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Screaming Baby in Car

On a Highway to Screaming Hell

By Amalah

Oh Wise Amalah,

You’ve pretty much been my guide, Jedi Master, spirit animal, what have you through out my pregnancy and the first four months of my son’s life (so no pressure or anything). We love our cloth diapers (especially wool), your advice on infant sleeping and swaddling has allowed us to get the little bit of sleep we do get at night, and we’re looking forward to making our own baby food.  I don’t think you’ve posted about this subject though, and I need help!  I have a wonderful four and a half month old baby boy, who has recently switched from sleeping in the car to screaming and crying if no one is in the back seat to amuse/comfort him.  This is a problem for me, because I end up driving him around by myself quite a bit.  It breaks my heart and stresses me out to hear my baby in distress – especially on longer drives (20-30 minutes).  I’ve had to pull over sometimes to nurse him in the car, or check his diaper, which calms him down, but as soon as I start driving again, he starts screaming again.  Talking or singing to him use to work, but now I sing myself horse and he still screams.  

Help me Amy Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope,

Oh, don’t you just LOVE IT when babies up and change all the rules on you? Like how everybody (and I include myself here, EVERY TIME) marvels at what a good sleeper their five-day-old newborn is and then BAM. Two weeks later that newborn finally notices he’s not in the womb anymore and is pissed as all hell about it. By four months old a baby’s cognitive development has advanced to the point that they are REALLY AWARE of your presence…and your non-presence. And some of them really do not care for it, not one little bit.

Now, every one of my babies has launched the occasional screaming fit in the car, though Ezra was the one who came closest to what you’re describing (though not as bad, I don’t think). He hated his car seat. Much like he hated his swing or bouncy seat or anything that wasn’t a carrier strapped to someone’s torso. We were lucky that he had Noah with him in the back seat most of the time, which was a help. The rest of the time we just threw stuff at the problem.

Stuff like: TOYS. MIRRORS. SUNSHADES. LOVEYS. MUSIC. None of it 100% solved the crying all the time, but usually something managed to distract and/or amuse him for at least part of the car trip. The rest of the time, as agonizing as it could be, I simply had to remind myself that 1) we HAD to go places in the car, period, 2) I had to concentrate on driving and getting us there safely, and 3) despite the crying for company, he was safe and dry and fed and okay.

1. Back seat mirrors

I can’t recommend a specific car mirror, because they depend SO MUCH on your particular car — headrest, seat angle, etc. I think we tried two or even three before we found one that really allowed Ezra to see us in the front seat. They won’t always do the smart thing and LOOK AT IT, but still. It does help, I think.

2. Car seat arches with toys

We used something similar to this one by Tiny Love. While Noah was perfectly happy with a toy hooked onto the car seat handle, Ezra demanded something more interesting and interactive. He liked movement and music, and I liked that this one was easily activated by a young, not-entirely-capable-of-super-deliberate-movements-yet baby.

3. Sunshades

It could be your son really does just want you, but it could also be that the onslaught of light and moving visual stimuli from the window is overwhelming and upsetting him. (Greatest thing ever about our dumb old lame minivan: it came with retractable sunshades for every window in the back, so we no longer have to deal with the suction-cup kind falling off the windows.)

4. Music

Listen, before I had children, I had every intention of being a Music Snob with them. No crappy kids’ music for them! We were going to listen to The Beatles and indie singer/songwriters and I would thus guarantee that they’d grow up with super-discriminating taste in music that OH YEAH, just happened to align perfectly with my own. Then we took our first car trip from DC to Pennsylvania. Ha ha. Ho. Ho.

A coworker (and father of FIVE) gave me a lullaby CD when I was pregnant with Noah, swearing that it had magical sleep powers to soothe and relax babies. I nodded politely and filed it away, like, not MY brilliant snowflake baby, but of course he was right. HE WAS SO RIGHT. Nicolette Larson’s Sleep, Baby Sleep has in fact succeeded in chilling all three of my babies out in the middle of screaming fits. (The CD no longer seems to be available, but it’s available on iTunes — I downloaded it to my phone during my hospital stay with Ike.) (Oh, and don’t ever, ever read Nicolette’s Wikipedia page while listening to the album and nursing your baby at the same time, because you will NEVER STOP CRYING.)

