Car trips with children can be a harrowing experience for any parent, but when you have a child who gets motion sickness – that’s a whole new level of challenge.
I recently had a reader email asking if I had any experience with car sickness remedies, especially treatments that would be safe for kids. It’s not the first time I’ve been asked the question, which is so interesting because (lucky me) I actually DO have a child who gets motion sickness when we drive.
She was 4 years old the first time it happened, and we were on our way to visit family six hours away. Of course no one wants to turn around when you’re halfway there on a much-anticipated trip, but we didn’t want to get the very young children in our hosts’ home sick either. We were trying to figure out if it could be motion sickness or a stomach virus, and a friend who is a nurse gave us some bad intel:
She said that children younger than age 5 or 6 can’t actually experience motion sickness, and she had a very plausible sounding reason that had something to do with equilibrium, if I remember correctly.
But no one else got sick that weekend, and it was only in retrospect after we experienced nausea and vomiting on long drives a few more times that we realized it HAD to have been the real deal: child carsickness.
Now, four years later, I’ve encountered plenty of people with very young children who have some pretty severe motion sickness, so I’m convinced that it’s very possible for the preschool age group, and even toddlers and babies, to be carsick.
Here’s what the mom who contacted me had to say:
My one year old has inherited my terrible motion sickness. On one trip that is typically a 4-hour ride, we had to stop 6 times because he kept vomiting. (It took us 7 hours with his stops and three for his 3-year-old brother to use the travel potty.)
I’d rather not give him Dramamine… It never worked for me; in fact, it was a guarantee that I would get sick if I took it. I have read about some natural methods for carsickness but I need something acceptable for a little one. Any ideas?
I was just glad I had something to offer her!
How to Prevent Car Sickness in Kids
These tips apply to adults too but are 100% safe for children.
First, never leave home without a bucket – a large cottage cheese or yogurt tub with a lid is a great option (or two or three). They can be taken into a restroom and rinsed out for reuse if needed and of course they seal well too. I’ve always carried tubs like that for restaurant leftovers, although my friend thought I should have something cuter and got me some silicone takeout containers for the car. We just use those, but we’re lucky that we’ve been very successful in treating the motion sickness and rarely have vomiting anymore.
If your child has the potential to vomit often, I’d stock zippered bags too so that you don’t have to stop every single time.
Second, NO sitting in the rear seats of a van or SUV – only the middle. There’s a lot of more play and motion in the very back. Same goes for busses – try to sit near the driver and never backward (like on a train or boat).
For a child still in a rear-facing carseat, I might consider what I’d never otherwise do: turning them forward. It’s a parent’s judgment call as to what’s worse: the potential risk of more serious injury in a car accident or the nearly definite display of stomach contents on the lap?
Next, don’t allow the child to read, play on a tablet, or do anything that requires looking down of any kind. Not being able to match up your visual equilibrium with what the car is actually doing can drastically increase the motion sickness. For that reason as well, try to make sure the child has a sight line to the front of the vehicle so they can look out the front window as much as possible. A middle seatbelt may be the best (although if it’s harder to get to the child in case of a vomit incident, that may NOT be the best!). Grab some great audiobooks so the child doesn’t have to be bored and isn’t tempted to do anything on their lap.
Some families find that kids can’t eat certain foods before traveling; dairy is an often-mentioned culprit. That might be something to experiment with by keeping a “what the child ate before driving” log and attempting to omit dairy for the day.
A commenter on this post shared a fascinating remedy: keeping your core engaged while sitting. Apparently it somehow staves of the carsickness – I can’t wait to try it!
As much as possible, seek sleep. At least in our experience, when our daughter is sleeping, she’s much less likely to be hit by the nausea of a moving vehicle. We’ll try to drive in the late evening and into nighttime when possible because of that. I’m guessing that one won’t work for everyone though – I can see some kids not able to fall asleep because of nausea or the carsick feeling waking them up.
If nausea does hit, react to the situation by first of course getting a bucket or bag to the child! Then try opening the windows or letting the child out to get the breeze on their face. That can be helpful, although not always sustainable on long freeway drives.
- bucket/zippered bags
- avoid sitting in the back of a van
- no reading or looking down
- try omitting dairy
- engage the core
- seek sleep
- seek a breeze
All of those are really standard “what to do when feeling nauseous in the car” tips, and for a child who is really affected by motion sickness, they’re not going to help all that much. But they’re good to know!
The two strategies that have worked wonders for us, though, with zero issues once we started using both aggressively, are acupressure and peppermint.
