Provide engaging activities or toys to distract the baby and keep them entertained during car rides. Attach soft toys to the car seat or use a mirror that allows the baby to see their reflection. Singing or playing soothing music can also help divert their attention away from any feelings of confinement.
  6. Create a comfortable environment: Ensure that the car seat environment is comfortable and conducive to relaxation. Use breathable fabrics, regulate the temperature to prevent overheating, and maintain adequate ventilation to promote comfort and well-being.
  7. Gradual exposure: Introduce the baby to the car seat gradually to help them become accustomed to the sensation and confinement of sitting in it. Start with short car rides around the neighborhood and gradually increase the duration as the baby becomes more comfortable and confident.
  8. Stay attuned to the baby’s cues: Pay attention to the baby’s body language and cues during car rides, and respond promptly to any signs of discomfort or agitation. Be responsive to their needs and adjust the environment or seating arrangement as needed to promote comfort and relaxation.

Sensory sensitivities:

Some babies may have sensory sensitivities that make certain aspects of the car seat, such as the texture of the fabric or the sound of the straps being adjusted, uncomfortable or overwhelming for them.

Example: A baby with sensory sensitivities may become distressed or agitated when placed in a car seat with scratchy fabric or noisy buckles. These sensory triggers can cause the baby to cry or become irritable during car rides.

Mitigating sensory sensitivities for baby to stop hating car seat:

Mitigating sensory sensitivities in the car seat involves creating a calm and comfortable environment that minimizes sensory triggers and promotes relaxation for the baby. Here are some strategies to address sensory sensitivities:

  1. Choose appropriate materials: Opt for car seat covers and accessories made from soft, breathable fabrics that are gentle on the baby’s skin and minimize sensory irritation. Avoid materials that may be scratchy, stiff, or overly stimulating.
  2. Regulate temperature: Maintain a comfortable temperature inside the car seat by adjusting the car’s climate control system or using additional accessories such as sunshades or seat covers. Extreme temperatures, whether too hot or too cold, can exacerbate sensory sensitivities.
  3. Minimize visual stimulation: Reduce visual stimuli inside the car by using window shades or covers to block bright sunlight and glare. This can help create a calmer environment and reduce sensory overload for the baby.
  4. Provide auditory comfort: Play soft, soothing music or white noise in the car to help drown out background noise and create a calming auditory environment. Avoid loud or jarring sounds that may trigger sensory sensitivities in the baby.
  5. Use sensory-friendly accessories: Incorporate sensory-friendly accessories such as cushioned head supports, strap covers, or padded inserts to provide additional comfort and support for the baby. These accessories can help minimize pressure points and reduce sensory discomfort.
  6. Create a predictable routine: Establish a predictable routine around car rides to help the baby feel more secure and comfortable. Stick to consistent schedules for feeding, naps, and diaper changes, and try to plan car rides during times when the baby is well-rested and content.
  7. Gradual exposure: Introduce the baby to the car seat gradually to help them become accustomed to the sensory experience of riding in a vehicle. Start with short car rides around the neighborhood and gradually increase the duration as the baby becomes more comfortable and familiar with the sensation.
  8. Monitor and respond to cues: Pay attention to the baby’s cues and signals during car rides, and respond promptly to any signs of sensory discomfort or agitation. Be responsive to their needs and adjust the environment or seating arrangement as needed to promote comfort and relaxation.
  9. Seek professional guidance: If sensory sensitivities persist or significantly impact the baby’s comfort and well-being, consider consulting with a pediatrician or occupational therapist who specializes in sensory processing issues. They can provide personalized recommendations and strategies to help address the baby’s specific sensory needs.

Boredom:

Boredom can also be a factor contributing to a baby’s dislike of their car seat. Babies are naturally curious and thrive on stimulation and interaction. Being confined to a car seat for an extended period without engaging in activities or stimuli can lead to boredom and frustration.

Here’s how boredom in the car seat can manifest and some strategies to address it:

  1. Lack of stimulation: Babies may become bored if there are no interesting sights, sounds, or activities to engage their senses during the car ride. Staring at the same surroundings or being confined in a car seat without any interactive stimulation can lead to restlessness and fussiness.Example: A baby may start fussing or crying during a car ride if there are no toys, books, or other items to capture their attention. They may become increasingly agitated as the journey progresses.
  2. Desire for interaction: Babies thrive on social interaction and may become bored if they are left alone in the car seat without any interaction from caregivers. They may crave eye contact, conversation, or physical touch to feel connected and engaged.Example: A baby may cry or become fussy if they feel isolated or ignored while sitting in the car seat. They may try to get the attention of their caregivers by making sounds, reaching out, or crying for comfort.
  3. Monotonous surroundings: Babies may become bored if the car ride involves long stretches of monotonous scenery without any changes or points of interest. Staring at the same scenery for an extended period can lead to feelings of boredom and restlessness.Example: A baby may become increasingly irritable during a long car ride through rural areas with little to see or experience. They may cry or protest in an attempt to express their desire for a change of scenery or stimulation.