Other music that my kids enjoyed in the car when they were babies? Raffi, Dan Zanes and Johnny Cash. Now they mostly like Lady Gaga.

Obviously, your baby may ignore every. single. last. one. of these suggestions. Hell, my kids sure did, during plenty of tense, white-knuckled car rides. And when that happens, I direct you back to Personal Reminder #3: Sometimes babies cry. Sometimes you just have to do what you have to do (like drive from Point A to Point B) and cut yourself some slack on the HE IS IN AGONY I MUST RESCUE HIM guilt. Once you’ve done everything you know you realistically and reasonably can do (short of derailing the trip for the third time to nurse a non-hungry baby), try to remind yourself that your baby is, in fact, safe and dry and fed and okay. He will outgrow this, and he will probably NOT be thoroughly car-traumatized as a result of The Times He Just Howled His Head Off Anyway, I promise.

If there is a question you would like answered by Amalah on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • Katie B

    September 26, 2011 at 12:20 pm

    My baby did this from birth to about 5 months and then she just stopped freaking out. So even if Amy’s great suggestions don’t solve the problem, maybe it will help to know it won’t last forever?

     I sympathize with how stressful it is – we lived in a city with good public transit, so I just strapped the babe to my chest and took the bus (because oh yeah, she hated the stoller with a fiery passion, too) but I thought we would never be able to drive again.

    • Aleha

      June 14, 2015 at 11:43 pm

      I shared all of the same problems listed above with kid #1. It took easily an hour to get 10 miles. Eventually, I stopped trying to travel because a wreck was inevitable. Turns out, the car ride (either the drive or hysteria) was triggering acid reflux episodes that were very painful. Most of the crying diminished within one week of acid reducing medication when he was 9 mos; he was still rear-facing at that time. He did not seem to enjoy rides until we purchased a 5-point booster model (Britax Pinnacle) at 2 years that allowed him to have 180 degree visibility and could see out the windows. At 2.5 years, we are pretty sure he is a sensation seeker and requires much more stimulation than average kiddos. Google sensory diets to learn more about how to manage these kids when they have to be “strapped down” which they hate.

  • Stefanie

    September 26, 2011 at 12:24 pm

    Argh, the changing of the rules! My daughter is constantly changing which mode of transportation she prefers/will tolerate. For a long time, a carrier was the best, then it was the car seat, then it was the stroller, then a month later the stroller was an evil torture device and the car seat was the preferred mode. Currently, we’re in an “I hate my car seat and a stroller is the most awesome thing in the entire world as long as I don’t have to be in it for more than 10 minutes” phase. But driving the car with a screaming kid in the back? Like running a cheese grater over my nerves.
    When my daughter was your son’s age, sometimes turning the radio on static helped (sort of like shushing only louder). Not sure if he’s a swaddle baby, but we also found my daughter liked to be swaddled in her car seat so we had some of the SwaddleMes that have the hole in the back to accommodate the buckle. But mostly I did the grit the teeth and do my best to ignore tactic. It is not easy when you’ve only managed to go a block in 30 minutes during rush hour, and I won’t lie and say I’ve never ended up nearly in tears as well, but my daughter and I have both survived these terrible car rides.

  • Brooke

    September 26, 2011 at 12:35 pm

    Some kids do better around that age if you move them into a convertible carseat (rearfacing obviously).
    You can also try tuning to static because the white noise soothes some kids.

  • Becki K

    September 26, 2011 at 12:50 pm

    We rolled the windows down in the car (just cracked them a bit) to give a nice white noise sound. That seemed to calm my daughter down. She went through this for a few months, but the good news is that she grew out of it!