Our Best Natural Remedies for Motion Sickness in Kids
When we discovered Child-sized Sea-Bands, we finally began to feel like we were winning against motion sickness and could travel without fear again.
These bracelets work via acupressure, are easy to use, inexpensive, chemical-free, reusable, and washable. They’re a parent’s dream. 😉 Try to remember to put them on the child about half and hour before leaving for long travels. The instructions on the package are very clear in my opinion. It is very important to place them correctly (between the two tendons of the wrist and 3 finger-widths down from the crease of the wrist – the child’s own fingers).
Our daughter knows how to place them perfectly by herself now, but for the first year or two I always helped her. If she does start feeling nauseous, the first thing I do (after handing her a bucket) is to check her Sea-Band placement and even apply a little extra pressure to the points.
The other major item we have in our “carsick kit” is candy canes. Yep, Kitchen Stewardship is recommending sugar!
The idea is that once a bit of tummy ache hits, peppermint or ginger can really calm it down. I’ve also heard that small sips of ginger ale can help, which might be a better solution for a very young child. Peppermint or ginger tea would be another possible option to experiment with.
We stock our car with the mini candy canes you get at Christmastime because they’re a great size and easy to keep along without any forethought. Any peppermint candy will work though. We tried some ginger chews which ended up being too spicy for our little one, but they totally worked as well. You can also find ginger gum. In this case a little sugar is definitely a necessary evil, and we just remind ourselves that the rest of our diet is pretty good and make sure we get the WellBelly probiotics in that day.
Pineapple, ginger and mint infused water is also considered a tummy tamer and might be tastier than ginger tea for little ones.
I also found this cool ginger-mint anti-nausea lollipop that has no refined sugar in it. For a baby like my reader was asking about, I would love to try making the candy in long, skinny threads that could just be administered one tiny, non-choking-hazard sliver at a time.
Our Train Travel Story: Avoiding Motion Sickness, but Just Barely!
We were on a train once for 4 hours, and when we were about 3 hours in, my daughter got severely nauseous. She was about to throw up and even had a bit of a dry heave happen (yikes!!!) and I realized her Sea Bands had shifted during the trip and were no longer in the right spot.
I readjusted them and applied additional pressure with my thumbs on the correct acupressure spot on her wrists, did some deep breathing with her, and all was well. I don’t even think we had the peppermint candies with us as we hadn’t discovered that little trick yet, but the Sea Bands alone took the nausea away completely.
I was sold! Best investment I’ve ever made.
Essential Oils for Motion Sickness in Kids
I haven’t used essential oils for this purpose myself, but I checked the Using Essential Oils Safely Facebook group because I knew I’d seen information about kids and motion sickness in there before, and they’re very safe and conservative about EOs with kids. I knew, for example, that although peppermint is great for settling the tummy, it’s also not recommended for children under 6 or 10 years old, so I wasn’t about to experiment with it in a closed vehicle where we also had a tiny baby.
Here are some recommendations for essential oils and motion sickness in children:
All of these tips are copied directly from the Facebook group; I am not an expert or medical professional at all!
- In a personal inhaler, place 15 drops ginger essential oil. Sniff it prior to getting into a car, or train, or bus. Then every 15 minutes inhale till movement feeling or head stops spinning in the vehicle you are in. Ginger EO doesn’t smell like fresh ginger and tends to be a bit stinky, just a heads up. 🙂 Some folks also use a car diffuser, especially if more than one person is affected by the motion sickness.
- Also a good combo: spearmint, bergamot, grapefruit & cardamom diffused together for nausea. (Spearmint is a safe alternative to peppermint for kiddos. Always confirm safety and age range when using EOs with children or pregnant women.)
- Equal parts ginger and sweet orange is a child-safe blend. (Diffuse it for best results.)
- Chamomile essential oil may help and is very gentle for even the youngest children/babies. Perhaps try chamomile tea as well, if ginger or peppermint tea are disliked.
- For kids over 10 only: If there are no younger children around you can use peppermint. Properly dilute it at about 1.5% depending on age (see more here) and put into a roller bottle. Dabbing a bit on the wrists and inhaling it may help. Putting it (undiluted) on a tissue or something would work too (or follow the instructions below for a personal inhaler; the tissue is the “quick, I don’t have anything else!” emergency solution).
- Note: While there are lots of brands of EOs online, I do prefer to source mine at Plant Therapy because they take care to make a quality product but are more affordable than other high quality options.
- EDIT: a reader commented about a successful “no carsickness” trip (their first!) and one of the strategies used was Plant Therapy’s Kid-Safe Tummy All Better roll-on bottle. Awesome to know that it went well!!
