All parents have been there- the dreaded car nap. You're on your way home, and it's not quite nap time yet, and you notice your little one is snoozing away. While some babies hate being in their car seats, for many babies and toddlers, the motion, vibration, and sounds of being in the car will lull them to sleep easily. Unfortunately, even if that car seat nap was only 5 minutes long, it can relieve your child's sleep pressure and make their real nap or bedtime more difficult. Here's how to handle car seat naps:
1. Let your child sleep for as long as you can. The goal is to get as close to a full nap as possible. If you can drive around, or even swing by a Starbucks and grab a treat for yourself, go for it. I have literally driven around my neighborhood over and over for an hour, just to extend my child's car seat nap. While a moving car seat nap isn't ideal, and isn't as restorative as a nap in your child's crib, it's better than nothing. If you know you'll be traveling during a nap time, plan to leave a little early if you can and drive around longer to give your child as close to a full nap as possible.
2. Attempt a transfer. Some babies will transfer from the car seat to their bed seamlessly (especially younger babies). And if the transfer is unsuccessful and they fully wake up when you get in the house, some babies will be fine with a condensed version of their bedtime/naptime routine and put them back down and go right back to sleep.
3. Extend their wake time when you get home. If you can't prolong the car nap or make a successful transfer at home, you will likely need to do a full wake window (or close to it, depending on the length of the nap) before putting your child down again.
4. Wake your baby up in the car. If you notice your child starting to drift off in the car and can catch it before they've been asleep for a few minutes, you may be able to keep them awake by rolling down the windows, playing high energy music, and singing or talking to them. Just make sure you stay focused on driving.
5. Plan ahead. Plan travel for right after naps, instead of before naps, if possible. If you know you'll be driving home late at night or close to bedtime, you can even put your child in a new diaper and their pajamas before your drive home, so the transfer to the bed is easier.
SAFE CAR SEAT SLEEPING
I'll admit that I didn't know this when my first was a baby, until someone pointed it out to me - It is not safe to allow a baby to sleep in the car seat unless the car seat is properly installed in a vehicle and the baby is properly strapped in. It's common to want to pull the infant carrier car seats out of the base and bring them inside to allow them to finish a nap. If you see a friend or family member allowing their baby to sleep in the car seat outside of the car, tell them it's not safe. They may not know.
Sleeping in a car seat while not installed in a moving vehicle is dangerous and can put a baby at risk for positional asphyxiation.
It is not safe to add anything to the car seat with the baby, such as positioners, unless it came with the car seat. It is not safe to add blankets or coats under the straps of the car seat.
If you have a travel system with a stroller attachment, it is safe to allow the baby to sleep in the infant car seat while properly strapped in and properly installed into the stroller that came with the car seat.
CLICK HERE to read more and take an online course called Safe in the Seat that teaches parents car seat safety.
Another danger of car seat sleeping is forgetting a child in the car. Hot car deaths are tragic and too common, especially when parents are sleep deprived. Set your phone in the back of the car so you will have to go open the back door to get it when you get to your destination. This article provides more tips for helping prevent hot car deaths with babies and toddlers.
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Pediatric Sleep Consultant