Traveling with a 4-month-old
March 21, 2014 5:03 AM   Subscribe

We're planning to take our son to visit his grandparents for 4-5 days. He will be 4 months old. It's a 6 hour drive away. He's never spent the night away from home and the longest he's ever been in the car is 1 hour. What steps can we take to maximize our chances of a fun (and not especially sleepless) visit?

He is currently 3 months old and sleeps in a co-sleeper. The co-sleeper might technically be "portable" but it certainly is not convenient to move or pack it. We're thinking of getting a Rock 'n' Play Sleeper because he has a bouncer seat that is the same shape, and he loves to nap in it. It would be really nice to have an easy portable sleeping solution especially because we hope to be making some more trips to visit family this summer. Does this strike you as a nutty idea? Should we do everything possible to keep his sleeping situation exactly like it is at home, even if it means dragging the whole co-sleeper with us? (Cosleeping at his grandparents' home is not possible - believe me when I say the bed is too small for it to be safe.)

We expect rockier sleep than usual, but we're hoping we can cobble together enough sleep to actually enjoy our trip.

He has a very consistent bedtime and bedtime routine which can be done easily anywhere, so hopefully that will help - 95% of the time he goes straight to sleep at the end of his routine with no fuss. He is exclusively breastfed, but will take expressed milk in a bottle. He is a cheerful, extremely active baby at home who tends to become quiet, fascinated and observant for long periods in new places. (He will sit on our laps and stare at his surroundings for 45 minutes + in a restaurant, or when we have guests visiting.) He is not easily overwhelmed or scared; he seems to really like excitement.

He's never been in the car longer than 1 hour, and he only takes car trips once every 2 weeks or so since we currently live in a city. So far he doesn't hate the car or anything, but when he's awake and active he doesn't like being confined. Picture books and singing keep him happy for a little while, but I expect we'll have to stop frequently if he's awake. Should we drive at night? If we arrive at our destination in the middle of the night, any best practices for helping him get back to sleep and have a good night's rest? (His carseat does not come out of the car, so he will probably wake up when we take him inside.)

He is used to being transported in an Ergo or occasionally a jogging stroller.

We've never traveled with an infant before. Is there anything we definitely need to bring, prepare or know?

In general, is there anything we can do to help prepare him to be handle the changes in his surroundings?
posted by Cygnet to Travel & Transportation (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Cosleeping at his grandparents' home is not possible - believe me when I say the bed is too small for it to be safe -- I hear you on this; I travelled with a camping mattress when my kid was an infant because so many hotel and home beds were not co-sleeping-friendly. It worked well.

I made some road trips with a baby and I think you are overthinking and stressing too much. He's very little -- home is where Mummy is.

Frequent stops were not necessary. Couple of pauses for diaper changes and that was it. Once I arrived sort of late on and the kid was up and wide awake for a bit, and then knocked off painlessly. Really, the largest potential hassle I foresee for you here is you continuing to fret over this and your stress transferring to the kid. He will be totally fine. Worry about your own sleep, not his!
posted by kmennie at 5:21 AM on March 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

Your little-dude may surprise you.

Cars are famous for being great places to get cranky babies to settle down and snooze.

One thing is to have a series of new little toys for him to play with. If you're tooling along, and he gets fussy after waking from a nap, give him a new toy to play with. This will divert him for a little bit.

Play music on the radio so he can enjoy it (not kids music, that would be torture for you) but music you can all enjoy. Happy, by Parrell Williams springs to mind.

One thing I've noticed is that babies are more prone to having "blow outs" the less convenient it is, so be prepared to clean something incredibly unpleasant in the back seat. Have a mild cleaner and lots of paper-towels with you!

He may have some interrupted sleep, but he's a little guy, and he'll get into the new swing of things soon enough. Besides, all that spoiling from the family will make it easier for you.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:23 AM on March 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

We took an eight-hour car ride when our older kid was four months old and were dreading the disruptions to her sleep. She was an excellent sleeper at home and we were sure it would be all wonky while we were gone. She amazed us by napping solidly in the car, fussing very little when she was actually awake (we stopped every few hours to feed her and move around a little). At bedtime we did the usual routine (like yours, brief but effective and familiar) and put her down in a pack and play in the darkened bedroom, and she went right out like she always did. Do exactly what you always do at bedtime and act like nothing else is out of the ordinary, and the kid will respond to that.

