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How to keep your baby awake in the car

Maybe this has happened to you…

You’re rushing home from that last errand (or Gymboree or wherever), and you know you’re pushing the envelope stretching your baby’s awake time…

When you glance in the rear view mirror, you see that slow blink and zoned out look.Sleep Training Baby Consultant

Uh oh.

She’s trying to fall asleep!

And if she falls asleep for even a minute, getting her down for a nap in the crib when you get home will. not. happen.

So how on earth do you keep a sleepy baby from falling asleep in the car?!


1.Make sure she’s not overtired
A well rested baby who isn’t carrying around a sleep debt won’t fall asleep in the car, unless it’s nap time and she’s supposed to be sleeping.

So make sure she’s getting enough sleep at night and long enough naps – in the crib – during the day! For 3-6 month olds, they should be getting 15-16 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period (naps and night sleep). For 6-12 month olds, it’s about 14-15 hours. If your baby isn’t sleeping long enough, that’s the first thing to fix…and then those car naps will disappear! (Need help in this dept? Click here and we’ll get your baby on a better schedule!)

2. Avoid motion 30-45 minutes before naptime
There’s a window of opportunity when your baby will fall asleep easily…and you don’t want to be in the car or stroller during that time. It’ll be much harder to keep your little one from getting drowsy in the car right before a scheduled nap.

I’ve seen babies fall asleep in the stroller just walking home around the block from daycare and in a 3 minute drive home. The length of time she’ll be in the car or stroller doesn’t matter as much as the timing of when she’s in the car or stroller.

3. Don’t give a bottle or pacifier in the carseat
Sucking is very soothing and will likely lead to drowsiness -especially if feeding or pacifiers are a current or past sleep prop that your baby uses (used) to fall asleep!

Give your baby a toy or book to look at instead. If your child is old enough for snacks, this would be a great time to give a few pieces in a snack cup.

4. Distraction
This is the obvious one, but works really well if you find that thing that works!

Roll down the windows. (If your baby is old enough, make a game out of it to see which one will roll down next!)

Turn the radio on louder. Sing off key…clap along with the music – preferably off beat :) It’s pretty hard to fall asleep with all that racket!

The goal is to do whatever it takes to keep your baby awake until you get home! (Obviously if you’re the one doing the distracting, your primary focus is safe driving…so don’t contort yourself and try to tickle/pat your baby yourself!)

If you have another person in the car, give them the responsibility to entertain and keep those eyes open – even if it’s a sibling – they love it when you them a job!

5. Pull the car over
If, despite all of these distraction methods, your little one is still trying to doze off, stop the car and get her out for a a little fresh air and change of scenery. If you’ve just got a couple of blocks to go, this probably isn’t necessary, but if you have another 10 minutes, it may be the only way!

And if she still falls asleep for a 5 minute power nap?

One thing I wouldn’t do is carry her into the house and leave her in the carseat to finish off the nap – it can restrict her airway if her head bends forward.

Instead, you can try transferring her to the crib – which may or may not work, depending on how deep into sleep she is. Or you can push nap later and try again after she’s been up for a little bit. Neither is ideal – but there will be times that you just can’t keep her awake. And that’s ok.

If you know you have that precious window during naptime to pack for vacation or write a report for work, I would suggest focusing on #2 – not going in the car right before naptime. Being proactive and avoiding that situation is your best bet to ensure your baby will go down for her nap more easily!


Did you find this post helpful? I hope you’ll SHARE it with your friends!

Other posts you may find helpful:

Is Your Baby a Catnapper? 4 Tips to Extend Short Naps

Baby Naps: 7 Habits to Avoid!

6 Tips to Improve Naps at Daycare

5 Signs That Your Baby or Older Child is Getting Enough Sleep

Photo credit: Deposit Photos | prudkov

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