  • Therese

    September 26, 2011 at 1:15 pm

    I just want to commiserate with you for a bit. My oldest child screamed in the car from birth until about 3 months old and then for the next few months was quite fussy. It was torture! I mean that literally too. A 30 minute trip would take an hour (one time it took my husband 3 hours…). It didn’t seem to matter what we tried, if he was awake, he screamed (even if I was sitting in the back with him). He eventually just grew out of it. I know this isn’t much help but hopefully your son will grow out of it soon.

  • Karen

    September 26, 2011 at 2:04 pm

    We had the same experience, for us, the sunshade needed to be down, turns out my kid liked looking around and seeing things and still does. She was so awful in the car around this time that I put the stops on all meetups and visits and only took her in the car if necessary. I decided on a daycare near home and not near work. And then, poof! It was over a couple months later and she has loved the car ever since.

  • Amelia

    September 26, 2011 at 2:08 pm

    I hate to be that “rain on somebody’s parade” person, but after having family who works in Emergency Rooms across the states, I can tell you that it is a bad, bad, BAD idea to leave the carseat handle up.  Fold it down.  Carseat handles have the propensity to shatter when you get into an accident and the shards can do everything from slice up your baby’s face to puncture their eyes.  Find other, soft toys that won’t be a hazard in a wreck.  

  • IrishCream

    September 26, 2011 at 2:11 pm

    My daughter HATED the car until she was six or seven months old (maybe a little younger; we live in the city and only rent a car every couple of months, max, so there were long intervals between car trips). I would ride in the back with her and desperately try to entertain her. She was not buying it, not one bit. Near-constant screaming. And then we took a trip when she was seven months old, and she slept the whole time or looked calmly out of the window.
    It’s not that consoling now, when you’re in the middle of it and that crying makes your whole body tense up, but your son will outgrow the car hate. Hopefully some good music or car toys will help, but if it doesn’t, there will be an end point to your misery. A couple more months of torture sounds like infinity now, but I bet it’s one of those things that you’ll look back on in six months and say “Oh right, that sucked. I had almost forgotten. *shrug*” In the meantime, hang in there!

  • Carolyn

    September 26, 2011 at 2:18 pm

    I was intrigued by the lullaby CD you mentioned, but don’t have an iPhone. So for anyone else in that situation, it turns out that the album is available on Spotify 🙂

  • Cristin

    September 26, 2011 at 2:39 pm

    On a side note; I worked in a daycare center infant room and used that Nicolette Larson CD everyday for YEARS. Like, since 1999. It’s magic. I changed centers in 2003 and bought my own copy to bring with me.

  • Amy

    September 26, 2011 at 3:19 pm

    I remember this phase and it sucked. A few things that worked for me, one I positioned him in spot that meant I could hold his hand. Not comfortable or easy, but I could drive safely while doing it and the human contact let him know I was still there. Singing worked for a while. And if I felt he was getting too worked up but it wasn’t a good place to pull over, I would crack the window, it gave him a WTF moment and he would pause long enough to catch his breath. At this age it really is just a where did you go scream. Maybe try printing out a life-size headshot of yourself and tape it to the backseat?

  • stacy

    September 26, 2011 at 3:27 pm

    A lot of children are simply motion sick from riding backwards, even if they aren’t puking. Some people *gasp, horror* turn them forward facing earlier to alleviate the discomfort. Or just limit car trips to absolutely neccessary times (have groceries delivered or run errands without the baby).  I’m not saying to go forward facing (I have a Swedish friend whose 3 year old still rides backwards even though he has terrible motion sickness) but I’m just saying it could be the problem.

  • Clueless

    September 26, 2011 at 4:07 pm

    I would have to suggest Bob Marley for music. Maybe my kid is just a budding Rastafarian but he LOVES it and relaxes (almost) everytime.

