Preventing Motion Sickness in Children

It’s summertime and the family is out on the open road, cruising past exits, listening to your favorite tunes. Bliss!

Until you hear: “Mama, I don’t feel well.”

Not all children feel motion sickness. Our own lucky Nature Mom didn’t experience motion sickness as a child, and her own children don’t suffer from it either. I, on the other hand, was a terribly carsick child and so was my husband. It turns out that motion sickness is hereditary, so it’s not surprising that my own children experience paleness, queasiness, and sometimes vomiting when we travel. There are on long-term effects (though there appears to be a correlation between motion sickness as a child and migraines as an adult), but it does make a miserable trip when a child is feeling nauseous.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to prevent travel sickness in children.

Out of Balance

Knowing what causes motion sickness can help you prevent it.

A child’s sense of balance can be upset when signals from different parts of the nervous system send conflicting signals. If one part of the system senses motion, like the up and down movement you feel when driving down a bumpy road, and another, such as your eyes, isn’t getting the same message, you have the situation that leaves the sensitive among us feeling queasy.

Prevent the Motion Sickness If You Can

Take steps to prevent motion sickness before you travel. Since it is hereditary, this is especially important if you felt motion sickness as a child. It is easier to prevent the feeling than to relieve it after it has begun unless you just stop the activity altogether. If you are on a road trip, you may be willing to stop for short periods, but you probably don’t want to stop your trip completely. If your child has just been on the roller coaster for the first time, however, you can certainly stop.

If you can’t stop the motion, as when you are on a plane or a ship, move to the area where there is the least motion. Don’t sit in the back of the van, sit over the wings of the plane, and stay on deck of the ship looking out in the direction you are moving.

When you are planning a road trip, choose the nice, smooth highways instead of the winding country roads. That may make the trip a bit less interesting to you as the adult, but keep in mind that motion sickness usually only lasts a short time during childhood. You can take those roads less travelled once your child is up to it. Drive smoothly, and avoid quick stops and tight turns.

Plan frequent stops, especially if you know your child has a problem.

Be sure that your child is well rested. Being tired can aggravate motion sickness.

Make sure your child isn’t hungry, but don’t overfeed or feed heavy foods. You want to avoid indigestion as well as hunger. Eat light, fresh foods, unsalted crackers, or ginger snaps. Keep water on hand as well.

Pack toys, but leave behind the books, crayons, and video games. Looking down at a book or game will interrupt that visual signal of movement and can trigger the motion sickness. If you keep games active and talk through them, your child is more likely to keep looking around and seeing and feeling the same motion.

Face forward. Seeing where you are going sends the right signals to your child’s system. Encourage your child to look forward rather than out the side window at everything speeding by. This only works once your child is over 20lbs and facing forward, but most babies don’t feel the discomfort that some toddlers and older children do. When you choose a car seat, consider whether the seat is high enough to allow your child to see out the front window. When you play games, like spotting license plates, remind everyone to look front.

Open the windows and let in fresh air. Don’t open the windows if you are in traffic, since fumes can contribute to motion sickness. Don’t smoke in the car with children or open the windows if people in nearby cars are smoking. Adjust the ventilation to keep the smells out. Keep the air fresh and cool.

Don’t talk about feeling sick. Don’t bring it up at all, and you may manage to distract your child from the feeling if it comes up. Listen to the radio, sing songs, and talk.

Relief If Motion Sickness Comes

If your child is looking pale and unhappy, it may be time to look more at relief. He prevention steps might also provide some relief.

To find some relief, put a cool cloth on your child’s forehead. If you plan ahead, you can freeze a damp cloth and put it in a cooler before you leave. It’s best if you can stop the motion and have the child lie down flat for this.

Alternative medicines might also provide some relief. Manufacturers of motion sickness medications will point out that alternative medicines don’t prevent motion sickness symptoms. Many people will counter that they do provide relief from the symptoms.

Ginger has long been used to relief nausea. People take this powdered in capsules, chew on candied ginger, in small mint-like tablets, or even in ginger ale or ginger tea. Ginger is strong, so be sure you don’t overwhelm your child. A small amount of ginger tea should be enough to provide some relief, but don’t give the ginger to a baby.

Peppermint tea has a similar stomach calming effect. Soda crackers (saltines) can also settled small stomachs.

I have found that activating the acupressure point above the inside wrist can provide some relief, but not as much as putting pressure between the webs at the base of my fingers. For my children, this spot is far too sensitive, so they don’t use it. Be aware of what works for your child. If you are going to try acupressure wristbands, put them on a couple of hours before you travel.

Prepare Before Your Trip

Before you plan a trip by car, plane, train, or ship, prepare. Go through each of the prevention steps, and make a check list.

Then, have a bag or bucket on hand just in case your child does vomit. Keep damp wash cloths or cloth baby wipes for clean up. Pack a change of clothes.

Don’t call your child’s attention to your preparations, but be sure you can travel confident that you have done everything you can to prevent your child feeling motion sickness. Have a great trip!

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