2000 mile road trip with a newborn
April 23, 2020 4:11 PM   Subscribe

We received the amazing good news that we were picked by someone for an adoption and find ourselves suddenly going to pick up a newborn. But because of current circumstances, we can’t fly home with the (Healthy!) baby. We are going to be first time parents driving from Ohio to California with a 5 day old girl. Please help me make this as painless as possible! How can I best prepare for this drive (taking place probably Tuesday)?
posted by BuddhaInABucket to Travel & Transportation (41 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
There is no way I’m going to be able to cover everything but here’s a few tips. Sorry if it’s things you already know.
1) Make sure that whoever brand formula the baby is on, that’s what you have as well. Most babies are brand loyal and do not appreciate swapping. Buy more than you need.
2) Lots of changes of clothes, with snaps that are easy to take on and off. For you too. You might get a puker.
3) Put a towel underneath the babyseat. You’ll get poonamis and being trapped in the car with one that has leaked over your car won’t be fun.
4) Speaking of baby car seats, it’s dangerous to have the baby in it for hours and hours, their neck can be angled in such a way that their airway can be obstructed. Check on them often and don’t keep them in it indefinitely, I know this will be tricky with hours of driving.
5) This is a great age to be travelling, babies just sleep, so good timing there!
6)Disinfect everything. Buy more wipes and more everything than you think you need. Baby has no immune system (or at least only what they got from birth Mum) at this age. Paranoia is your friend right now.
7) I know you’re probably extra paranoid anyway, but no passing baby around, keep them strapped to your chest in a babybjorn and covered with wrap if you have to go into a rest room or anything like that. Better still, don’t take them and do changes on your car seat.
8) Congratulations! It’s a magical time! Take turns driving/sleeping and cuddling the baby and you’ll be fine.
posted by Jubey at 4:26 PM on April 23, 2020 [5 favorites]


Pack 3-4 times as many shirts as you normally would for yourself. Minimum.
Baby blankets/burp clothes/baby wipes
Towels, esp for under the car seat.

For a change table in the car, because you probably will end up doing a change in the car at the side of the road, don't rely on the TINY LITTLE MATS that come with diaper bags. Get a big change pad. Get disposable pads for over the change pad.

Pack garbage bags, at least 50 of them. Put the mat on the garbage bag to increase the covered surface, then the disposable pad, then at the end, put the wipes and disposable pad etc in the garbage bag. You can do your environmental penance later in life.

4 outfits a day minimum for the baby unless you can do laundry.
Make sure your carseat is good and that you have the head supports for it. Learn to check the baby's colour, they can't always keep their airway straight at this age. I always rode next to the baby at that age.

Plan for this trip to take a long long time with lots of stops.
Play whatever music you love, it won't ruin the baby.

I think the hardest thing will be driving with the baby in the car seat wanting to hold the baby and knowing it's not safe to hold them while the car is in motion. But at newborn age, honestly, a lot of times they are asleep anyway so it's not the worst timing you could have.

Someone who knows about formula should address this but the one tip I know from a friend is to always have some of the pre-mixed kind at hand, even if it's super $$, in case you can't mix for some reason (lack of safe water, etc.)
posted by warriorqueen at 4:31 PM on April 23, 2020 [8 favorites]

In addition to above:
Extra towels
Something to block sun glare from the kid
One of those mirror things you put on the back of the seat so you can see the kid
In addition to brand loyalty to formula: there's bottle and nipple loyalty.
posted by sciencegeek at 4:33 PM on April 23, 2020 [4 favorites]

A Mefite once linked the book Heading Home with your Newborn as a useful how-to-basics baby book.
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:34 PM on April 23, 2020 [2 favorites]

This may be a crazy thought, but could you possibly go by private plane? It might be worth it to check out the cost through net jets or similar. Perhaps your agency or adoption counselors might know how to work it. Congratulations on this happy news!
posted by carmicha at 4:37 PM on April 23, 2020 [4 favorites]

Well, your safest choice even in the current circumstances would be to fly. But if that's not an option, trade off driving more frequently than you "need" to. Trading off every two hours or so keeps you fresh.
posted by metasarah at 4:38 PM on April 23, 2020 [5 favorites]

Take one shoe off and keep it next to the baby. Sounds stupid right? If the baby is asleep, and you’re sleep deprived and you stop the car to get out, it’s really easy to forget you even have a baby if you’re not used to having one! This is how they get left alone in cars. Trust me, it’s easier to do it than you think. If you leave the car without a shoe, (or your purse) you’ll remember to get that and it’ll be right next to the child.
posted by Jubey at 4:44 PM on April 23, 2020 [30 favorites]

Is a camper out of the question?
posted by InkaLomax at 4:44 PM on April 23, 2020 [16 favorites]

You should consider the fact that rest stops are probably closed, and I assume public restrooms at gas stations might also be closed. I’m not sure if that’s true, but it could be a possibility that you should prepare for.
posted by hazel79 at 4:51 PM on April 23, 2020 [4 favorites]

echoing Jubey that you need to stop a lot. Every half hour. And adjust the baby so there is no risk of them suffocating.