  • wallydraigle

    September 26, 2011 at 4:49 pm

    My daughter screamed all the way from Wisconsin to two hours outside Denver, when she finally passed out from exhaustion. Yes, friends, that’s FIFTEEN HOURS OF SCREAMING out of an 18-hour drive. She did it on the way back, too. She was just over a year old.
    She did it again on a seven-hour trip a month later. Those are probably two of the worst experiences of my life that didn’t involve the death of a loved one.
    And then again on a couple of two-hours drives to and from an airport when she was almost two. That was easier to handle because it was a much shorter ordeal. She has no problems with motion sickness, so I don’t know what the deal is. Her limit is about 45 minutes, and then the screaming starts.
    We are making another drive out to Denver soon; thank goodness we’ve moved, and it’s only 8.5 hours now. But we have TWO kids now, which could make this trip go much better or much, much MUCH worse, and I’m really nervous about it. None of the common sense advice works: music, new toys, someone in the backseat to play with her, facing forward, facing back, mirrors, stuffed animals, favorite blankets, or frequent stops. I need something MAGICAL, folks. Help (assuming this doesn’t get buried in the comments… which is fine, since it’s not my letter anyway).

  • Megan

    September 26, 2011 at 5:11 pm

    Perhaps you could also consider switching to a convertible seat instead of an infant seat. Rear facing, obviously. My son was much happier in a “big seat” at that age, I think because he could see out the windows and it gave him something to do/look at. Since you’ll have to get one at some point in the near-ish future anyway it might be something to try out.

  • EW

    September 26, 2011 at 5:33 pm

    About the carseat handle thing, it depends on your model.  On most common modern seats, the FULLY upright position is safe, but if there is a position between the upright position and the position in line with the seat top, it isn’t.


  • Sarah

    September 26, 2011 at 5:49 pm

    My first two did this, my third is doing t now so I feel your pain! I tried pretty much everything and nothing really worked- I mean sone stuff worked once, but never again, and nothing was actually an answer with any consistency. My tactics were: 1. Minimise journeys, don’t go if you don’t REALLY have to. 2. When you do have to then time it to coincide with a nap. 3. Turn the music up and DON’T stop. Stopping to take them out and nurse only prolonged the agony. 4. If you can have them beside somebody then try a constant stream of raisins, sparkly things and things that make loud noises. Boys 1 and 2 both abruptly started loving the car at age two, boy 3 is nearly one so we’ll see!

  • Catherine S

    September 26, 2011 at 6:11 pm

    My first child screamed in the car too and it was pretty awful. The things that helped were white noise/ radio static, rolling down the windows, changing to a convertible seat, and giving him snacks. I ended up turning him around to forward facing when he hit a year even knowing full well that rear facing was safer in an accident. I felt like I was WAAAY more likely to get into an accident in the first place when I was completely distracted by a screaming baby. I really do think it was motion sickness. Even at three he doesn’t like swings because he says it makes his tummy sick.

    Fortunately, even though my second child went through a scream in the car phase, it didn’t last. As soon as we switched him from a bucket to a convertible seat, he stopped crying in the car. And he is still rear facing, so yay for safety! All that to say that 1) it doesn’t last forever and 2) not all kids will do this. Good luck and hang in there. 

  • Julia

    September 26, 2011 at 8:45 pm

    For music, I’d also suggest checking out the Music Together CDs– they are like baby crack for car rides. We do the MT classes, so my toddler has more of an association of the songs with “fun with mommy!” time. So that helps her calm down quickly when she hears the same songs in the car. But I know others who have gotten the CDs online from ebay or amazon and only play them on long car rides and their kids love them too… (They do get tiring after a while, but that’s true of just about any song on repeat…)

  • Amy

    September 26, 2011 at 9:24 pm

    This won’t do the letter writer any good, but if anyone pregnant happens to be reading the comments…  I happened to get a new CD (Ben Folds – University Acapella) while I was pregnant with my 3rd kid, and I just happened to listen to track 8 (Magic) about 75,000 times during the right point in my pregnancy because I was trying to learn the words.  Fastforward a few months, the baby was HYSTERICAL in the car, and that song came on, and BOOM – silence.

