Many celebrity parents have been publicly admonished by the self-appointed car seat police. Some have even vowed to never again post a picture of their child in a car seat because there are so many rules to follow that there’s no possible way to ace the test. As more information has become available, car seat safety laws have become more detailed and the seats themselves safer. Unfortunately, many parents find themselves confused when it comes to what type of car seat to buy and how to properly secure their child into it.
According to www.saferide4kids.com anywhere from 72% to 84% of child restraints show critical misuses. I remember going to register for baby items when I was pregnant with my first child. I had absolutely no idea what I was supposed to get and the sales people were largely uninformed. Here’s what I’ve learned since then:
- What types of car seats to get: You can technically use a convertible car seat for your newborn but you’ll probably find the infant carrier to be more user friendly. Your baby can ride in an infant carrier until they reach the maximum allowed size for the seat, which varies depending on the make and model, but is usually around 9 to 18 months. After that, you’ll need a big kid car seat, sometimes referred to as a convertible car seat. This will remain rear-facing (as was your infant seat) until after your child’s second birthday. Keep them in this forward-facing harness seat until they’ve outgrown it. Again, this varies by product (so keep that manual!) but it generally happens between the ages of 4 to 8 when your child is at least 35 inches (89 centimeters) tall and no less than 40 pounds (18 kilograms). At this point they can switch to the booster seat.
- What car seat accessories not to get: I took 2 classes from Safety in Motion, a local car seat safety organization in Southern California that offers classes and will come out and install your car seats properly, for a fee. I was informed that many of the cute, aftermarket car seat accessories are unsafe and compromise the functionality of the seat. The soft head cradles, the fluffy strap wraps, even the mirrors so the driver can see the baby’s face are considered to be unsafe. Save your money and maintain the integrity of the seat. You don’t need these items.
- How to place a newborn in the car seat: Make sure your baby is dressed properly so that they can separate their legs to be buckled in. No fluffy coats. If it’s very cold, dress your baby in no more than 3 thin layers and keep them warm with blankets tucked securely around and under them only after they are properly buckled in. Make sure their bottom is all the way back in the seat. Once all the buckles are fastened, begin to tighten the straps. Pull the slack from the sides of the thighs and up so all of the slack is above the baby’s shoulders. Gently tighten until only one of your fingers can fit between the baby’s collar bone and the strap. Adjust the chest clip so that it sits nicely between the baby’s under arms. The most common mistake I see amongst my friends is a chest clip that is too low. Once you know the proper name for it, it’s easier to remember the proper placement.
The good news is that there are many great resources out there to help us decomplicate the car seat business. There’s a YouTube channel called The Car Seat Lady and if you’ve lost your manual, you can most likely find a copy of it online. There are also many video tutorials for installation online if you have any doubts.
If you realize you’ve been doing it all wrong, don’t beat yourself up. Even Prince William made crucial errors when taking his firstborn home from the hospital in a car seat (he was buckled in while swaddled – gasp!). Good luck, you can do it!