Driving is the most dangerous thing we do with our kids every day. While we know unborn babies are at the most risk (at least 5 times greater than newborns according to a 2015 study), newborns are also very fragile passengers. This means new moms driving with newborns can be very risky in any case.
Bringing a new life into the world is a life-altering event. New moms are getting used to having a new baby and the additional responsibility. In fact, new moms may feel terrified, realizing that she has given up a certain amount of control over her life. And depending on the delivery experience, new moms are likely physically drained and sore. New moms are usually stressed and exhausted — and still hormonal. Does this make new moms driving more prone to car crashes and increase the risk for their newborns?
Statistics on distracted driving show new moms are among the most distracted drivers. Almost 10 percent of new moms have had an accident while driving with their baby. This is nearly three times the rate compared to the general population.
Some of the biggest distractions?
- Drowsiness from sleepless nights
- An unhappy baby crying in the car
- Keeping an eye on baby
- The usual suspects of normal distractions ie. the phone (whether talking or texting), other passengers, eating, etc.
1. Sleepless Nights: Risky for You and Your Kids
What wouldn’t you give for a full night of uninterrupted sleep? You love your new baby with all your heart—but sometimes your heart just isn’t in it when you have to drag yourself out of bed for a 2:00 AM feeding.
Perhaps you’ve been trying to get more sleep but can’t seem to get into a rhythm that supports a more restful schedule. Caring for your other children, your professional life, household chores, walking your golden retriever, and other priorities get in the way.
But getting enough sleep should become one of your top priorities. New research indicates that parents—particularly new parents—who don’t get enough sleep are at greater risk while driving, joining the ranks of truckers, pilots, shift workers, and other people whose sleep schedules are challenging or erratic. The phenomenon known as drowsy driving is a well-documented cause of traffic accidents. The bottom line is that by not getting enough sleep, you’re putting yourself, your family, and other drivers at risk.
According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 56,000 crashes a year are attributed to driving while drowsy. The risk of having an accident while drowsy driving — or distracted driving — is the same as when driving drunk.
Strategies to reduce the risk
Trying to get more sleep when you’re caring for an infant may seem like a losing battle. But you have to fight it. If you’re a stay-at-home parent—and more of us are nowadays—can start by napping when your baby naps as often as you can.
And when you are awake, don’t exhaust yourself. Make it a point to share chores with your partner and older children so the burden doesn’t fall exclusively on you. Forget being super-mom for a while. Cleaning out closets and cooking four-course dinners can wait until your baby starts sleeping through the night.
Experts recommend creating a soothing bedtime ritual for yourself to help you slow your racing thoughts. A ritual is simply a series of steps you follow regularly and yours need not be complicated. Try to get to bed near the same hour every night. Turn down your bed. Dim the lights. Read a few pages of a novel if you find reading relaxing. While taking a bath is one of the first things that come to mind when you hear the words “relaxing ritual,” pay attention to your own body. Some people find baths stimulating, not sleep-inducing.
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If you practice meditation, try ending your day by turning to your mantra. If you’ve never meditated before, now might be a good time to start. Meditation costs nothing and you can learn how to do it using any number of readily-available online resources.
If your baby is a little older, don’t be afraid to encourage self-soothing. Once you’ve established that he/she isn’t crying due to hunger, a dirty diaper, or illness, visit your baby’s crib, offer a few soothing words or a lullaby, and get yourself back to bed. It’s tough to listen to a baby cry, of course, but you might find your baby is more capable of self-soothing than you think.
2. New moms driving with an unhappy baby crying in the car
As a new mom, you know how hard it is to listen to your baby cry. When baby is inconsolable you may even consider selling your soul to the devil to get it to STOP! And that’s just when you are at home. If that crying is happening in the confines of a car, it can be even more maddening — and dangerous.
When our oldest was a wee babe of 3 months, we took a road trip to from Denver to South Dakota to deliver a wild land fire truck. I was following Greg in our car with our son. About an hour out of Denver he started screaming. He didn’t stop until we arrived at our hotel FIVE hours later. I wanted to pull my hair out. I pulled over a couple of times to try to comfort him to no avail. There was nothing obviously wrong. He had eaten. His diaper was clean. He was safely buckled in with no pinching straps so I just had to do my best to ignore the noise.
This can be one of the more distracting driving situations with a new baby. It can make a new mom want to drive faster to get where she is going so she can get baby out so he, hopefully, stops crying.
Strategies to reduce the risk
If your baby is crying in the car seat it can be heart wrenching and aggravating. You can try singing or talking to your baby so he can hear your voice. Even if the singing doesn’t calm your baby, it might help calm you.
Our trip to South Dakota was long before I learned about Ho’oponopono and turned the ten healing words into a soothing song for when my kids were upset. On that trip, I tried talking to my son. Not sure that he could hear me over his crying. I hoped just knowing I was there helped some. He’s 14 now and seems to have survived the incident just fine.
You can also try giving your child some soft toys to gum or play with. We don’t recommend hard toys in the car because they can become a painful flying projectile during a crash.
3. Keeping an eye on baby in the car
A newborns size place it at risk for possibly severe, even life-threatening, injuries in a crash. Of course all states require parents to protect their child in the car with a car seat. Newborns are required to be rear-facing in the back seat.
What does that mean? The driver can’t see the baby.
64% of new moms driving report having turned around to tend to their baby’s needs. Taking your eyes off the road for just two seconds increases your risk of accident. And parents don’t just do this if their baby is fussy. They do it all the time.
Many parents decide to use the mirrors in the back seat so they can look in the rearview into the back seat mirror to see the reflection of their baby. This really isn’t any safer. It actually makes it even more tempting to continually check what’s happening in the back seat. (This is the main reason car seat experts recommend NOT using those mirrors. Not to mention the hard plastic some of those mirrors are made of could be dangerous if it comes off in a crash.)
Strategies to reduce the risk
We get it, your baby is so cute, it’s hard to keep your eyes off of it. But you are driving. And your baby’s safety is more important than her cuteness.
First thing is first, remove that mirror, if you already have one. It will be OK. Trust me, mother of three and never had a backseat mirror.
If your baby needs tending to, have the passenger take a peak or hand her the pacifier. If you are on your own, deny the urge to immediately care for your baby and allow yourself to add a few minutes to your drive by just pulling over.
Most importantly, keep your eyes on the road.
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4. Distracted driving the usual suspects
Distracted driving is the term used to describe the act of driving while engaged in another activity. In particular, texting while driving is a leading cause of accidents. Studies indicated that 64% of accidents involve drivers using their cell phones. A disturbing one out of four accidents specifically involves texting.
But even drinking coffee or eating a doughnut while driving can take your eyes and mind off the road. So can punching an address into your navigation system mid-drive.
Strategies to reduce the risk
We’ve discussed distracted driving in other blogs and you all know what to do and in most cases what to stop doing.
- Keep your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road.
- Forget about your phone, matter of fact, leave it in the back seat. (It’s a tip to help you remember to get your baby out of the car and reduce hot car deaths anyway. Win-win.)
- Don’t do other multitasking activities like eating or putting on makeup.
- Give yourself plenty of time to run errands.
- And for new moms driving, schedule errand time to be conducive to baby’s habits or ask someone to watch your baby so you can make a more successful, less stressful errand run.
Get some rest, stay calm and give the road your undivided attention. Your baby will be safer and that will make you feel better knowing you are fulfilling your most important mission of protecting your baby.
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