    I thought, “No way,” so the next time he cried I played (and sang) the song.  Boom.  Silence.

    Y’all, he’s 9-1/2 months old and it still works.  

    My advice to all pregnant people everywhere is to pick a song that you will never, ever get sick of and play it all the time when you’re in the car, so that when your baby is born you can hypnotize his ass with music. 

    I wish I could say I deliberately chose a song that I wouldn’t get sick of, but after so much repetition that my CD player often freezes up on the CD because there’s a groove worn in it, I’m really freaking sick of Ben Folds.

  • Michele

    September 26, 2011 at 10:15 pm

    Oh, I totally know where you are coming from. My now 13 month old twins started the crying-instead-of-sleeping-in-the-car thing around 6 months. 2 things that worked/helped- car seat shades (if you have a car rather than a minivan or SUV, One Step Ahead sells a shade set that includes a shade for the back window) and me either talking or singing. I would either sing their favorite songs or I would tell them their favorite story (you know, the story you have been reading them every night?). I have Hippos Go Berserk, The Going to Bed Book, and I Love You Through and Through memorized and will start saying them when the girls get fussy.

  • heather

    September 26, 2011 at 11:54 pm

    This is rough. My daughter went through a similar phase at this same age – including a 3 hour car trip where she literally screamed every minute she was in her seat. Tears all around! Ultimately toys, lowering the window, not having the sun in her eyes, me singing (not the radio, ME) all helped. She still doesn’t love the car but we make due. Ultimately I decided this was my first lesson in parenting – it’s more important for her to be safe than to be happy. I’m regularly going to do things to keep her safe that she won’t like, and this was the first one. I suspect the tantrum she’s going to throw at 16 when I won’t let her go to Cancun for spring break will be even bigger 🙂

  • Eden

    September 27, 2011 at 9:45 am

    We are in the same boat. My baby is 4 1/2 months old and gives me about 4 miles(my ride to work, we get there JUST as it starts) before the whining, followed by the death-curdling scream starts. In an act of desperation, I found some reviews from people I didn’t even know, trusted them, and found this little Baby Einstein octopus toy that my baby ended up Lov-ING!!! It has a little teether to chew on, a ring to pull and it sings, makes bubble noises, it’s great. He wasn’t very ambidextrous before we got this, and now he goes right to the pulley and makes it sing the second we are in the car.

  • Eden

    September 27, 2011 at 9:50 am

    My baby is going through the same thing. He is 4 1/2 months old, and gives us about 4 miles before all hell breaks loose. This little toy helped alot, he quickly learned to grab the ring and pull, and make it sing..

  • Donna

    September 27, 2011 at 1:37 pm

    Your blog has been a blessing to my daughter during her pregnancy and now with a newborn.  You write with such freshness!
    I am listing you as a Versatile Blogger.  Please check it out on my site

  • Lesley

    September 28, 2011 at 3:37 pm

    I totally sympathize with you. I thought for the first two weeks of my son’s life that he LOVED the carseat. Turns out, he was just a sleepy newborn. When he woke up and realized he was strapped in he HATED it. What worked for us was taking the cushiony thing out of the carseat that goes around the baby’s head. I guess he was feeling claustrophobic. He also did like the convertible carseat. He still doesn’t like being strapped in a carseat for a long period of time though, and he is two.

  • tasterspoon

    September 28, 2011 at 4:42 pm

    No magic bullets, but the best tools in our arsenal were music boxes. Ikea made a red stuffed fox that played music when the baby pulled out its tail. When there was an adult in the back we’d use those tiny cardboard ones with a hand crank. For some reason they were mesmerizing enough to interrupt even hysterical weeping. But they only bought five or ten minutes of fascination.

    Puppets and Cheerios were also very distracting. Especially puppets eating Cheerios. Stealing noses and threatening to lick the baby also were deemed funny.

