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Precious Cargo: Keeping Baby–and You–Safe in the Car
If you're like most parents of young children, you're well aware of the importance of a properly installed, age-appropriate car seat for your baby. You might not have given much thought to other aspects of car safety that affect new families. As a new parent, you're likely to suffer from sleep deprivation and the challenge of balancing work demands, domestic chores and 24-hour-a-day childrearing. Staying focused behind the wheel can become a challenge. Here are some tips to make driving as safe as possible for you and your baby.

(1) Minimize distractions.
As a new parent, navigating traffic and making sure your child is content is more than enough to think about when you're driving. This is not the time to talk on a cell phone, drink beverages or eat food. Make your calls and nourish yourself before or after you drive. If you feel you need to respond immediately to a phone call, pull over and stop the car.

(2) Don't drive when you're exhausted.
If you're exhausted and chronically sleep deprived, let someone else do the driving. It's all too easy to fall asleep behind the wheel. If you're alone and already on the road, pull over and take a short nap. Or take your baby on a short walk to perk up. Stop as frequently as necessary to ensure that you're alert while driving.

(3) On hot days, make sure your car isn't too hot before you enter.
The temperature inside your car can exceed 100 degrees in hot weather. Touch all car seating surfaces and equipment, such as the safety belt, before placing your child inside the car. It goes without saying that you should never leave your child alone inside a car, even with the windows down.

(4) If you need to attend to your child, stop your car first.
Plenty of accidents occur when well-meaning parents try to console a crying child while driving. Think ahead about the best ways to soothe your child in the car: engaging car seat toys and activity boards, baby music or even the motion of the car. If your child needs your care, it's best to pull over and provide your undivided attention. If you want to see your child, install an extra mirror near the rearview mirror.

(5) Slow down.
It's important to be relaxed and patient when driving. Keep in mind that yellow lights warn you to slow down and stop, not speed up. Give yourself enough time to get to your destination without rushing, and accept the fact that as a new parent, you'll be late some of the time. With a baby on board, your most important job is to drive safely.
Laura E. Stachel M.D. Obstetrician & Gynecologist