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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 [email protected]

Published September 26, 2011. Last updated October 29, 2017.
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 [email protected].

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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