  • Katie

    September 29, 2011 at 4:58 pm

    I completely sympathize.  My kid screamed on every car ride ANYWHERE and it forced me to get through the “I can’t go anywhere” phase to the “do what you can because you need some actual food from the actual grocery store” phase.  It was my experience that as soon as he was old enough and I turned him around to face front? Everything changed.  I know it’s a long way off for you, but it might be a light at the end of the tunnel.  Hang in there…

  • anna

    September 30, 2011 at 1:58 am

    My parents draped or tied a vibrantly patterned scarf around the headrest that I could see, and the pattern was so hypnotic I stopped screaming. True story! (I just asked my mom to check to make sure I hadn’t misremembered some other story she’d told me, and she both corroborates and reinforces: “a very gaudy scarf.”)

  • anna

    September 30, 2011 at 1:59 am

    My parents draped or tied a vibrantly patterned scarf around the headrest that I could see, and the pattern was so hypnotic I stopped screaming. True story! (I just asked my mom to check to make sure I hadn’t misremembered some other story she’d told me, and she both corroborates and reinforces: “a very gaudy scarf.”)

  • Jeannette

    September 30, 2011 at 8:25 am

    Hey, this is Jeannette from! I was having a similar problem with my 4 month old. Last month I started getting her on a pattern (Eat, Activity, Sleep) and all of a sudden things like car rides and laying her down in the crib and leaving her in the bouncy seat for a minute to wash my hands were no longer an issue. I think you can build a lot of trust with your baby if you follow a consistent pattern and then they won’t mind so much when they’re alone in the back seat since they know you’ll be back 🙂

  • Corinne

    October 1, 2011 at 9:58 pm

    Thank you so much, Amy, for answering my question, and thank you everyone for your advice also. We’ve tried the window shades (which help a bit, but are not a guarantee), and a variety of toys, and we’re finally getting into a nap routine which I think is helping a ton, and things are… a little better. I just downloaded the sleep baby sleep album and we will be trying that tomorrow morning. At least this too shall pass.

  • Karen

    October 3, 2011 at 11:57 am

    All awesome advice except if your kid has gastroesphageul reflux disease (GERD or spitting up on steroids). I’m not hating here, I LOVE this website. Just wanted to let some moms know that if your wee one seems to be in a lot of pain (you know that cry as opposed to the pissed-off-i-just-don’t-like-this cry), spits up excessively, isn’t gaining weight well and hates the carseat, it could be that being in the carseat is pushing on baby’s belly and squeezing stomach contents up her esophagus. This is what we dealt with (with our oldest only, Thank God) for 7 months. Luckily we figured it out by 2 months so we could put her in a sling as much as possible, put her in the stroller without a carseat and not put her in the carseat with a full stomach. Before knowing about GERD, I would fill her up before leaving the house and also pull over to feed her, not knowing that was the worst thing I could do. GERD is terrible for the baby and her parents. Hope none of you have to deal with it ever. The saving grace is that most kids grow out of it before a year old and there are pretty good prescription meds to help.

  • Laura

    October 10, 2011 at 12:43 pm

    My son did this! It was awful – we did everything we could to avoid car rides with him. When an unavoidable (out of town) wedding came up, we seriously considered buying ear plugs.

    My only advice – we thought we were OH SO SMART to buy one of those carseats that is eventually the one that you turn around and becomes a toddler seat. It’s big and bulky when it’s backwards, but we thought that we would save money and not be those parents that carried their infant carrier everywhere.

    In a moment of desparation, we ran to Target and bought one of the infant carriers. Everything changed: he finally would sleep or google happily in the backseat, plus a bonus: when he did fall asleep we could pop him out and get him inside without waking. It was hard to admit we were wrong from the start and all the parents with the infant carriers were right – but they totally were. He hated that big bulky seat.

    If you haven’t tried it already – buy a new carseat or try to get a friend to switch with the one they have. They’re not that expensive and it might change everything!

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