I've been assured that I don't have the only baby in the continental United States who hates his car seat. When G was first born, he could have auditioned for a screamo band and quite possibly scored a position as the lead screamer while having a temper tantrum in his car seat. Side note: We would have had to pay royalties to Graco, I'm sure, as his Snugride would have been considered his muse ;). This hatred made it interesting to take a trip to the grocery store let alone take a trip down state to visit our friends in Peoria or G's adoring Grandma C in Bourbonnais -- 3 and 2 hour trips, respectively. But I cannot sit still, so G had to learn to make peace with the car seat or else I was going to be forced to begin listening to bands like The Used every time we planned on rolling out of the garage in an attempt to blend his complaints with something listenable. The usual bag of tricks didn't help. We tried hanging toys from the handle to keep him busy, which only further irritated him. I tried talking to him during the whole drive, and that really didn't help. (Plus, I didn't want his first word to be "move!") I also tried driving with only one hand while letting his grasp my other one; that "solution" only made for distracted driving. I also tried putting on the radio, which also did not work.
Then something clicked in my head. I had remembered reading an article while I was pregnant about how babies responded once they were born to sounds they had heard repeatedly while in utero during the last trimester. I found the two CDs I constantly had in rotation during the last part of my pregnancy, and I played them in the car. As soon as he heard the first song from the Garden State soundtrack, he quieted from a scream to barely a whimper. By the time track four began playing he was out!
Perhaps not all mamas can employ this remedy because perhaps those mamas actually varied their musical pleasures during pregnancy, so here are a few other tricks of the trade I learned.
1. When baby can see you, it's often a more pleasant ride. When my hubby and I were both in the car, I would often take up residence in the back seat next to the baby. Because baby is safest in the middle seat facing backward in the car, G never could see us while we were riding in the front. (If baby had that whole object-permanence thing mastered, it would really help a mama out in this situation!) We also considered setting up a system of mirrors so G could, but playing G's favorite tunes was much easier.
2. Raise the car-seat base so that the baby is high enough to see out of the window. Unlike a toy dangling in front of baby's face, the scenery outside the window is interesting yet far enough away not to be irritating. G really likes being able to look out the window at his surroundings. (On the same note, when babies are little and don't have much head control, make sure the base isn't raised too high as it doesn't allow a tiny baby to relax in the car seat because his poor little head is flopping around. This is especially true for the Graco Snugride which has three levels at which the base can be set).
3. Grab an old canvas bag and stuff it with many different toys. Put the bag of toys (all age appropriate, of course) next to the car seat and show baby how to pull out the different toys. This was my mother-in-law's strategy for long car rides, and she said it works like a charm with older babies. Of course, you have a pile of toys scattered all over the back seat by the time you arrive at your destination, but you also have a very happy, entertained baby.
4. Velcro your picture or pictures of baby's favorite people to the back rest of the rear seat in the car so baby can gaze at them while you're driving. Having pictures of familiar faces in the back seat might give baby the comfort he needs while riding solo. (Also, during the first few months of life, baby's favorite thing to study is a human face not toys or most other objects.)
5. If you can, leave for a trip during baby's nap time or bed time. Change his diaper and feed him before you hit the road. Sometimes the vibration of the car will lull a happy, fed, changed, tired baby to sleep. (G fights sleep, and this still works for us.)
6. Make a snugly nest in the car seat. Now that it's winter time we bundle that baby in one of his snugly warm snow-type suits and strap him into the seat for the ride. The warmth combined with a full tummy and dry diaper tends to make for a happy baby.
With age, the hatred has simmered as well. Now that G knows he's not going to be permanently stuck in the seat forever, he is a little more willing to give our ears a break and sit in the seat complaint-free for short rides. We give G his pacifier in the car before we leave, pump his favorite CDs through the stereo system and pray for the best.
If none of this works for you, and you've really gotta get somewhere, I've got a list of tolerable screamo bands for you to test out in your stereo. ;)