The drive home from the hospital after Baby is born has the potential to be more nerve-wracking than any trip since your first time driving on the highway. Even if it’s a route you take every day, the presence of a brand new, tiny passenger can open your eyes to dangers you never would have looked twice at before. The most important thing to remember is that you, your partner, or whoever your designated driver-home-from-the-hospital is, is just as a good of a driver as they, or you, ever are. The presence of Baby’s car seat strapped into the back doesn’t do anything to make the car more dangerous, even if it does raise the stakes.
There are a few other things that are good to keep in mind, too, though, so that you or you and Baby’s new chauffeur can adjust to the extra load in the back seat.
The most important thing about the car seat is that you start with a safe seat. This means one that hasn’t passed its expiration date, hasn’t been in an accident, is rear-facing, is designed to fit children of Baby’s weight, and is installed correctly and securely. But beyond that, there’s also the importance of installing it in the right place. Statistically, the middle seat in the back is the safest and most protected seat in a car in case of accident, and so it’s probably the best place to set up Baby’s seat.
If there are going to be two adults in the car, one of the side seats in the back is the ideal place for the non-driver to sit and keep an eye on Baby on his first adventure. If, for some reason, the best place in the car of Baby is in the front seat, be sure to disable the airbags, which can be dangerous for babies. However, if having the car seat in the front seat can be avoided, it should be.
Even for very short trips, it’s never safe for Baby to travel in a moving car in your or anyone else’s arms – he should always be in a car-seat.
Hot and cold
Baby is a person, just like you, but he needs to work a little bit on his ability to regulate his own temperature. This means that he is comfortable in about the same level of clothing you are for a given temperature, but he gets uncomfortable a lot faster if he gets cold or starts to overheat.
Baby will do best in the car if he is only bundled up to about the same degree that you are, but if that degree is pretty bundled, the majority of the extra layers should happen outside of the car seat. Light, close-fitting clothes will fit best under the car seat straps, and then adding blankets over the top will keep Baby nice and warm while still staying easy to remove without unbuckling if he gets too warm, and without getting in the way of keeping the straps safely fastened.
Whether it’s a short or a long drive home, it’s safe to assume the drive will probably take you a bit longer than usual, as even habitual speed-demons tend to get a little reluctant to step on the gas with a newborn passenger in the back.
Long drives in particular are the most likely to go smoothly with a little extra planning. If Baby gets buckled into the car seat just after a feeding and a thorough burping (since baby-gas on a bumpy road is no fun for anyone involved), there’s a good chance he will sleep through the ride, or at least the first part of it, depending on how long it is. If the ride is long enough to stretch into a second feeding time, it’s safest to plan to pull over part way through for a feeding and diaper changing break, but just in case Baby wakes up hungry somewhere that it isn’t practical to pull over just yet, it can help to have a prepared bottle or two of formula or pumped milk ready to go.
In case of a spit-up incident, it can also help to pack a spare outfit for Baby (and maybe for you) and a plastic bag for the soiled one, since it’s safe to assume that no one in your family wants to spend an hour in a car that smells like spit-up.