You’ve got your new baby, and you’ve got your infant seat. Simple, right? You’ll be safer transporting your baby when you follow these infant car seat safety tips:
1) Install your seat correctly – and tightly. Whether you’re using the LATCH system or a seatbelt to hold the seat or base in the car, check the instructions for your seat and your car. Once installed, the car seat or base should not be able to move or shift more than one inch in any direction.
2) Rear-facing for the first two years. This is a critical aspect that many families do not already know about proper infant car seat safety. Facing backward is the safest position for infants and toddlers to ride in due to their fragile necks and spines. Infant seats, often ranging from 5 lbs to 25 to 40 lbs, can be used for most of the first year. Parents appreciate the portability of the infant car seat, which often can be clicked into a stroller base or carried into the home or car if baby is sleeping. A convertible seat may be used in the rear-facing position if designed for newborns, though you will lose the convenience of portability.
3) Buckle Up Baby! Learn how to quickly tighten and loosen the straps to your infant seat. You’ll get a custom fit each time, and it’s much easier to secure your baby in or take a sleeping baby out of the seat when you’re not trying to fit baby’s arms through tight straps. Chest straps should be snug enough that you can just manage to slip a finger between the strap and baby’s chest.
4) Chest Clip at Armpit Level. By sliding the chest clip up where it belongs (armpit or nipple level), your baby’s body will be held securely in the seat even if the car spins or rolls over. If the chest clip is too low, a baby could slip through the harness at the top and come out of the seat in the case of impact.
5) No bulky clothing under the straps. Puffy jackets, snow suits, or quilted car seat liners make it appear that baby is buckled more tightly, but if baby is compressed into the seat (in the case of a car accident), several inches of movement between the baby and the straps can occur. Instead, dress your baby in thin clothing, buckle up the car seat straps, and then tuck a blanket over the buckled baby, for a safer way to keep baby warm in the seat.
6) Limit time for newborns. Use the infant car seat for transportation, but avoid having your new baby spend lots of extra time in the seat when not necessary. Studies show that young or small babies may have lower oxygen levels than normal when buckled into their seats. Extended time in the car seat can also lead to flat spots on baby’s head.
7) Baby goes in the back. If possible, secure your infant seat in the middle of the back seat, which is the furthest point of impact from all angles. Infant seats can also be installed on either passenger side if necessary: to achieve a better fit, save your back when placing baby in or out of the car, or to accommodate another child’s car seat. Never install an infant seat in the front seat, unless the air bag can be shut off.
8) Baby shouldn’t flop forward. Too much padding behind your baby’s head or shoulders can make the head pitch forward, which restricts breathing. Check the seat or base to make sure the angle isn’t tilting your baby forward, and take out any additional padding (such as a removable horseshoe-shaped “head support”), and instead use rolled receiving blankets, one on each side of your buckled up baby, to keep her head and body comfortably centered.
9) Get a car seat check up. A Child Passenger Safety Technician (CPST) is a trained expert on the installation and usage of car seats for kids of all ages. Free infant car seat safety inspections, often called “checkpoints,” help check installation and provide hands-on education to parents for the safest use of the seat in their vehicles. Before your baby arrives, try installing the seat and then find an infant car seat safety technician or free checkpoint event at NHTSA.gov or at SafeKids.org.
10) Lose the accessories. Most after-market car seat accessories aren’t considered safe because they are not crash-tested with the infant seat, or because they may become flying projectiles in the event of a crash. Some examples are rear-seat mirrors so you can see your baby while driving (very distracting, too) and pull-down window shades that attach with suction cups (cling-film window shades are a safer choice). Loose items such as books, shoes or groceries also become moving projectiles in the event of a crash, so keep any extra items in the trunk or use a cargo net to keep objects secure.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has more detailed information on infant car seat safety for new parents, and each year, releases a simple guide to current car seats on the market.