Car Seat Safety: What You Should Know Before Bringing Baby Home
There’s a moment that every new parent faces after the birth of their child, the moment when you realize that it’s your job to keep this tiny human safe. For many parents, that starts the instant they decide to go anywhere in a car with their new baby. The idea of putting that tiny little thing in that car seat can be overwhelming, so we’re here to help unravel all the things you need to know about car seat safety.
Road injuries cause 70% of deaths in children, yet half of car seats are improperly installed. Taking some time to research the proper kind of car seat, how to install it, and what your baby should be wearing is vitally important.
It’s important to note here that car seat safety has changed a lot in even as little as a decade. What was safe when you were born is no longer the gold standard, and there’s been a lot of changes in how to transport a baby and what they should be wearing. Make sure anyone who is transporting your baby understands how to properly buckle up baby for the ride!
When purchasing a car seat, be sure to research safety ratings, read the manual, and do plenty of practice runs taking it in and out of your car. Most communities have events or resources to set up a car seat check. This is something that we would recommend to anyone who will be frequently transporting your child and can be done before the baby is born.
Events are generally free and can be set up through your hospital, birth center, or a local fire department, or you can check SafeKids.Org. This process is comprehensive, and if you are a first-time parent, you may be shocked at the complexity of installing a car seat correctly!
Be sure to check the expiration date (yes, car seats have expiration dates!) and never use a car seat that has been in an accident, even if it looks untouched, because damage may be undetectable to the eye. Register your seat so that you are notified of any recalls.
Newborns will always need to be in a rear-facing seat and should continue to be rear-facing until they are at least two years old AND weigh 20 pounds. You may need to purchase a second seat or a seat that is “convertible,” meaning that it can be used rear-facing or forward-facing if your child outgrows a seat before they can turn be turned around. Once forward-facing, your child should continue to use a five-point harness until they are at least 4 years old AND weighs 40 pounds.
When you leave the hospital with your baby, you need to be sure that baby is secure in the seat. The harness straps should be in the correct slots, and when the baby is rear-facing, they should go through the car seat at or below the baby’s shoulders.
When your child is forward-facing, the straps should go through the car seat at or above their shoulders. The straps should be tight enough that you can’t pinch any extra material, and the clip should be in line with the baby’s armpits.
Use only what was purchased with the car seat because the manufacturer tested the car seat with those additional pieces only. Check your manual to see what positions the handle can be in and whether or not you can add a pad or a towel to protect your car seat. Any toys, clips, or mirrors can become projectiles in an accident, so be sure that they are secured at all times. It may be fun to have a mirror and watch your sweet little one as you travel but the best place for your eyes is on the road!
Where the belt passes through the seat is called the pathway, and it can loosen over time. Check to be sure that you cannot move the seat more than an inch from side to side at that pathway.
Do not put your baby in a jacket or snowsuit because this can compress during an accident and the harness that appeared tight will leave a large gap, putting your baby at risk of being thrown from the safety of the seat. You can always dress a baby in layers, warm up the car before putting the baby in the car, or use a blanket to tuck over them. A blanket is safe to use only after your baby is snugly and correctly buckled in.
Some car seat manufacturers will offer buntings that go around the car seat with a space for the baby’s face to peek through. These are considered safe as long as the baby’s face is not covered, and the bunting is placed on after the baby is secured; nothing can be under the baby. It’s also good to note that it can invalidate your car seat warranty if you buy an after-market bunting so read your car seat’s manual.
Wherever you go, we wish you safe travels and healthy homecomings!