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8 Handy Tips to Prevent and Treat Baby Motion Sickness

by Vannessa Rhoades 28 Jun 2023
8 Handy Tips to Prevent and Treat Baby Motion Sickness

Do babies get motion sickness? They absolutely can. If your child consistently throws up during car rides, you probably understand just how overwhelming it can feel every time you need to leave the house. While motion sickness is more commonly observed in children 6 to 12 years of age, it can affect individuals of any age to varying degrees, including infants.

Motion sickness occurs when the brain receives conflicting signals regarding body movement and the surrounding environment. Thankfully, there are measures you can take to minimize the sensory mismatch that leads to nausea and vomiting. Additionally, there are ways to address the symptoms themselves when prevention is not possible. Let’s take a closer look at how to prevent and manage motion sickness for babies.

Causes of Baby Motion Sickness 

Carsickness or motion sickness can be experienced anywhere there’s movement – in the car, on boats, or on planes. It typically occurs when the signals sent to the brain by the eyes and inner ear, indicating movement, conflict with the signals from the skin, muscles, and joints that suggest the body is stationary. In some cases, individuals can become sensitive to these conflicting signals, especially with excessive or prolonged motion, resulting in the experience of motion sickness. 

The reasons why some babies experience motion sickness while others do not remain somewhat unclear. However, there are a few contributing factors that may specifically affect children. One factor is the positioning of children in the backseat, which makes it challenging for them to look out the front window. This window provides the most accurate visual perception of the car's movement. Additionally, children often engage in activities that require looking downward, such as reading books, using tablets, or playing with toys, during long drives. Focusing on a fixed point straight ahead can assist the brain in processing the signals more effectively. Genetics are also at play when it comes to carsickness. If you, as a parent, experienced motion sickness during your childhood, it is more likely that your children will be prone to it as well.

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Symptoms of Baby Motion Sickness

 Just as in adults and older children, motion sickness symptoms in babies manifest in various ways, including fatigue, headaches, dizziness, nausea, and vomiting. Many parents don’t even realize their child is experiencing motion sickness until they actually throw up, but there are a few initial warning signs you can keep an eye out for. Some of the most common symptoms that may be present before a baby or young child vomits include dizziness, drowsiness, irritability or fussiness, a flushed face, sweating, or a general sense of malaise.

8 Handy Tips to Prevent and Treat Baby Motion Sickness

Baby Motion Sickness Treatment

Fortunately, there are a number of strategies you can use to treat and prevent baby motion sickness. It may take a little trial and error to figure out what works best for your little one. 

1. Select an appropriate car seat.

Some infant seats actually claim to help reduce baby motion sickness. Some allow you to experiment with different positions and angles (safely). Different harnesses and latches may help minimize the extra movement that can lead to carsickness as well.

2. Cool things off.

Sometimes simply cracking a window to let in some crisp fresh air while you’re on the road can help stave off nausea for little ones. Too cold outside to open a window? Try using a little fan or turning on the air conditioner. Applying an ice pack or a cool washcloth to the back of your baby’s head for about 10 minutes is also effective for some children. If it seems to work, you can continue doing this, alternating from on to off every 10 minutes, for the entire drive. 

3. Keep them out of the third row.

The rear of the vehicle is where the most motion is felt. The best spot for a carsick child is often the middle seat in the second row, which offers a better view of the horizon. For a rear-facing child, try to position the child more upright (within the guidelines and limits of the car seat) and take off the vehicle headrest so that they can see out the back window.

4. Try to distract them.

Another way to combat baby motion sickness is to encourage distractions. Sing songs, play audiobooks, or talk to your little one. Encourage older babies to look at things out the window. Screens, books, or toys that require focus can actually worsen the motion sickness.

5. Travel with a soothed tummy.

If they’re old enough to eat solids, offer a small bland snack like crackers before getting on the road to help settle their tummy. Don’t give your child a full meal before getting into the car, and don’t feed them while you’re on the road. Motion combined with digestion can aggravate nausea.

6. Keep trips short.

Making stops more often may also help prevent baby motion sickness. Try to observe when your little one tends to start showing those early symptoms of queasiness. For some kids, it’s half an hour, whereas others are less predictable. Giving your baby a break from the motion can help their brain and body get re-adjusted. Even 10 to 15 minutes should help.

7. Be prepared.

Sometimes prevention methods don’t work so make sure you’re prepared to handle any messes that may come up. Keep a bucket or a large plastic container in the car to give your child a safe place to vomit (instead of a plastic bag, which could pose a suffocation risk). It’s also a good idea to keep some wet wipes, a bottle of water, and a change of clothes handy.

8. Talk to your doctor about medications.

Some babies and young children experience extreme motion sickness, despite a parent’s best efforts to prevent it. Discuss possible treatment options with your pediatrician, particularly if you’re planning a trip.

8 Handy Tips to Prevent and Treat Baby Motion Sickness

The Takeaway

Parents often find relief in knowing that baby motion sickness tends to diminish with age. Children between the ages of 6 and 12 are most prone to experiencing carsickness, reaching a peak around 9 to 10 years old. As children go through puberty and beyond, motion sickness gradually subsides. The exact reasons for this decline are not fully understood, but it is possible that their bodies become accustomed to car motion, and their brains learn to adapt. 

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