Why does my baby always fall asleep in the car?
Age: 10 weeks 4 days
While there are definitely exceptions, a huge number of babies fall asleep more easily in the car than they do anywhere else. For some parents, this can feel like a gift - finally, somewhere that your baby will sleep - while for others, it can disrupt a carefully kept sleep schedule.
Why do so many babies love sleeping in cars?
The love of sleeping in cars that so many babies (and some adults) have is actually pretty logical and intuitive - car trips combine a lot of a baby’s favorite things, and it's believed that certain qualities of the car may make her feel like she is in the womb, and makes her feel secure. These qualities include:
- Sound: The low rumble of the engine is sometimes compared to the rumble of the body surrounding the uterus, or to a white noise machine, which many babies depend on to provide a stable background of sound to fall asleep to.
- Motion: The motion of the car has to be a key ingredient - babies don’t usually fall asleep in stopped cars the same way, after all. The motion is constant without being jarring (unless there are a lot of sudden stops!), like the physical equivalent of white noise. Again, the comparison can be made to the movement of the uterus inside the womb.
- Setting: Car seats can feel cozy and secure in much the same way that a swaddle does. Newborns sometimes take some time before they start stretching out their arms and legs, as they get used to having so much extra space out in the world, but when they’re looking for security, many babies find it in confined spaces.
- The scenery: Whether you're driving on a mountain pass, or on a beachy road, most of what your baby sees is going to be inside your car. This isn’t a bad thing for sleep, though - instead of being stimulated by all kinds of new sights, babies may be lulled by the sameness of the inside of the car.
- You: your baby may like the car, but she loves you - you’re one of her favorite people, and she may not be able to see you, but as long as she knows you’re there, it’ll help her feel comfortable.
Is it safe for babies to sleep in cars?
It’s always important to make sure to buckle babies into car seats correctly and according to the manufacturer's guidelines every time a child is in the seat. This is especially true since insecure fastening can increase the risk of breathing difficulties in sleep. It’s also important not to use the car seat as a napping place outside of the car, which can lead to less restful sleep.
How can I recreate the effect outside of a car?
For some families, the only problem with car-ride naps is that the only place they’ll happen is in the car. In some cases, though, there are ways for parents to make napping more car-like.
- Swaddle: For babies under 3 or 4 months or so, the swaddle can provide the same safe and cozy feeling as the car seat. Above that age, it’s not safe to swaddle, but a sleep sack can havea similar effect.
- White noise: A white noise machine can provide a soothing hum similar to the sound of a running car. Other options include running the vacuum in the next room, tuning a radio in to static, or moving a bassinet into the same room with the running dryer - and positioning the bassinet against the dryer so that the vibration rattles your baby’s sleeping space a little can help as well.
- Motion: If you don’t feel like taking a drive, there are a few other ways to keep your little sleep-explorer moving, though they’re all a little labor-intensive, from pushing a stroller back and forth to bouncing on an exercise ball or a classic hold-and-rock, with or without a rocking chair.
Kyla Boyse. “Sleep Problems.” Health System, University of Michigan. Regents of the University of Michigan, November 2010. Web.
“Cribs Are for Sleeping, Car Seats Are For Traveling: Danger in Using Sitting and Carrying Devices for Sleeping Infants.” Journal of Pediatrics. Elsevier, 24 April 2015. Web.
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