If you’re applying to the skin, always dilute the essential oils appropriately no matter what.
Do you know how to properly dilute essential oils?
Katie here, popping in to tell you how important it is to be sure you’re diluting those essential oils properly. Knowing you’re supposed to dilute essential oils for use on the skin is a good start – but as usual, I did it wrong for a few years before I got smart enough to find some resources and do the math.
I took a moment to make a one-page printable for you so you can snip an easy-to-read chart and tape it right onto your medicine cabinet door – wherever you keep your essential oils – so it’s always handy. It includes all the dilutions in drops of EO + tsp. or Tbs. of carrier oil for babies, toddlers, younger and older children, and adults. You shouldn’t have to do any math when you need a remedy now (you’re welcome).
To get Essential Oils into the Air
You don’t have to buy a fancy diffuser to test out essential oils and see if they help your kids’ motion sickness or not. Here’s a video on how to make a personal inhaler.
If you do not have any personal inhalers an easy quick option is putting a few drops of oils on a cotton ball and storing it in a small bottle (like an old pill bottle) or a small bag and then just open and sniff as needed. Some have said they have found it effective to put a couple of drops of oil on a cotton ball and then use a clothes pin or something similar to clip it to one of the vents in the vehicle which help disperse the scent.
Exposing the oil to air will reduce its potency each time, so be sure your oils are always in a closed, airtight container. You might not be able to reuse the same “oiled” cotton ball for your return trip, but packing the whole bottle of oil still won’t take up too much packing space and will be well worth it if you find a blend that works for your child!
I felt blessed to “listen in on” some advice from a bunch of health practitioners to someone struggling with motion sickness and planning a cruise, and here were some homeopathic remedies I didn’t know about previously (I haven’t tried these, but homeopathics are generally very safe – just remember I’m not a doctor or nurse, so don’t take my word for it!):
- Tabacum 30C – take 3-4 pellets every 15-30 minutes for motion sickness.
- Cocculus 30c
- In general, homeopathy is “symptom dependent” meaning that you don’t take something “for motion sickness” you take something for specific feelings of nausea, dizziness, or headaches. A pounding headache needs a different remedy than a headache in the nape of your neck and different still for one behind the eyes, etc. I’ve learned a lot lately from a great resource called Homeopathy for Mommies.
- Cocculus is for motion sickness “with need to lie down,” while Tabacum is more for headache with nausea and vomiting. Another reader sent me a note that Hyland’s homeopathy tablets for motion sickness really work, and they have both those remedies plus 2 more combined. (They may not be rated for children under 2 though.)
- Some also said histamine levels can impact motion sickness – something else to look into balancing!
Why we Had to Make “Homemade” Sea Bands
I knew I was going to write this post the last time we traveled, but I swear I didn’t sabotage us on purpose.
About a half hour into the trip, my daughter called out, “Mom, I don’t feel well!” I tossed her the bucket and said, “Oh my goodness, get the Sea Bands out!”
They weren’t there.
She had accidentally worn them into the house a few days before (our policy is to take them off and leave them in the car). They were still on her desk.
We employed the “stop and get some air” strategy, which worked, and as I unwrapped a candy cane, I said, “Ok kids, time to put our thinking caps on. How can we make some Sea Bands out of what we have in the car???”
Here’s what we came up with:
That’s my headband with a pebble underneath and brother’s watch with a couple pennies. The watch was less effective, probably because the “point” was more spread out and not quite the way it’s supposed to work, but between this hack and our candy canes, she survived the remainder of the two hour drive. It was worth the sacrifice of having frizzy hair and stretching out my headband!!
We actually started out with a single almond under the headband but lost it and used the pebble on the return trip. The almond was found on the floor of the van – a reward for being messy, I guess!
UPDATE: Huge Success Healing from Motion Sickness with Functional Neurology!
When my 3-year-old got a concussion, we helped his brain heal via therapy with a functional neurologist, and my daughter ended up having more sessions than him to heal from motion sickness!
With simple therapy exercises and a big effort on consistency in doing them at home, she has been able to ride 4 hours without any assistance and even read for 45 minutes in the car!! If you have a child with motion sickness, you know how much of a gift this has been to our family.
Check the video for a few of the exercises we’ve done, and here’s the full interview with more info on how functional neurology works.
If you can’t see the video above, click “Healing from Motion Sickness for Kids” to view directly on YouTube.
Unfortunately, this work is an individual thing and the exercises changed every week after diagnostic observation in the office, so you can’t just use a “motion sickness cure” list, but I hope you can take hope that there IS a cure for motion sickness and find a functional neurologist near you!!