Confronting the myth: “my kid gets carsick travelling rear-facing”

It is precisely the potential for children to get carsick, one of the most repeated justifications for changing the direction of a child to a forward-facing car seat, despite being proved that rear-facing car seat is up to 5 times safer. However, the truth is that carsickness is a sensory conflict between the organs of balance and the eyes, and different studies have even shown that some people are more likely to experience it. Therefore, the fact that children get carsick will happen regardless of the direction of travel.

Likely, you have also felt carsick yourself when travelling by car. This feeling of unwellness is also known as motion sickness and the main symptoms include nausea, vomiting, pallor, sweating, lethargy and persistent fatigue. But why do we feel motion sickness in the car? For the body to determine where it is at all times, the brain is constantly gathering information. Our eyes inform the brain about the visually perceived movement, while the vestibular apparatus, located in the inner ear, is informing about our position in space. Motion sickness in a car is a consequence of a disagreement between our eyes, which are informing that we are moving fast, and the inner ear, which doesn´t sense any movement. When the brain gets these mixed signals, the person will likely develop some aspects or symptoms of motion sickness (Zhang, Wang, Qi, Pan, Li & Cai, 2016).

According to Jelte Bos (2017), an expert in Perceptual and Cognitive Systems at the TNO (the Dutch Organization for Applied Scientific Research), babies don´t suffer from motion sickness; not until they start standing up and fully using the motion control mechanism. As children grow up, the severity of motion sickness increases and are greatest between 2 to 10 years old. Further, the individual susceptibility to motion sickness is very variable and there is a genetic predisposition to it (Zhang et al., 2016). This is why if your child is predisposed to feel motion sick, it will happen regardless of the direction of travel.

Moreover, Bos (2017) argues that “If every disadvantage has its advantage, the advantage of motion sickness is that it probably incites adaptation or habituation.” Newborns travel “rear-facing” so if we don’t turn them around, there shouldn´t be any larger problem. To understand it better, let´s think about a similar situation: the “broken escalator phenomenon”. When the escalators are broken, many of us feel a very strange feeling when stepping onto them, almost like a loss of balance or dizziness. It is even proved that we step onto them unnecessarily fast, like if they worked. This happens despite being completely aware of the fact that the escalator is not moving, and is a result of our brain acting according to previous experiences when the escalator was moving (Reynold & Brostein, 2003).

Finally, in the words of Bos (2017) “car sickness is a complex problem. It is a natural reaction to an unnatural stimulus that cannot be cured as such. But we can look to alleviate the symptoms.” Therefore, if your child suffers from motion sickness, and to travel not only as safe as possible but also as comfortable as possible, Axkid recommends the following tips:


1.  Sleep

The feeling of unwellness will alleviate if the child is tilted backward and relaxed. Nonetheless, the ideal situation is when the child is asleep since then the organs of balance are less sensitive.

2.  Stop often

Fresh air will help a lot!


3. Avoid copious/heavy meals

Eat light meals or snacks 24 hours before traveling and try to avoid big or high-fat content meals.


4. The right temperature in the car

Get plenty of air. In the car, make sure it is well air-conditioned on hot days. Roll down the window when you feel like you need more air. Remove bulky, warm items of clothing!


5.  Avoid looking downwards

Avoid using books or tablets.


6.
Drive smoothly

Avoid violent changes of speed, braking or taking curves abruptly.


7. Distractions

It is good to sing songs or play games (Bos, 2015).

 

References:

  • Bos, J.E. (2015). Less sickness with more motion and/or mental distraction. Journal of Vestibular Research, Vol. 25, nº1, pp.23-33.
  • Bos, J.E. (2017). Motion Perception and Sickness, Eye Movements and Human Performance. Recuperado de http://www.jeltebos.info/perception_sickness.htm
  • Reynold, R.F. and Brostein, A.M. (2003). The broken escalator phenomenon. Aftereffect on walking onto a moving platform. Experimental Brain Research. August 2003, Vol. 151, Issue 3, pp 301-308.
  • Zhang, L., Wang, J., Qi, R., Pan, L., Li, M. and Cai, Y. (2016).  Motion sickness: Current Knowledge and Recent Advance. CNS Neuroscience & Therapeutics, 22(1), pp. 15-24.

 

 

Read more about child safety in the car:

Why Plus test is extremely hard to pass!
The reason why your child should travel rear-facing until 6 years old!
Future is Rear-facing