To address boredom in the car seat, you can:

  • Provide interactive toys, books, or sensory items to keep the baby engaged and entertained during the car ride.
  • Engage in conversation or sing songs with the baby to provide auditory stimulation and social interaction.
  • Make frequent stops during long car rides to allow the baby to stretch, move around, and explore new surroundings.
  • Play soothing music or white noise to create a calming and enjoyable atmosphere in the car.
  • Rotate toys and activities to prevent boredom and keep the baby’s interest piqued throughout the journey.

Hunger and thirst:

Hunger or thirst can also contribute to a child’s discomfort or irritability during car rides, which may manifest as dislike or resistance towards being in the car seat. Here’s how hunger or thirst can impact a child’s experience in the car seat:

  1. Discomfort: Hunger or thirst can cause physical discomfort for children, leading to restlessness, fussiness, or agitation while seated in the car seat. This discomfort can be exacerbated by the restricted movement and confinement associated with being strapped into the car seat.
  2. Irritability: Children who are hungry or thirsty may become irritable or cranky, making it more challenging for caregivers to secure them in the car seat without resistance. The discomfort of hunger or thirst can amplify feelings of frustration or distress, leading to negative associations with the car seat.
  3. Distraction: Hunger or thirst can distract children from other activities or stimuli during the car ride, making it more difficult for them to stay calm and content while seated in the car seat. This distraction can contribute to a sense of dislike or aversion towards the car seat if the child associates it with feelings of hunger or thirst.
  4. Anxiety: Children who experience hunger or thirst during car rides may develop anxiety or negative associations with the car seat if they perceive it as a barrier to accessing food or drink. This anxiety can lead to resistance or reluctance to being placed in the car seat, especially if they anticipate prolonged periods without access to snacks or drinks.

To mitigate the impact of hunger or thirst on a child’s experience in the car seat, caregivers can take the following steps:

  • Plan ahead: Offer snacks or drinks to children before embarking on car rides to help prevent hunger or thirst during the journey. Pack a selection of portable, non-perishable snacks and water bottles to have on hand during the ride.
  • Schedule breaks: Plan regular rest stops during long car rides to allow children to stretch their legs, have a snack, and hydrate. These breaks provide opportunities for children to satisfy their hunger or thirst and alleviate discomfort associated with prolonged periods in the car seat.
  • Provide distractions: Offer engaging activities or toys to distract children from feelings of hunger or thirst during car rides. Books, music, interactive games, or conversation can help keep children entertained and content while seated in the car seat.
  • Monitor cues: Pay attention to signs of hunger or thirst, such as fussiness, crankiness, or requests for food or drink, and respond promptly to meet the child’s needs. Addressing hunger or thirst proactively can help prevent negative associations with the car seat and promote a more positive experience for children during car rides.
  • Establish a routine: Create a predictable routine around car rides to help your child feel more secure and comfortable. Stick to consistent schedules for meals, snacks, and rest breaks, and try to plan car rides during times when your child is well-rested and content.
  • Positive reinforcement: Use positive reinforcement techniques to encourage your child’s cooperation and positive behavior during car rides. Praise and reward your child for sitting calmly and happily in their car seat, and offer verbal encouragement and support throughout the journey.

I agree with Michelle Pratt from Safe in the Seat, advising against eating or feeding a baby in the car. Not only does it result in a messy situation, but car feeding poses choking hazards and may trigger car or motion sickness for both you and the baby.

Furthermore, it is unsafe and distracting to drive while feeding, considering that your infant may be seated in the backseat and rear-facing. This is why you need to plan and take frequent feeding breaks.

What to do when baby doesn’t like car seat:

Empathize and Console:

Consoling effectively when a child doesn’t like their car seat involves understanding and addressing the underlying reasons for their discomfort or resistance, as well as providing comfort and reassurance during car rides.

Here are some strategies to console effectively in this situation:

  1. Acknowledge their feelings: Validate your child’s emotions and let them know that it’s okay to feel upset or uncomfortable about being in the car seat. Use empathetic language to communicate understanding, such as, “I know you don’t like being in the car seat, but we need to stay safe while we drive.”
  2. Provide comfort items: Offer comfort items such as a favorite stuffed animal, blanket, or toy to provide a sense of familiarity and security during car rides. These items can help soothe and distract your child, making them feel more comfortable in the car seat.
  3. Engage in soothing activities: Sing songs, tell stories, or play calming music to help distract your child and create a soothing atmosphere during car rides. Gentle conversation and reassuring words can also provide comfort and reassurance.
  4. Offer physical comfort: Provide physical comfort by holding your child’s hand, rubbing their back, or gently patting their leg while they are in the car seat. Physical touch can help reassure your child and make them feel more secure during the ride.
  5. Stay calm and patient: Remain calm and patient when consoling your child in the car seat, even if they become upset or resistant. Your calm demeanor can help reassure your child and make them feel more secure during car rides.

Distracting as a strategy:

When a baby doesn’t like their car seat and starts crying during car rides, distracting them with engaging activities can help soothe them and make the journey more manageable for both the baby and the caregiver. Here are several ways to distract a baby in the car to help stop crying:

  1. Soothing music or white noise: Play calming music or white noise in the car to create a soothing atmosphere. Gentle sounds can help distract the baby from their discomfort and promote relaxation during the ride.
  2. Sing or talk to the baby: Engage the baby with your voice by singing songs or talking to them in a soothing tone. Your voice can provide comfort and reassurance, helping to distract the baby from their distress.
  3. Provide a pacifier or teething toy: Offer a pacifier or teething toy to the baby to help soothe them and provide a distraction from their discomfort. The sucking motion can be comforting for babies, and the teething toy can help alleviate any teething pain.
  4. Attach soft toys or mobiles to the car seat: Hang soft toys or a baby mobile from the car seat handle or overhead mirror to provide visual stimulation and entertainment for the baby. Colorful and textured toys can capture the baby’s interest and help distract them from crying.
  5. Use a mirror: Install a rear-facing mirror in the car so the baby can see their reflection. Babies are often fascinated by their own image, and watching themselves in the mirror can be a captivating distraction during car rides.
  6. Interactive toys or books: Offer interactive toys or books that the baby can play with or look at during the ride. Choose toys with bright colors, different textures, or interactive features to keep the baby engaged and entertained.
  7. Play peek-a-boo: Use a soft blanket or your hands to play peek-a-boo with the baby. This simple game can help capture the baby’s attention and provide a playful distraction from crying.
  8. Make funny faces or sounds: Use silly faces, funny sounds, or exaggerated expressions to elicit giggles and laughter from the baby. Your playful interactions can help distract the baby from their distress and lighten the mood during the car ride.
  9. Rotate toys and activities: Bring along a variety of toys and activities to keep the baby entertained throughout the journey. Rotate the toys and activities periodically to maintain the baby’s interest and prevent boredom.
  10. Monitor the baby’s cues: Pay attention to the baby’s cues and adjust your distractions accordingly. If a particular activity seems to calm the baby, continue with it, but be flexible and try different strategies if needed.

What not to do when your baby is crying and hates car seat:

When a baby is crying and hates their car seat, certain approaches may not effectively address the underlying issues or soothe the baby. These ineffective strategies include:

  1. Ignoring the crying: Ignoring the baby’s distress without addressing the root cause may exacerbate their agitation and prolong their discomfort.
  2. Using force: Forcing the baby into the car seat or tightening the straps excessively in an attempt to restrain them can escalate their distress and create negative associations with the car seat.
  3. Scolding or yelling: Responding to the baby’s crying with scolding or yelling can increase their anxiety and fear, making them even more resistant to the car seat.
  4. Offering excessive distractions: While distractions can be helpful, bombarding the baby with too many stimuli or overly stimulating activities may overwhelm them further.
  5. Disregarding safety measures: Sacrificing safety measures, such as proper installation or secure harnessing, in an attempt to placate the baby compromises their safety and increases the risk of injury in the event of an accident.
  6. Dismissing hunger or thirst: Ignoring the baby’s hunger or thirst signals and refusing to offer nourishment during car rides can intensify their discomfort and exacerbate their dislike for the car seat.
  7. Neglecting physical comfort: Failing to provide physical comfort, such as holding the baby’s hand or offering gentle touches, overlooks their need for reassurance and connection during distressing moments.
  8. Rushing the process: Attempting to rush through the situation without addressing the baby’s needs or providing adequate comfort and support may escalate their agitation and prolong the episode.
  9. Getting baby in front seat or a forward-facing seat when they are below 2 years: Avoid the temptation to place your baby in the front seat or switch to a forward-facing car seat before they turn 2, even if they dislike the rear-facing position. The front seat is unsafe, and the forward-facing option poses risks to your baby’s safety. Here are key reasons why rear-facing seats are safer.

Final word:

I hope this detailed guide with practical tips on what to do when your baby hates the car seat and sometimes cries in the car will help make your next car ride smoother and more enjoyable for both you and your little one. Remember to always prioritize safety, plan ahead, and be patient when dealing with a crying baby. With patience and practice, you’ll discover what works best for your baby and start enjoying peaceful car rides together.

Happy travels!