And congratulations!!!
posted by biggreenplant at 5:01 PM on April 23, 2020 [2 favorites]

Was wondering if renting a camper / small RV might be an option, but also may add more complexities than you want to deal with in addition to baby. Also finding one with proper supports for the car seat is a challenge - RV seats / seatbelts that are not part of the vehicle chassis are not always made to car standards.
posted by cgg at 5:18 PM on April 23, 2020

Can you rent a place close to the adoption site for a few days to a month before you leave? If you are first time parents I really think this would be a better choice than hopping in the car to drive home. At that age they do sleep a lot but I think you need some time to adjust and get to know each other.
posted by fshgrl at 5:59 PM on April 23, 2020 [21 favorites]

In Canada, they recommend that you only feed the premixed formula (not the powdered kind) for a certain period of time, to very young babies. I don't remember now exactly the time period, but I remember doing it for quite a while. It is more expensive, but much easier. When we had a very small baby, we also found that "puppy pads" were very useful for a variety of situations.
posted by ice-cream forever at 6:25 PM on April 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

You should consider the fact that rest stops are probably closed

Consider packing diapers (not for the baby)
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 6:47 PM on April 23, 2020

Definitely the non-driver sits in the back with the baby for peace of mind and monitoring baby’s breathing. Can you check in with a pediatrician about this trip and what to do about the baby being in the car seat for so long? The airway obstruction from the long stretches in the car seat is something I would be concerned about. Also something for baby to sleep in (well for the short stretches between night time feeds) at the hotels. I coslept with my babies but would 100% not in this situation.

I’d also be really concerned about safe driving while in the sleep deprived newborn state. Is there any way to have a third driver, who sleeps in their own room while parents are up with the newborn? Probably not likely with the coronavirus situation but if possible that would be optimal.
posted by wilky at 6:56 PM on April 23, 2020 [8 favorites]

Hey - I'm in California, I think in a neighboring county based on your profile, and I have extra disinfectant wipes and nitrile gloves (and accidentally I have a mountain of paper towels). Memail me if you can't find enough to get you there and back.

Most cross-country travelers are eschewing hotels if they can, but as long as you have masks, gloves and wipes (and spray cleaner and paper towels), maybe heads-up each hotel several hours before you arrive that you are coming in with an infant, and one of you goes in first to wipe down everything and put the bedspreads in a closet, I think you should take that risk and stop frequently. You're going to need a bathtub/shower, you're going to need to sleep enough to not wreck the car, you can't keep a baby in a car seat that many hours in a day, you're going to want to spend some real quality time with your new baby.

All risks considered, I think taking up to a week to get back from Ohio would be reasonable. Stick to booking extended-stay places with kitchenettes and take a couple storage bins of shelf-stable food so you're not in contact with anybody else for food along the way*. Stay at each hotel until right up to check-out time, drive 4-6 hours, check in and hunker down until check-out. Maybe plan for a two-night stay around the midpoint so you can truly rest up for the second half of the drive. You're gonna eat a lot of oatmeal, and pasta with canned chicken and vegetables and beans and weird sauces, and toast and bananas and pop tarts, but that's okay.

But yeah maybe, if you're going to be off work/on parental leave, maybe get an airbnb there in Ohio, or Indy or Louisville, for a week or two? Just to catch your breath and bond and get formula and other specific baby preferences dialed in before hitting the road?

*Most cities of any size have already pivoted pretty well to contactless delivery, and I suspect you will get whatever facilitation you need from the front desk at any hotel you're at, so you can probably expect to be able to get some fresh-vegetable-food delivered at one or more points, but I'd still say pack as if that's not guaranteed.

