The Baby Car Seat Basics

Let’s do something different with this post. Let’s pretend we’re seated in a classroom with those plastic “school” seats with metal supports. Let’s pretend I’m at the chalkboard, acting as “teacher.” Let’s pretend I’m standing in front of a green chalkboad that’s recently been washed with chalky-water and an old sponge.

Are you there with me?

Good.

Let’s begin.

Welcome, new parents. Welcome to Parenting 101: Car Seat Basics. Today, I’m going to share with you the basics that you need to know about buying and using a car seat with your new baby.

Yes, along with baby shower registries and baby names and paint choices, one more very important thing that must hover over your parenting radar is the car seat—how your baby sits in it, whether it fits, and how it’s installed in your car. So, the basics. Here are the five basics that you need to know:

Get a quality car seat. The best way to find a good, quality car seat is to check reviews and ask around. Given the importance of this piece of baby gear, you want to make sure that you get the best. Used car seats are never okay! Let me repeat that. NEVER ever buy a used car seat! You don’t know where it has been or if it has been in an accident. Even if it looks perfect, you have no idea how the plastic or the inner parts have been compromised if it was in an accident. Your child’s safety is never worth a used car seat.

Go for a rear facing car seat. It is recommended by the AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) that your baby ride in a rear facing car seat until they are at least 24 months old. Rear facing car seats are safest and protect against head and spinal cord injuries that could result more easily in front facing car seats. When looking for a rear facing seat, look for one with: a) an adjustable crotch strap, b) at least two shoulder strap heights, and c) a harness adjuster that’s easy to use and reach.

Keep it in the back. Your baby should always ride in the back seat. For safety reasons, the center back seat is safest, but any seat position in the back is safer than the front. If your baby must ride in the front seat (i.e., if you have a pick up truck), turn the air bag off and push the front seat as far back as it will go. Putting your child’s car seat in the front is a very, very last resort. We don’t recommend it.

Attend a class. Even though it may seem like a total waste of time, you really should go to a car seat safety class. These classes can be found through your OBGYN or midwife, your hospital, or online.

Install it right. How you install your car seat matters. Trust me on this one. Read the actual instructions (you know, that booklet that came in the box – or usually attached to the seat) that came with your car seat and do it right! If you have any reservation that you didn’t or cannot install the seat 100% correctly, I beg you to take the seat to your local fire station, police station or car seat check. They are experts at installing car seats.

When installing, make sure that the LATCH attachments or the seat belt actually hold your car seat tightly (i.e., you should not be able to shift the car seat base side-to-side or front-to-back more than 1″). The buckle and harness should fit snugly over your baby’s body and the chest clip should be across the chest and even with the baby’s armpits.

These are just a few of the baby car seat basics. Again, we beg you to take your car seat to a certified car seat expert (fire station etc) if you have any doubt of your installation skills whatsoever.

Comments

  1. Jennifer in MD says

    You missed my pet-peeve of car seats, so I would like to add that the straps on a carseat should be snug to the child!!!!! (I TAUGHT car seat safety for a while, so I promise this is important.)
    EXAMPLE: Who cares if you have the safest carseat, installed correctly, in the back and middle, etc if your infant won’t be in the car seat when the accident is over. If you can’t safely lay your infant carrier on it’s side when your baby is strapped in, they probably aren’t strapped in tight enough for the potential roll-over car accident.
    HOW TO CHECK: When your child is buckled in how you would normally drive… if you can pinch strap it’s too loose. With an infant, if you can side more than 2 fingers (this is about the size of their whole hand) under the straps at the shoulders it’s still too loose.
    PERSPECTIVE: Worried tight is uncomfortable? When in the womb your child had very little room but was very safe. They will adjust, if they are older it may take some time but it’s worth their life for a week of whining. Consider that the loose strap could result in the child strangling or shifting during an accident. 9 out of 10 infants I see in carseats aren’t strapped in tight enough! The adjustment strap has been moved to the feet area of most car seats so you can loosen and tighten EVERY time you put your child in. It allows for that safe-snug fit with the ease of buckling while straps are loose.

    EXPIRATION: Car seats expire… Retire them when they expire! Have you ever had an old plastic toy break with just a little force, like a shovel and bucket you take to the beach? Car seats are stored/used (in the car) under very harsh conditions. It’s not 70s all the time but temperatures can range from winter freeing (maybe below zero) to sun baked summer >140 it really wears out plastic. Expiration is usually about 5 years from date of manufacture, so seats can be reused for your next kid but not forever. (Look for it on a sticker or engraved in the bottom of every seat.) Imagine that brittle plastic toy, like the bucket and shovel from the beach… fine for years and then it snaps the first use one summer…. now imagine that brittle subtly weak plastic trying to save your child as the car rolls into a ditch.

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