Life

The Longest Drive Home: The First Car Trip With Your New Baby

24th February 2017

A small amount of pre-planning can take the stress out of the journey. Instead of wrangling with baby seats and indecipherable instruction manuals in the hospital car park, you can be safely away on your first family road trip.


It is the first time in life many people feel truly alone. Stepping out of the hospital bearing a tiny, fragile package, about to take the first journey home in a world that suddenly seems an extraordinarily large and dangerous place.

Gone are the comforting, sterile surrounds and rigid routine of the hospital ward, where the aid of a seasoned professional is only the push of a button away.

Melbourne couple Jane Harper and Peter Strachan recently braved “the long drive home” with baby girl Charlotte. Jane, who shot to fame in 2016 after writing acclaimed crime novel The Dry, says the experience was infinitely more nerve wracking than presenting her manuscript to sceptical publishers.

“Putting our baby in the car for the first time was more terrifying than anything I've been through with the book,” says Jane. “I can always rewrite the manuscript, but we only had one baby!”

This is the moment where a small amount of pre-planning can take the stress out of the journey. Instead of wrangling with baby seat belts, buckles and indecipherable instruction manuals in the hospital car park, you’ll be safely away on your first family road trip.

Keeping it real

Unfortunately, your 1978 Ford Mustang King Cobra or zippy Nissan Micra probably isn’t going to cut it for getting bubs around. Ensure you have a vehicle with space for your expanding family, prams and accessories, and that it has a five-star safety rating on either ANCAP or howsafeisyourcar.com.au. The raised height of SUVs is also a godsend for getting your little one in and out, preserving your back for other child-related fun.


“Putting our baby in the car for the first time was more terrifying than anything I've been through with the book. I can always rewrite the manuscript, but we only had one baby!” Jane Harper, author of The Dry

Premature preparation

News flash: babies don’t always arrive on the due date, so it’s best to have your car and child safety capsule purchased and installed well in advance of D-Day.

“Jane and I got the seat fitted about a month before Charlotte arrived,” says Strachan. “The guy who fitted it told me how to loosen and tighten the straps, and adjust the seat as the baby grew.”

Choosing the right baby seat is crucial. With so many brands and so much information online, an easy way to take the confusion out of selecting is to visit a specialty store such as Baby Bunting . Here, a trained staff member can guide you through the different choices to ensure you are getting maximum safety and comfort for your price range and make of car. Many stores even offer an accredited car seat fitting service, or can point you in the direction of a reputable local fitter.

Practice makes perfect

Once you have your baby restraint fitted, a great idea is for both expectant parents to practice using it. As silly as it sounds, using a large teddy or doll as a test subject can alleviate the stress later on when strapping in a living, breathing infant.

Strachan is glad he took the time to experiment.

“I wanted things to go smoothly when we brought Charlotte home, so about a day or so beforehand, I checked out the seat again to make sure I remembered how to put her in,” he says.

“I tried putting the belts into the fastener, but no matter how I approached it, the straps always appeared to be twisted. I thought I'd stuffed it up somehow.

“The midwives at the hospital had a baby-sized doll they used for demonstrations. I wound up borrowing it to see if that would make a difference. And it did – the straps folded neatly around the doll. It was totally different when you put something in the seat, which was a massive relief.”

Wake-up call

Finally, whoever ends up being the designated driver should make sure they’re well rested before hitting the streets. New arrivals can cause sleepless nights on end, and tiredness contributes to a large proportion of accidents. If feeling under the weather, have a trusted family member or friend take the wheel, because the roads will seem a different place with your precious cargo aboard.

“Everyone seemed to be driving a lot more aggressively than usual,” says Strachan of the trip.

“In hindsight I don't think they were, it was just after the initial days at the hospital surrounded by flowers and well-wishers, being back on the road was a bit of a shock to the system!”

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