Also: hey, take lots of photos and videos. Facetime your family members. Celebrate. This is a shitty panicked time for a lovely thing to be happening for you. Don't let the panic make you rush things that don't need to be rushed (obviously certain things are on a very specific timeline, but discern between what is and isn't on it). Congratulations!
posted by Lyn Never at 7:24 PM on April 23, 2020 [4 favorites]

They sell car beds for premature infants that cannot safely sit up in a car seat. You could check into getting one of those just for the trip home to ensure that your new family member can travel while lying flat, so no risk of postural hypoxia. She might be small enough to use one. She should be fine without one but you might be glad you got one for your peace of mind. Rolled up wash clothes are good for propping up a baby so its head doesn't loll to one side, and can be used for cleaning too.

Make sure you can protect her from the sun, not just get one of those sunscreens that you stick to the window. She's not supposed to get much sun at all and indirect sun in a car on a bright day could actually be too much. It doesn't have to be fancy. You can make a kind of tent over her half of the back seat using a blanket or a sheet folded in quarters.

Rent a hatchback so you can camp in the back if needed rather than keep driving while over tired.

Get some exercise every day and don't just drive relentlessly. Think of this as kind of your babymoon trip and take some pictures. Someday your daughter will be old enough to recite which states she has been to and which ones she hasn't and she will be probably appreciate seeing pictures from the trip.

You'll need more diaper wipes than you think. A good layer of petroleum jelly is an excellent preventative for diaper rash.

I am impressed with the shoe suggestion made by Jubey, above.
posted by Jane the Brown at 7:26 PM on April 23, 2020 [10 favorites]

(Also if you want meal-planning help to facilitate that kind of trip, also Memail me. I used to travel extensively for work with dietary restrictions, so I'm used to making all that work in Extended Stay kitchenettes. I'm happy to put a plan and shopping list together for you.)
posted by Lyn Never at 7:28 PM on April 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

If you're renting from the usual car rental places, go for a a large 7-passenger minivan with fold-away seats. That will give you enough room for an air mattress for cat naps for the adults.
posted by dum spiro spero at 7:29 PM on April 23, 2020 [4 favorites]

Do you have a carseat? There's a car seats for littles group on FB that is super helpful in picking one and ensuring it is installed properly for a newborn. Or doing a fit check on your current carseat and how to install at the right recline to prevent the chin to chest referenced above. If you are formula feeding with bottles, consider bringing twice the amount that you think you will need. Seriously, we travelled with a formula fed newborn and it was a pain to try and figure out how to sanitize them. I'd also check to see if there are ready to feed bottles in LO's preferred brand where you can screw on a nipple onto the packaged bottle. So handy!
posted by snowysoul at 8:35 PM on April 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

It's really hard to wash and sterilise bottles on the move. Like, really hard, especially if you're not staying in a hotel with kitchenette. Even if you have a steam steriliser you're going to need facilities to wash them.

It is MUCH MUCH EASIER to clean a whole lot of bottles at once and pack them in resealable bags such as those made by Ziploc. The more bottles you have, the easier this is. Note that little babies can use big bottles that are partially filled, and that way you won't have to replace the small bottles with large ones later on. And don't forget that you need as many lids and nipples as you have bottles.

I recommend getting a couple of plastic basins for washing the bottles, a bottle brush, and a draining tray - you can probably find ones designed to let you invert the baby bottles over a row of spikes. You will also need a steam steriliser and/or sterilising tablets, dish detergent, and towels for drying. Make sure the basins are deep enough to fully immerse the bottles. You may be able to find little plastic bags designed to hold formula inside the bottle. That will make it a bit easier to wash up, because you won't have so much milk residue. You still need to wash and sterilise them though.

Back when we travelled with babies we did it this way:
1) Rinse bottles under tap;
2) Scrub with brush and detergent under tap;
3) Immerse in sterilising solution for recommended time;
4) Remove from solution and air-dry;
5) Pack in resealable bags.

Good luck! And consider having a cloth or something to place over the car seat and make the ride quiet and non-stimulating for the baby. If you know how to swaddle, that will help too.
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:49 PM on April 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

I know this isn't on your route, but all the rest stops on the New York State thruway and on lesser interstates in NY were open last week. They were ghost towns, but open. There are many, many trucks on the roads. Truck drivers still need places to stop to eat, rest, use the facilities. I drove from Buffalo to Long Island last week, and the roads were eerily devoid of travelers except for trucks. I didn't try to use the bathroom at any gas stations along the way, but my strategy, if needed, was going to be stopping at a truck stop as opposed to a regular gas station or McDonalds.

See if you can get your hands on paper maps for the states you'll be driving though in case you lose cell phone reception. At least download your route before you leave. Check the weather forecast before you leave and along the route. There is still a very real chance you will encounter snow in the Rockies. One of the worst storms I ever encountered was when I was driving through Colorado on my way to Denver on the I-70 from the east. The temperature dropped 20 degrees in a matter of minutes, rain so hard I could barely see, lightning, wind, and tumbleweeds. I kept driving at a reduced speed because there were no exits, no rest stops, and no where to really pull off and take shelter. Get gas before you think you need it in Colorado. Actually that applies to anywhere once you get to the plains from Ohio.

Look into the restrictions in place in the states you will be driving through. My brother lives in Wyoming, and we've agreed that he just doesn't appreciate the degree to which the world has ended in NY because everything is not far from normal there. The bars are closed and the university has put their classes online, but businesses are still somewhat up and running. I'm sure your experience in CA is more similar to NY than WY. I don't think WY is being irresponsible, they just have significantly fewer people and less opportunity for community transmission.

Now that I've typed all this out, and reflected on driving from Buffalo to Denver and back in the good ol' days before the pandemic, I would definitely explore flying for this trip if I were you. If you fly, you will only be exposing yourselves to one day of travel in mostly deserted airports and airplanes, versus many days of driving with numerous stops and very few creature comforts. I think you will encounter significantly fewer opportunities to pick up disease on an airplane than driving, especially if you wear masks and keep the baby covered at all times.
posted by DEiBnL13 at 9:58 PM on April 23, 2020 [6 favorites]

Congratulations! I would absolutely fly instead if at all possible. Way less exposure and even if your baby sleeps a lot you are going to have lots of interruptions during the drive. You don’t know yet how the baby will sleep (and thus how you’ll sleep), if they’ll have trouble feeding and need to see a pediatrician ASAP, whether you’ll be able to find restrooms when you need them. This is exactly the kind of emergency travel that justifies keeping the airports open. You will be much more comfortable and safe if you can get home quickly.

That said we did drive 2.5 hours on multiple trips with our 3 week old baby then 2000 miles with a 6 month old—if you have no other choice, it is doable. Definitely have one person ride in the back next to the car seat to keep an eye on the baby. You can do a lot with a portable dish rack and soap even in a basic hotel room. Some hotels have infant cribs you can use, or buy a travel crib, and pack swaddles for sure. We liked the Halo velcro ones. Listen to audio books or podcasts. Take plenty of breaks to snuggle skin to skin. And try to roll with the punches, early parenthood is a trip!
posted by impishoptimist at 11:18 PM on April 23, 2020 [4 favorites]

Congrats! I would plan to stay in the baby's original city for a few days before you start the drive. Enjoy the baby without the pressure of driving. Get to know her, understand what her cries and faces mean, make sure she's eating well, know how to soothe her. All that stuff is lovely and overwhelming and much more fun in a hotel room than pulled over on the side of the highway.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 11:53 PM on April 23, 2020 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Hi from a sleepless dad! Thank you for all the suggestions. We are going to really press for doctor approval to fly- we’re not sure why our agency said everyone should plan to drive home- looks like airlines will take newborns if a doctor says yeah. Failing that, we will probably stay at least a few more days to get settled.

BTW, she’s literally perfect.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 2:57 AM on April 24, 2020 [62 favorites]


I can only speak a bit to the driving side:

My brother is driving from Seattle to Virginia this week (he's moving). He says that gas stations and truck stops are open, but "no restaurant in the country is open for dine-in". There are hotels open, but they're very empty and not offering breakfast, etc.

I do long drives a couple times a year, and I wouldn't recommend more than 8 hours total travel each day. It just wears on you.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 4:22 AM on April 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

I know the calculations with an infant may be different, but I have a medically-vulnerable family member who is going to have to travel a similar distance soon. From everything we have been able to learn, the exposure risks from a short, non-stop flight (where the airline is currently spreading passengers out in the cabin) appear to be lower than from a long drive, considering finding bathrooms and hotels, pumping gas, and all the other minor interactions along the way. And that assumes the drive goes super smoothly and you can bring all your food; having a breakdown or other issue would make it significantly worse, as would needing to find groceries or takeout along the way.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:28 AM on April 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

In my experience, my five day old slept a LOT, and it wasn't really until 6 weeks that she got picky about where. However, this was not the same as uninterrupted sleep; she still woke up every few hours to eat. Be VERY wary of driving drowsy; my wife and I eventually went to 'shifts' to ensure everybody had at least four hours of uninterrupted sleep and a few more hours of interrupted sleep. This did mean that we were headed to bed at like 8:30 PM, though. So you may not get as much driving done as you think you will.

