Buying or putting a car seat on your baby registry is a no-brainer. And of course we all know that they come with user manuals, so installation and use should be easy-peasy, right?
But according to Safe Kids Worldwide,
SEVENTY THREE PERCENT of car seats are not used or installed correctly.
So...clearly, most of us need some help!
Back in the day, before Aly knew anything about car seat safety.
I’ll admit: with our first baby, we, like most parents, didn’t think there was much to figuring out a car seat. But while replacing our infant seat after our daughter outgrew it, I was horrified to realize that the base piece was never once properly secured in our car; and as you can see from the photo below, the chest harness was nowhere near her chest.
She looks less than impressed with our lack of car seat knowledge!
I’ve thankfully learned a lot about proper car seat safety in the last year as I’ve continued to network with trained and certified professionals on this topic. But it wasn’t that long ago that I didn’t know any better either.
So I get it.
And you know, I normally can't stand receiving unsolicited advice, especially from strangers. I'm one of those people.
But unlike many parenting choices out there, car seat safety isn't just another 'parental preference' thing; there really is a right and wrong way to do it that could mean life or death (or serious injury) to your child in the event of a car crash.
And doing it the right way can reduce the risk of death for your child by 71%.
So what do you need to know?
Decide On A Car Seat
As I'm sure you've experienced, there is a plethora of options when shopping for all things baby, and this certainly doesn't exclude car seats.
Taking note of just a few things can help you get started without getting too overwhelmed...
Size /Model of Your Vehicle
Check out your car manual to learn about its specific car seat features.
Some stores like Babies R Us and Target will allow you to do a test-installation in your car to make sure it's a good fit for your vehicle, and either hold your license as collateral or send out an employee to help you. Call stores ahead of time to find out if this service is available.
And whether you shop/buy in-store or online, be aware of what the return policies are so you aren't left paying for and owning a car seat you can't use.
Ease of Transportation in First Few Months
Depending on the model of seat you purchase, getting your newborn to and from your car may look a little different.
If you want a detachable carrier to tote your baby to and from your vehicle, an infant car seat is the way to go.
If you want to potentially save a little money and storage space, and don't mind giving up the convenience of infant seats mentioned above, starting off with a convertible car seat may be better suited for you.
All-in-one car seats sound great because they can last you from the newborn stage until about age 10; but be aware that certain crash tests have shown that by trying to do it all, they don't hold up to any one safety standard very well.
Once you've chosen your car seat, read its manual, and installed it into your vehicle, take the extra safety precaution of meeting with a Certified Passenger Safety Technician (CPST). S/he is trained to look everything over to ensure that your seat is properly secured and installed for your child's maximum protection.
Safely Securing Your Child in a Car Seat
The two most common mistakes parents make when putting their child in their car seat are
1) Having the chest clip malpositioned
2) Keeping the straps too loose
The Car Seat Lady shows in the videos below how to remedy these two mistakes; and how to properly place both an infant and a toddler in their car seats (along with other helpful car seat safety tips).
Infant Car Seat Safety
Properly Buckling in a Toddler
Last month, Huffington Post wrote about one mom who posted this side-by-side photo of "Mr. Bones Safety" that shows exactly why the placement of the chest clip is so important.
As you can see, when the chest harness is placed properly over the breastbone (at armpit level) instead of lower down across the belly, the child is protected from suffering serious injuries to vital abdominal organs in the event of a crash.
Likewise, you can see in the first photo that Mr Bones' straps have slack, and therefore he isn't properly restrained closely to the seat. This can lead to more of a jolted-stop restraint in an accident, which could cause significant bodily trauma.
Rear-Facing vs Forward-Facing
& How Long to Use a Car Seat
As of 2011, general guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics advises:
This video demonstrates why keeping your child rear-facing as long as possible is so crucial to his safety:
Forward Facing vs Rear Facing in Car Crash
Many parents are unaware that the AAP also recommends that most children should be in some form of car/booster seat until age 10-12.
I know...that might seem over-the-top. Overly cautious, maybe. Plus, why give your pre-teen another reason to be embarrassed by you, right?
But it's important to remember that children's bodies have a lot of growing and maturing to do until they can be safely left to a seat belt alone, like an adult. Keeping them in a booster until they are really ready to graduate from it gives them maximum safety in a collision.
The Car Seat Lady comes to the rescue with the following helpful graphic to show why this guideline is in place.
Finally, the AAP advises that backseat riding only should be practiced for children under the age of 13.
Some Final Safety Tips
Don’t let your child, even your newborn, sleep in their car seat if you are not IN your car. It may seem more convenient to leave them there, but newborns especially have limited neck control, so if their sleeping position obstructs their airway, they are at risk for breathing problems or even death.
Unless additional car seat items (like cushions and head stabilizers) are approved by your car seat’s manufacturer, avoid using them. It’s hard to know which of these items will impede on the efficiency of the seat or not.
Do not buy used car seats, even if they have yet to reach their expiration date. You cannot be 100% certain that it hasn’t been involved in a crash or know its full history or use. Your baby’s life is worth spending the extra money for a new seat. Furthermore, if your car seat is involved in a crash, it should be replaced with a new one immediately.
Bulky clothing should be avoided when a child is in his car seat. The extra fluff and layers will keep the straps from being the proper tightness and therefore interfere with the child’s safety. Instead, during colder months, dress your child in a few layers of very thin and tighter-fitting pieces, and use blankets over top of your child once he is buckled in.
Remember: when we know better, we do better.
We hope this information is helpful - and in the event of a crash, offers your child the protection we know you want to give him.
Pass the message on to all you know and love!
A huge thanks to Kathleen Rucka of Hampton Roads Doulas for being such an inspiration to me on this important issue. You can read her blog on car seat safety here.