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Car Seat Safety Confusion {Part 1: Infant Car Seats}

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If I bit my tongue any harder it would bleed. I had to say something.

“I’m sorry,” I said to the stranger standing beside me, “but you know she isn’t buckled correctly right?” I gestured to the sweet baby by her side, asleep in an infant car seat. I braced myself for her to be offended by my intrusion.
“No.” She replied, uncertainty in her voice. “I’m totally new at this stuff. I had no idea…”” I knelt down and showed her how to pull the straps tighter, sliding the chest clip up near baby’s collarbone. She thanked me and smiled.

That young, unaware mom was far from alone. It’s estimated up to 59% of car seats are being used incorrectly. We all want to keep our kids safe, but with changing regulations, conflicting information, and an endless number of seats to choose from its easy to get overwhelmed. deep breath. We’re here to help. Our first installment of Carseat Confusion is focused on infant car seats.  Buckle up and read on!

Which car seat should I choose for my newborn?

Almost everyone goes with the infant carrier or ‘bucket’ style car seat. These seats come with a base that can be installed in your car using either the seatbelt or LATCH system. Once the base is installed you can click the seat in and out of the car quickly and easily, which is really convenient when you’re on the go with baby. You can buy additional bases making it easy to transfer baby between caregiver vehicles.

Are there any other options for newborns?

Yes, although this is a  less common choice. There are convertible car seats on the market with very low minimum weights that are safe for newborns. You may want to consider this if space is at a premium in your car. Remember babies should always be rear-facing and whatever seat you choose needs to be used according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

My baby is the cutest creature on earth. I can’t stand not being able to see her little angelic face while I drive. Can I have her ride in a forward facing position so I can take in every precious moment?

NO. Children need to ride rear-facing until age two or older, as per AAP recommendations and RI state law. (No matter how cute they are.) And avoid the temptation to use one of those “safety mirrors” that you hang in the car so you can see baby while you drive. They can become projectiles in a crash. Your little princess will be just fine out of view for the ten minutes it takes to drive to Starbucks. Promise.

How can I be sure my seat is installed correctly? 

Get it checked by a Child Passenger Safety Tech (CPST); especially if this is your first rodeo. You can also call your local police department, hospital, or even AAA for a seat check.  You can check out Safe Kids Worldwide to find a CPST in your area as well as Safe Kids events near you. (But try installing it on your own first. It builds character.)

Help! Choice overload. Which one should I get?

Here’s the bottom line: any legitimate car seat will protect your child in a crash as long as it has been installed correctly and is being used according to the manufacturer’s guidelines. You need to decide which is best for you based on your budget, vehicle size, and personal preferences. No matter which you choose, be sure to fill out the registration card so you’ll be notified of any future recalls affecting your seat. Not sure if you actually did that? You can also register online and find a list of all the recent recalls here.

My seat is used or expired. Does that matter?

Yes, it matters.  A used car seat might save you a few bucks, but it’s important to know the history of the seat. Car seats need to be destroyed (the best way to do this is to cut the straps) and disposed of after a crash because the impact compromises the integrity of seat and it could fail to protect your little one in a second crash. The same goes for expiration dates. Over time the plastic deteriorates, becoming brittle, meaning an expired seat might not do its job in a worst-case scenario. (Expiration dates can be found printed on the bottom or side of every car seat.) So if your sister has a gently used infant seat that is not expired, and she can vouch that it’s never been in a crash, then go green and reuse it! But if you’re not sure, be safe and get a new one.

How can I be sure my infant is buckled correctly?

First, you want to make sure that the shoulder straps are at or below your baby’s shoulder level, not above.  The lower buckle should be snug against baby’s diaper. Make sure both the lower buckle and chest clip are fastened,  straps pulled snug, and the chest clip is resting just below the collarbone. There should be no extra slack when pinching the shoulder straps vertically. You can find a more detailed description with pictures here.  Reminder: winter coats are NEVER safe in a car seat. (Even if you open the coat and zip it over the straps.) Use a blanket to keep your little one both warm and safe instead.

What other car seat questions do you have? We want to get you some answers! Let us know in the comments.

Disclaimer: nothing in this post should be taken as legal or medical advice. Please consult your pediatrician, car seat’s safety manual, and local laws regarding your child’s car seat and follow their recommendations to the letter.

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