As a certified Child Passenger Safety Technician (CPST) and childbirth and early parenting educator at Baby+Company, I chat with parents daily about baby gear, infant car seat recommendations, safety concerns, and what’s “best.”
When it comes to infant car seat safety, there are some best practices that ensure the safest ride for your baby. If you read anything about car seat safety on the internet or listen to news reports, a common refrain is that upwards of 70% of car seats are installed and/or used incorrectly. That leaves a lot of room for improvement in our safety practices. Below, read about areas where I often see errors in usage, and how to avoid or correct them!
- Seat Selection
Parents regularly ask me “what’s the best car seat?” The answer is—-the one that best fits your child, that you can install tightly in your vehicle and use correctly every time you ride. Every car seat sold on the market must meet the minimum safety standards set forth by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. There’s a huge range in pricing, from an infant seat for $50 to more than $300. The inexpensive seats provide the necessary protection for baby in the event of a crash. The more expensive seats provide that same minimum protection, and many of those seats go above and beyond the minimum requirements to include increased side-impact protection, steel frames, anti-rebound bars, extra padding, high-end fabrics, and more. Often, the more expensive the seat, the more convenience and extra features it will provide. Many families settle on a seat somewhere in the middle of that price-and-features range. You can find seat recommendation and “best of” lists on several reliable websites, listed below in our “resources” section.
- Rear Facing Only (Infant Seat) Seat Installation
First and foremost, you absolutely must read the owner’s manual for the car seat, and reference the car seat/child passenger section of your vehicle owner’s manual.
When I check installation of car seats for parents before their babies are born, one of the most common errors I see is that they’ve installed the LATCH clips AND the seat belt to secure the infant seat base into the back seat. Unless you own a very rare kind of infant seat, you do not use both the LATCH clips and the seat belt—it’s just one or the other.
Another common error is that families that secure that infant base with a seat belt neglect to lock the seat belt. In a crash scenario, an unlocked seat belt would allow too much movement in the seat base, and could lead to crash injuries. Different seat belts lock in different ways—refer to your vehicle owner’s manual for direction, and get your work double-checked by a CPST!
Whether you use the LATCH clips or a seat belt to install that infant car seat base, once installation is complete, the base should not move more that one inch side-to-side along the belt/LATCH path near the backrest of the vehicle seat. Often times, in order to get the base installed tightly, you’ll need to press down firmly on the base with your hand or knee while tightening the LATCH or seat belt.
- Buckling baby in for the ride
When you’re ready to buckle in that sweet little baby for his or her first ride—and all rides thereafter—take the time to make sure baby is securely fastened every time. Here are some key things to look for:
—Chest clip is at armpit level, sitting over the sternum (breastbone)—Shoulder straps are AT or BELOW baby’s shoulder—You cannot pinch strap webbing at shoulders
New parents have so many things to consider and remember in those early days. Check “car seat safety” off your list by scheduling a no-cost appointment with a CPST near you. We can check your installation, make corrections and recommendations, and help you learn how to use your seat in the proper way, every time. Go to safekids.org to search for a CPST in your area—often at hospitals, fire stations, and police stations.
If you’re in Nashville, email me at email@example.com to schedule a car seat check appointment!
Photos by Kalimana Film Stories www.kalimana.com.
To learn more, check out these resources: