How to survive 6 hours in the car with a baby

Yes, it’s possible. Without losing your sanity. Having a buddy along is definitely preferable, but I’ve had the pleasure of attempting this a couple times by myself to visit the Mimi and Poppa, and I’m still here to talk about it. (So are my kids.)

11 tips for surviving a long car trip with a baby. The key is night driving, and nursing is your super power.

When my oldest was a baby, the car was his kryptonite. Going on a drive with him was basically an exercise in the cry-it-out method. Or involved learning to drive with earplugs (not recommended – fire trucks don’t really condone this.) I do, however, recommend NIGHT DRIVING.

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Here are my tips for successful night driving with baby.

1. Make a list.
Of all the stuff baby needs on a typical day or night. From diaper cream to sound machine. This list will be longgggggggggggggggg. We live in a consumer culture, so our babies are born with a penchant for crap. (Unless you’re a minimalist, then I guess your baby just needs a diaper). Anyway, this list is your new BFF: keep it in a safe place to update as baby grows, so you’ll know what to pack when he goes to college.


  • all the baby day supplies: diaper cream, diapers, extra clothes, burp cloths, pacifiers, etc.
  • all the baby night supplies: see above, plus pjs, overnight diapers, sound machine, special blanket or lovie
  • port-a-crib (and extra sheets), stroller, baby carrier, travel high chair/booster seat, etc. – if you won’t have access to these at your destination
  • a few random toys and books
  • formula or nursing supplies (don’t forget your pump and extra bottles for storage, extra nipple shields, nipple cream, and fenugreek to keep your supply up if the trip promises to be stressful)
  • baby food (if you don’t trust you MIL to honor your preferences)
  • large, dark-colored fleece blanket – to serve as a black out curtain in the car (and possibly your destination)
  • snacks and water for YOU

2. Pile all the baby stuff together in one room.
Take half of it to Goodwill – seriously, people, why do we need a pack-n-play AND a rock-n-play? Ok, ok, this step is actually important. From this pile, weed out all the things you’ll need to put baby to bed when you arrive. (Or bribe your host to pull all this stuff together and have everything set up for you when you arrive – love me some awesome mommy hosts!!) Put these baby-to-bed items in a special bag so you can quickly find them when you arrive at your destination. As in, don’t put the pack-n-play in the trunk under your ski equipment.

And make another special pile of things you’ll want within reach in the car: diapers, a back-up pair of pajamas, burp cloths, extra bottles. And black-out curtains – more on this later.

The night before you travel. You can thank me later. (This is a blog called MothersRest, right?)

4. Pack the car.
While baby is at daycare, napping or distracted by Bubble Guppies (if you’re into that). Include SNACKS AND WATER for you, especially if you’re nursing or pumping.

5. Plan to leave two hours prior to baby’s bedtime.
Synchronize your pre-trip preparations based on this time. These include: feeding baby an early dinner or nursing cuteness right before you jump into the car, and dressing baby in pajamas and a overnight diaper. In other words, pretend baby is ready for bed when you get in the car.

6. Wear a mom-diaper.
As in that lady astronaut who drove cross country wearing one so she didn’t have to stop to pee. Because we’re not allowed to leave children unattended in the car anymore. (Don’t you remember the joy of hanging out in the grocery store parking lot while your mom ran in “just for a second?” You felt so grown up, right?) Geez, sometimes momma just really needs to pee. Especially if you’re prego. (Penis envy, anyone?)

7. Get on with the trip.
Strap baby in car seat and pray baby doesn’t have a diaper blow out ten minutes down the road.

Baby may tolerate a little travel time. When baby gets bored with the whole fun road trip thing (you’ll know when this happens: all hell will break loose), pull over and nurse or feed the little dear.

Get back on the road and pray baby falls asleep. This may take lots of praying. Sometimes loud (or quiet) singing helps. Or a white noise app (I recommend NPR drone). I even have friends with a “put a boob in it” policy where they perform Cirque du Soleil tricks to bride baby with comfort nursing. Oh wait, that only works if you’ve got a responsible adult driver in the car with you.

8. Cover baby with the black-out curtain.
Once sweetness dozes off. (Pull off the road first – do I need to say that?) Use your blanket of choice, but I recommend a large, dark-colored fleece blanket. It’s light weight and large enough that you can tuck one end over baby’s car seat and the other over your head rest to create airflow. And there’s enough blanket left to hang down around baby’s car seat to block out the light from the car windows. Think old school blanket fort, – as featured in this post.

The black-out curtain is crucial if you’re traveling intermittently through urban areas with random streetlights. Or when asshole drivers forget to turn off their brights (I admit, sometimes I’m that driver). Sleeping baby doesn’t take kindly to sudden light. Trust me on this. My son drove home this point for two hours one night. Super fun.

9. Stop every hour or two.
Pray baby doesn’t wake up when you stop. Because you need a break. Do some jumping jacks, guzzle your favorite caffeinated beverage, eat some food, change your diaper. So you don’t fall asleep.

10. Let sleeping baby lie.
When you arrive at your destination, recruit the host to stand guard over the car while you unpack the baby to bed pile and prepare baby’s sleeping quarters. Then retrieve baby, keeping the black-out curtain securely in place to reduce stimulation and light. If needed, change baby’s diaper, nurse or feed the cutie, and rock baby back to sleep. Pray hard cuteness obliges.

11. GO TO BED.
Give the host a hello hug and then hit the hay. If you’re a packing ninja, you included your own momma to bed stuff amongst the baby to bed pile, and you can just head to bed. Because 6 hours in the car is, um, debilitating. Feel coerced into visiting with folks? Get over it. They’ll survive. Treat yourself right. Because a rested momma is a joyous momma.

And, while you’re at it, check out my tips for traveling with toddlers.

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Photo credit: Jelleke Vanooteghem from

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