The Car-Seat Test
When can the baby go home?
I strongly encourage loved ones of preemie families to not ask this question. The discharge of a preemie from the hospital isn't a single event, but a process. It’s a longer process for some than others and the truth is that there is no way of knowing when discharge day will be. There is a whole checklist of items that must be complete before a baby is sent home. One of those items is the car seat test, where the baby is placed in the seat and attached to a monitor that evaluates the heart and breathing.
A preemie often does not have the muscle control needed to keep their head upright or to move it if they are having trouble breathing. Many car seats even need to be modified by the NICU so that the baby’s head stays in a position that keeps the airway open. It is usually recommended that parents limit car seat time to only an hour. Some babies have respiratory conditions that prevent them from traveling in a traditional infant car seat and they must use a special restraint system.
I’ll never forget that first ride home. Flynn was still so unbelievably tiny at just four pounds, and seeing him in the outside world made him look even smaller. I’d never been so panicked as I was in that car that day and was so relieved when we pulled into the driveway. Most parents probably worry about the dangers of being in a car, but I was so nervous that he would stop breathing. We finally made it home.