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On the road: Keeping Baby happy in the car

Margarette Burnette is a mother of two and a personal finance and parenting writer whose work has been published in Parenting, Pregnancy, Essence and many more magazines, as well as several web sites, including Bankrate.com, MSN Money, Y...

Baby on board!

Taking your baby out and about is much easier when you are prepared. Nothing is more frustrating than being away from home and realizing you didn't pack properly. Organize your car ahead of time to make trips with Baby go smoothly.
Baby in car seat

Whether you are traveling to Grandma's house or just down the road to the grocery store, having the supplies you need to keep your baby happy and clean makes any trip easier. Make sure these five items are always in the car when Baby is on board.

Seat of approval

The first product for every car is a properly installed car seat. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has extensive guidelines on the use of car seats for every age group. Everyone knows that babies need safety seats, but 73 percent of all child restraints are used incorrectly, according to a study from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). This could result in serious injury during an accident.

In that study, NHTSA Administrator Jeffrey W. Runge, M.D., confirms that properly used car seats "are very effective." He suggests, "parents and caregivers should take time to understand how to better protect children."

The best way to ensure that your particular car seat is properly installed is to read both the car owner's manual and the car seat manual before installing the child restraint. Parents can find additional information on proper installation tips from the AAP's website at aap.org.

Ready for Baby's first road trip? >>

Keep it clean

The second must-have item is a box of baby wipes or cleaning towels. Perhaps the biggest challenge in transporting little ones is the constant threat of spills and messes that can occur during each trip.

Stephanie Williams, a mother in Burlington, North Carolina, says the best way to wipe out messiness is to keep a stash of baby wipes in the car at all times. She remembers how a friend gave her some timeless advice at her baby shower. "Keep wipes everywhere — you can never have too many." Williams has used wipes for everything from spills to potty accidents, and for cleaning sticky fingers and faces.

Some babies have sensitive skin, so wipes do not work for everyone. Krystal Barrett, a mother of one in Kennesaw, Georgia, recommends carrying small bottles of water for cleaning. She prefers to use plain water and towels on her son's sensitive skin.

In the bag

The third essential accessory is a "just-in-case" bag tucked away in the vehicle. "I always put an extra diaper in the car somewhere," says Barrrett. Road trips leave parents at a disadvantage if a child has a potty accident, especially if they forgot to fill the diaper bag the night before. Eliminate the problem by simply putting extra clothes and diapers in a small bag, and then place the bag in the pocket behind the front seat (or underneath the seat). There is no need to worry about packing this sack every day, as if it were a diaper bag — it will simply be ready for occasional accidents.

Hanging around

The fourth favorite object is anything that keeps your bundle of joy happy during their joy ride. "I always had a toy, something that (my son) could play with or look at in the car," recalls Terra Baker, a mother of a toddler in Marietta, Georgia. Williams says her daughter "really liked those toys that made a crinkly noise." Favorite toys, board books or a small mirror mounted on the back of the seat can provide enough stimulation for little ones to keep them happy in the car. Objects that attach to an infant's car seat handle are easier because they cannot be thrown to the floor.

Check out these travel toys for kids >>

Not-so-fast food

The final thing to never leave home without is a snack to keep cranky toddlers from getting hungry. Keeping the car stocked with nutritious food helps eliminate the temptation to stop by a drive-thru for fast food.

Dr. Denise Salerno, a pediatrician at Temple University Children's Medical Center, warns that "it's best to put a strict limit on fast foods," since such foods have a high concentration of calories and salt.

"Peanut butter crackers are good [for children over age 1]," suggests Barrett. "Or animal crackers in the single serving size. Or little boxes of raisins." She keeps these types of snacks in her glove compartment so she can be prepared if she finds herself on the road when her son is hungry. Just make sure your toddler/older baby is ready for these types of foods and can eat well on her own before giving foods in the car.

A few minutes to stock up the car with these items can mean the difference between a fun outing with the family or a stressful road trip.

More on traveling with kids

Tips for traveling alone with the kids
The daddy packhorse: Tips for air travel with kids
What to do with an expired car seat

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