Dealing with Motion Sick Kids

If you’re lucky like me (insert sarcastic font), you have a child whose stomach does not appreciate being in moving vehicles for long periods of time, and reminds you of this frequently by upheaving the contents of said stomach all over your poor child’s lap. Or your lap. Or both. After dealing with my own motion sickness and that of my child, I’ve learned a few tips and tricks along the way to share. As many families travel this time of year for the holidays, I think now is a good time to share my knowledge on all things nausea-related.

Prior to Travel
Follow the Scout’s Motto: Be Prepared.
Know your child’s nausea triggers and try to avoid them before you even get in the car. For our family, that means traveling on empty stomachs, or avoiding eating and drinking at least an hour prior to travel. If eating before traveling can’t be avoided, try to avoid milk and dairy items.

Take anti-nausea medication before traveling. There are anti-nausea medications such as Dramamine© that are available in child doses, and we have had so-so luck with it. I can’t decide if the medicine helps with nausea or the ingredients that cause drowsiness make my child fall asleep, thus avoiding nausea all together. For us, sleep is the best way to avoid motion sickness, so yes, I am comfortable giving my child medicine with the sole purpose of causing drowsiness. My pediatrician is ok with that choice as well, but it is up to you to make that decision.

Pack the “Puke Bag”
Gather up all the materials needed when motion sickness is likely to occur, and have them next to the child in question. Our bag looks like this: bottle of water, nausea medicine, roll of paper towels, old cloth towels, pack of baby wipes, plastic shopping bags (make sure they are double bagged and ready to use), extra change of clothes, socks, and shoes, and a large bath towel or blanket.

During Travel
Travel at Night
If possible, travel at night. A main cause of motion sickness is your eyes are telling your brain you are moving at a certain speed based on what you are seeing outside the window as the car drives past, but the inner ear equilibrium feels stationary in the car because your body isn’t physically moving at the same speed that your eyes are seeing mountains pass by. These mixed signals is what causes motion sickness, and driving in the dark is one way to avoid that. When it’s dark outside, your child can’t see landmarks passing by the window and will have less chance of getting sick. Driving a long, dark highway is no fun for the parents, but being in the car at night, in the dark, also almost guarantees a sleeping child, and a sleeping child usually isn’t getting motion sick. 

If you can’t travel at night, or your child is awake, keeping them distracted can help avoid nausea. For us this means toy figurines, songs, and simple picture books. Staring at a phone or tablet for too long does distract, but for some (like me) it brings on car sickness, again because of the mixed signals your brain is getting from your eyes and your body.

Clothe and Cover
If your child will tolerate it, cover them and their car seat with a blanket or bath towel you don’t mind getting dirty. Make sure to place it over and not under the car seat straps, because those are a pain to clean. Wear older clothes that can take a spin through the wash. A long car ride is not the time to put your child in that super cute coordinating outfit from Baby Gap. Change outfits when you get to Grandma’s.

Watch for the Signs
Even with all of the preventative measures, motion sickness can (and will) occur. Watch out for the signs, and be ready with that plastic bag! As a younger toddler, our son would get really quiet and pale before he got sick. Now as an older toddler he will tell us he feels bad, and gives a warning cry before it starts, so we usually have a chance to be on alert, and can avoid most of the mess.

After The Puke Occurs
You can’t avoid all motion sickness incidents, so at some point there will be a mess to clean up. If you were able to use the blanket/bath towel to cover up your child, the mess is hopefully contained. If not, here are some quick clean tips.

Cleaning Up the Kid
If possible, pull over to a gas station or empty parking lot to clean up the mess. This will also give your child’s stomach a few minutes of stationary time to recover. Take your child out of his or her car seat, remove the dirtied clothes and put on a clean top and bottom. Do a quick baby wipe bath of any body parts that might have gotten hit, especially the face and neck area. Place dirtied clothes in plastic shopping bag and tie it shut. The quicker you can do this, the better. 

Quick Clean the Car Seat
Take paper towels or old cloth towels to get the solids of the mess cleaned up and into (doubled up) plastic shopping bags. Be sure to check underneath the car seat cover to make sure nothing has dribbled down into the plastic seat parts. Take a few baby wipes to wipe down as much as possible of the car seat cover and/or buckles that got dirtied, and throw those away in a tied bag as well. If the car seat cover is still wet after cleanup, place one of the old cloth towels in the seat to act as a barrier. Once you get your child back in his or her car seat, place a new blanket or towel over them, and pray for a one and done situation!

Clean Up at Home
Once you finish traveling and reach your destination, you can take the time to really clean clothes and the car seat cover. Clothes that have been left in a plastic bag less than 24 hours can be thrown in a washer, in hot water and let the machine do the work. If it has been over 24 hours, a second cycle might be required. Your car seat cover can also be taken off and thrown in the washer as well, in hot water. Check with your manufacturer for specific instructions.

Unfortunately car seat straps and buckles cannot be machine washed, nor soaked in water to remove stains and smells. This is where OxiClean and a hard bristle brush become your friend. Spray liberally the offending areas, and scrub away, adding a bit of water to the mix. Let the straps dry completely (outside, in the sun if you can) before using the car seat again. Wipe down the hard parts of the car seat and buckles with a Clorox Wipe, or your cleaner of choice. Make sure nothing snuck underneath the car seat onto your car seat cushion, or you will have to clean that as well. This is a good reason to always keep some sort of barrier between the car seat and seat cushion.

Motion sickness doesn’t just affect the child, it makes travel for the whole family a bit more difficult. Hopefully some of these tips will help you and your family avoid, or at least effectively deal, with motion sickness. I described travel by car for most of these pointers, but many of the same principles could be applied to air or boat travel as well. Remember: Be Prepared!


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