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Baby on board

When my first child was an infant, I never seemed to be able to load my vehicle with everything I needed to run errands. No extra clothes were available when accidents happened, my baby would get bored easily, and the diaper bag always ran out of diapers or wipes at the worst possible moment. Finally, after listening to some experienced moms, and weeks of trial and error, my car is now organized and my little ones enjoy their quick road trips. The key is making sure the following 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. Everyone knows that babies need safety seats, but 73 percent of all child restraints are used incorrectly, according to a recently released 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, MD, confirms that properly used car seats "are very effective." He suggests, "Parents and caregivers should take time to understand how to better protect children." One way to do this, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), is to read the car owner manual along with the car seat manual before installing the child restraint. Parents can find additional information on proper installation tips from the AAP's website (www.aap.org).

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. At her baby shower, she recalls how a friend gave her some timeless advice. "Keep wipes everywhere. You can never have too many," Williams remembers. "I have found that to be true."

Williams has used wipes for everything from spills to potty accidents to cleaning sticky fingers and faces. She plans to continue using them even when her children are old enough to drive her around. Wipes do not work for everyone, however. "Little bottles of water" is what Krystal Barrett, a mother of one in Kennesaw, Georgia, recommends for cleaning. She prefers to use plain water and towels on her son's sensitive skin. "Whether it is used as a cleaner, or for last-minute drinking," she says, "several small bottles should always be within easy reach."

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 Barrett. 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. "I always had a toy, something that (my baby) 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."

Objects that attach to an infant's car seat handle are best because they cannot be thrown to the floor.

Not-so-fast food

The final thing to never leave home without a snack. Keeping the car stocked with nutritious food helps eliminate the temptation to stop by a drive-through 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.

[suggests Barrett] "Animal crackers are good, or little boxes of raisins." She keeps 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. Now, the next step is figuring out how to get someone else to take care of the actual driving.

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