Neither of my babies tolerated the car while they were little. I felt truly cheated out of a sure-fire way to soothe fussy babies, since both of mine worked themselves into a proper lather the moment I turned on the engine. Since my husband and I are both transplants to Pittsburgh, we take a lot of roadtrips with our breastfed children. Things get grumpy!
One thing I realized with my first son is that I had to choose between stopping every time he cried and nursing along the Turnpike, or just powering through for a 90-minute (or longer) window and then taking nice, long rest stops to nurse and nap and try to relax. I nearly always go with the latter.
The concept of taking my time at a rest stop seems crazy to me, since I grew up in a family where I felt scared to tell my dad I had to pee on road trips. The trip was always such a hurried, angry bit–a means to an end, where “vacation” only started once we arrived.
I work very hard to make the trip itself part of the fun of vacation, so I feel OK about the length of time it takes to travel with my boys.
We pack special treats for the car, fun cd’s, and as many cool car toys as we can fit in our hatch back.
Since I have a preschooler as well as a 6-month old, I have to keep my older son’s needs in mind, too, when we plan for our road trips. For our Thanksgiving journey across the state, we chose to leave right after lunch. Both the boys tend to take long afternoon naps, so our thinking was they might conk out at this time of day and let us get some miles under our tires before things got hairy!
We try to rig up the carseats so one of us can fit in the back seat to pick up toys, jiggle feet, or adjust makeshift sun shades. This is also handy for identifying a fart-vs-poop situation or assessing the fullness of a wet diaper.
I always research in advance to know which rest stops have a family restroom. I’ve taken both children into a stall by myself before, and I lived, but just barely. A family restroom is so important to me so that I can pee and really wash my hands and face before I have to nurse someplace potentially gross or uncomfortable (all the while not worried that my son will run away or crawl under someone else’s stall).
If it’s nice out, we park near the pet exercising area (I make sure my family restroom-equipped rest stop also has a pet place) and my husband takes our older son to run around like crazy while I nurse the baby underneath a tree. So far, I have neither seen nor stepped in poop. We plan to stay at *least* an hour, so that my baby can nurse and then nap in the carrier while I walk around.
We eat a picnic lunch, treat our big kid to a bag of chips or an ice cream cone if he prefers, and make a final trip to the family restroom before we hit the road again.
If the weather’s poor, I try to find the most comfortable-looking place to nurse inside the rest area. I try to find a secluded place, not because I’m a shy nurser, but because my baby is less likely to pop off if I limit distractions. If we’re nursing inside, my husband takes my older son to walk laps around the rest area playing “I Spy” or else we take advantage of our smart phones and let him watch videos.
Another friend suggested exiting the highway and mapping out Barnes and Nobles for rest stops, since the children’s areas are bound to have a train table and a comfy chair for nursing. I haven’t tried this yet, but agree it sounds like a decision worth the extra driving miles to find the store. It certainly plays into my goal to try to make the trip itself part of the fun of vacation.
Things typically start to get a bit awful for my family as we get close to my parents’ house and exit the highway (stoplights and slow streets are always harder than highway…but there are more chances for emergency stops on slow streets!). We make a game-time decision about whether we’ll stop another time or just power through.
Again, I’m fond of powering through. I should mention that the journey to my parents’ house is 4 hours driving time, so I’m not asking the children to go hungry. When we go to my in-laws’ house, it’s about 6 hours driving, and we’ll plan for 2 long stops.
I know that as soon as we arrive, there are grandmas to scoop up sad babies and tall glasses of ice water for nursing mamas. And cable television! So much cable television! By this point, if we’re cranky and exhausted it just seems better to be there and be done with it. Sometimes, all four of us are crying by the time we pull in the driveway. But it doesn’t last long and, with the baby at least, we can nurse again to reset and relax.