They make shelf-stable ready-to-feed 2 oz bottles where all you have to do is put on a nipple and give it to the baby. For example (but Gentleeae gave my baby the worst smelling poos ever, so there's that). Yes, they are expensive and you will need a lot of them.

Think about a place to put poopy diapers/poopy clothes.

Some hotels have cribs but it varies; you may want to get a pack and play. One of ours came with a bassinet attachment. We tried the Scandanavian Baby Box but it wasn't great for us.

After reading all those stories of people forgetting their babies in the car, I bought one of those backseat mirrors so I'd always see her. Like this.

posted by Comrade_robot at 6:38 AM on April 24, 2020 [2 favorites]

Congratulations! depending on where in CA, it's going to be 2,000 - 2,500 miles, @ 40 hours of actual drive time. Do as much research as you can on what's open for food and gas and motels. I'd plan to stop an average of every 1.5 - 2 hours for moving the baby to avoid issues, and for you both to walk around and stretch. 40 hours of driving, even over days, is hard on your body. Strangers are drawn to infants, and don't be shy to say Baby cannot have contact; doctor's strict orders. Park away from others.

Don't drive with someone sleeping unrestrained; it's so unsafe, but many minivans and maybe others have reclining 2nd row seats. One parent is likely to want to be in the backseat with her, but also sleeping some of that time. I car camp and stay in my car, and use sturdy tote bags for my stuff; keeps it organized, easy to access, bags are squishy and easy to fit into whatever space is available. Babies need less of most stuff than you think, but for travel, way more diapers, onesies and flannel receiving blankets, which can be rolled to provide neck support, used as emergency changing pad, etc.

Agree that it can be an adventure- take videos and pictures of stuff to produce a keepsake. This is to keep you from getting too stressed and worried.
posted by theora55 at 7:00 AM on April 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

I believe you've already got this covered, but here are the best infant car seats, including helpful safety information.
posted by JimN2TAW at 7:27 AM on April 24, 2020

Congratulations! I was relieved to read your update that you are considering flying. FWIW I know someone who flew recently and she was one of very few people on the plane and she said airports were nearly deserted. And in my experience, newborn age is a good time to fly because the loud airplane noise helps the baby sleep. You could wear baby on you in a sling during the flight.
I wish you the best however you travel. This is wonderful news!!!
posted by areaperson at 7:37 AM on April 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

Oh my gosh congratulations!

Rolled up blankets or towels tucked in the car seat on either side of a newborn, along their body length (not just head) can help keep them feeling snug and secure. Outside of the seat belt of course. I didn't know this until the nurse in the NICU was packing us up to go home with our first baby.
posted by beandip at 7:44 AM on April 24, 2020

we always drove with one adult in the backseat when our first baby was small. Both for safety during the ride and for left-baby insurance when leaving the car. And, to be honest, for fun, because playing with her was a delight.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:54 AM on April 24, 2020 [2 favorites]

I have no advice. Huge congratulations!!!!!
posted by i_am_a_fiesta at 1:28 PM on April 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

And please come back and say how it went; I think I speak for everyone when I say we are thrilled for you.
posted by theora55 at 10:58 AM on April 26, 2020 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Very long story very short: the adoption did not go through because the birth mother was arrested upon discharge and her legal guardian told her that she wouldn’t have her released from juvie into her care unless she gave her the baby so she could receive the welfare money.

We aren’t ok, but we will be.

For the sake of more information: the flights out may have been totally empty, but our flights home were so jam packed and felt so unsafe that if we DID have the baby we would have cancelled our flight. Not that it matters now.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 9:53 AM on April 28, 2020

Oh, I’m gutted for you! That’s just devastating. The birth mother and the child both sound like they need a good parent. I’ll keep all of you in my thoughts and I hope ‘your’ baby comes along soon. Hugs.
posted by Jubey at 2:33 PM on April 28, 2020

Oh my goodness I’m so very sorry
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 2:46 PM on April 28, 2020

oh dear god. I'm so sorry.
posted by fingersandtoes at 3:07 PM on April 28, 2020

How awful. I'm so sorry.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:20 PM on April 28, 2020

Holy crap that’s heartbreaking, I am so so sorry.
posted by beandip at 9:11 PM on April 28, 2020

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