I like Ruthless Bunny's suggestions of "new toy" (ours loved anything that rattled at that age, and they make toys that clip onto the car seat so you don't have to dig for it under luggage when it inevitably gets flung) and "be ready for a blowout".
posted by SeedStitch at 5:49 AM on March 21, 2014

You're overthinking this. The most important thing for you to do, because your son will pick up on your mood, is relax. It's just a car trip and sleeping in a new place.

We traveled to my inlaws' and spent a week there when our daughter was 7 weeks, and it was fine. Just bring everything you find convenient at home, have a good plan for where he is going to sleep, and roll with it. As far as the car ride goes, 6 hours is definitely a long time to confine him to his carseat, so I would suggest leaving your house at naptime to get a couple of hours under your belt, then I'm sure he'll be fine in the seat for 30-60 when he wakes up, plan a stop, feeding him, entertain him, pop him back in his seat, rinse repeat. One of you may need to sit in the back with him to keep him company for a period -- we found this to be true on one car trip -- she was awake and fussy, but as soon as I got in the back and talked to her, she was happy for the rest of the ride.\

If you're going to have him sleep in a totally new situation (ie a rock n play instead of a cosleeper), I suggest trying it out a few nights while you're still at home so it's not completely foreign to him.
posted by suchatreat at 6:50 AM on March 21, 2014

I took my baby on a roughly 6 hour car ride when she was about 6 weeks old, and it was fine.

-- Be prepared to stop a fair bit to nurse. Some moms I know claim to have some ninja trick fro nursing in a moving car, but I wouldn't want to try it, personally.

-- portable co-sleeper = snuggle nest! Google it; there are variations on the one I linked. It's small and lightweight and, admittedly, totally overpriced for what it is. (You can buy a Pack n Play for not much more.)
posted by kestrel251 at 7:10 AM on March 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't get the Rock n Play, just because he'll outgrow it soon, and you'll only get a few months out of it. (I am generally a fan!). Are you going to have frequent visits to the grandparents? If they have storage space, a used Pack n Play or similar set up could be left there and be useful well into toddlerhood. I think that's what I'd go for.

(At that age, we mostly co-slept (like, in the bed co-slept), which has the benefit of not needing any special equipment), but the PnP was still used for naps.
posted by chocotaco at 8:01 AM on March 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Do read up on the infamous four-month-old sleep regression. That may strike your wee one during this trip, and it's good to just roll with it and know that it's extremely common.
posted by xo at 8:27 AM on March 21, 2014

I can't comment on co-sleeping (we avoided that, as our little guy was a bed hog and liked to play in bed more than sleep), but before he was 1, car rides were a breeze. After he was two, not so much, to the point we thought back longingly about how great it was when he'd just nod off.

Six hours is a good time period. Longer than 8, and you're pushing it, because they're really constrained in car seats, and generally can't interact with the world too much. That's when our little guy got fussy (we were moving, so we wanted to cut the total number of days in the car to a minimum, and put up with some cranky evenings).
posted by filthy light thief at 11:27 AM on March 21, 2014

No need to drag the whole co-sleeper along, but do make sure the bedding he's put to sleep on comes from home and smells familiar- that can go a long way. Even just the t-shirt you wore in the car, underneath the bottom sheet. Sounds weird but easy to do.

This will be fine. You will be fine. That is a great age to travel. Much easier than when they are mobile and want to be on the move.
posted by ambrosia at 12:15 PM on March 21, 2014

On quick review, I am surprised no one recommended driving during normal sleep times so if baby goes to sleep at 8 PM then leave at 8 PM. We did this because otherwise our babies would scream the entire road trip. This will depend on the personality of your baby. That is nice and smart of you to consider what you can do ahead of time to make the trip work well for everyone.
posted by RoadScholar at 12:22 PM on March 21, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! The car trip was fine, and the trip was terrific, except he slept horribly (up 10 times a night, even though we brought his co-sleeper anyway), but that's honestly not all that unusual for him; he's a terrible sleeper. He was super happy anyway!
posted by Cygnet at 2:43 PM on April 25, 2014

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