My baby won’t sleep unless they’re in the car

My baby won’t sleep unless they’re in the car
"Riding in style” by Sean Freese.

Parents often tell me, “My baby won’t sleep unless I drive around all night,” and sometime they’ve been driving around for nights on end at three in the morning.

You feel exhausted but you can’t put her back in her bed because you know she’ll just wake up.

Some research estimated that parents drive an average of more than 2,000 kilometres getting their babies to sleep!

If this is your situation, my heart goes out to you.

When will it end? How can you break this habit?

By six months of age your baby has the mental and physical capacity to self-settle (that is, put themselves to sleep initially and then back to sleep if they wake before they are due to get up). Sure, they have the capacity, but will they use it?

If your baby has things they need to go to sleep, it’s up to you to help them break those habits. She needs to really learn to do it on her own so she can put herself back to sleep overnight and you don’t have to be involved.

In a way, it’s quite inspirational to teach a baby to self-settle. Of all the things that they have done to them day and night, being able to put themselves to sleep is really the first thing they can learn to do on their own. Once they have learnt how to self-settle then they don’t need you to help them get off to sleep and I think we can all agree, that’s nothing short of great.

So you need to look at what associations they have with going to sleep. It could be driving in the car or it could be rocking them in your arms or any number of things that they need to go to sleep (that they can’t do themselves).

These associations usually start from when the baby is quite young. You may have used something once that worked a treat and so you have kept on using it every time you put your baby to bed because you know it will work. Don’t feel bad about that, most babies under 12 weeks of age cannot self-settle and so do need you to help them to get off to sleep. But it is when they can ONLY go off to sleep with all these conditions in place that it becomes a problem.

The best and most effective way is cold turkey. Stop using the “prop” whether it’s driving or cuddling or feeding to sleep and start putting them to sleep in their cot and patting them off to sleep – as long as they do the final fall asleep in their cot. If they’re under six months, start with them on their back and pat them on their shoulder. If that isn’t working, roll them onto their side and pat on their bottom. Once they are asleep, always roll them back onto their back. Over six months, put them on their side straight away and pat them on their bottom using a gentle jigging to the rhythm of a slow heartbeat. When they are calm, roll them back onto their back for sleep.

If you really can’t do cold turkey, wean off the “prop” gradually. For example, take them for a really short drive to calm them down or give them a quick cuddle but while they’re still awake put them in the cot and still, pat them off to sleep. They MUST fall asleep in the cot for the final bit. Gradually you can wean them off the association if you can’t do it cold turkey. I don’t really recommend weaning them off as it just takes longer but you have to do what feels right to you. If you are going to wean them off gradually, you might want to consider writing a plan and committing to weaning only for three nights (or two or whatever) so you don’t give up.

Either way, I know it can be hard and in most cases, it won’t happen the first time you try. It can take a few nights of really long settles before they go to sleep but eventually they will get tired and they will fall asleep. Try to stay calm. If you have a partner, you can take it in turns.

I’d love to hear your stories of driving with your baby or how you broke the habit. Leave a comment below or drop me an email.

Be patient and persevere. You’re doing a great job at a tough job (and you’re doing it tired, too).

If you’ve enjoyed this post, it would mean a lot to me if you’d share it on social media or send it to someone you know who needs it.

All the best,


PS: I know you’ve got this! But if you want a bit of extra help, you might want to take a look at my video for settling an overtired baby. It’s only $5 and it shows you some handy techniques.

Video Guide To Settling an Over-Tired Baby

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