Being new parents, it’s natural for you to be scared and a little nervous the first time you put your baby in a car seat and drive toward home. Car seat laws have been in place for several years. In the beginning, car seats were somewhat universal and were, for the most part, front facing. Car seats were one size fits all and children stayed in the same seat for a year or longer and then were transferred to a booster seat. In addition to overall baby safety, one of the biggest problems was being able to secure a newborn into a seat that it would eventually grow into. Now, there are as many car seats as there are sizes of babies and stages of growth. It’s still important to practice safe driving and learn as much about car seats as you can.
Setup When Leaving the Hospital
It’s essential for car seat safety to make sure your new car seat is properly installed before you ever secure your baby inside it. More than half of car seats are installed incorrectly by first-time parents. Most hospitals will install a new car seat for you when you are ready to take your newborn home. You can also visit a nearby fire department. One of the firemen will be glad to install your car seat for you.
Car seats designed for newborns fit snugly around their bodies and prevent them from sliding or moving around once the car is in motion. While it isn’t a law, most hospitals have a policy in place that requires its nurses to check the baby’s car seat to ensure that it has been properly installed. There are a few tips you can use to ensure the car seat is properly installed. They include:
- Can’t pinch a horizontal fold near the child’s collarbone
- Chest clips rest at armpit level
- No visible slack
- Snug and secure at the hips
Type of Car Seat
Today, there are many types of car seats to choose from. Rear facing car seats are designed to protect children two years of age and younger. Front facing car seats are designed to accommodate the more active toddler who meets the height and weight requirements. Some car seats are adjustable so that they can be used through several stages of a child’s development. Baby safety is a top priority. It’s important to know what size car seat you need to purchase if you plan on upgrading after your child grows out of the one they are in. Until a child reaches a specific height and weight or has reached the age of 2, they must remain in a rear facing car seat.
Rear vs Front Facing
Rear facing seats were developed for newborns, infants, and toddlers to prevent them from being ejected from the seat in the event of a collision. Until a child reaches the recommended height and weight requirements put in place by the manufacturer, children should be placed in a rear facing car set for maximum safety.
Front facing car seats are designed for toddlers, 2 years of age and above who meet or exceed the height and weight requirements. Many of these seats are adjustable and can be taken apart and used as a booster seat when the child is old enough to be transitioned out of a traditional car seat.
Height & Weight
As your child grows, they may be able to transition from one car seat to another. Each car seat has specific recommendations for height, weight, and age. Before you put your child in a larger seat, make sure they meet all of the requirements. You will have to adjust the straps of the harness to ensure a snug fit. While the height and weight requirements may vary from seat to seat, the age is normally universal. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children 2 and under should be placed in a rear-facing car seat until they reach the necessary height and weight to be moved up to the next size seat.
- Infant carriers – up to 22 pounds
- Baby/toddler – 20-pound minimum, at least 12-months, rear-facing until 2 years, 35 to 50 pound maximum
- Toddler – Front facing, 45 pounds and above
- Booster seat – until at least 4’9″, 8 to 12 years old
There are several questions you can ask to determine whether or not your child is ready to transition from a car seat to a booster seat. They include:
- Is the child sitting all the way to the back of the seat?
- Are the knees able to bend easily over the edge of the car seat?
- Does the belt lie comfortably between the child’s shoulder and neck?
- Does the lap belt lie comfortably over the hips so that it touches the thighs?
- Can the child ride comfortably for long distances?
Knowing how to properly buckle your child into their car seat is a must. At the hospital, you will be shown how to buckle your child in and adjust the straps so that they fit snugly and securely. Harnesses and straps will need to be adjusted frequently to ensure that your child hasn’t loosened them or that they haven’t outgrown them. If at all possible, remove any bulky jackets or outerwear prior to putting your child in the car seat. Not only will it be confining for the child, it will also prevent the straps from securing properly.
Buckling the car seat into the car properly is also important. Many have an anchor hook that needs to be attached to the vehicle. Most car manufacturers have attached these hooks behind the backseat in cars and on the back of seats in pick-ups and SUVs. When securing the car seat with a seat belt, you need to make sure that the belt is guided through the correct opening and then pulled tight to ensure that the car seat will not shift or become loose when the vehicle is in motion.
Every car seat has an expiration date stamped on it to prevent it from becoming worn or damaged due to overuse or simply being set aside after your child has outgrown it. The expiration date will vary depending on the manufacturer. It’s also important to note that if the car seat is in a vehicle during a crash, it can no longer be used. Even if the car seat does not appear to be damaged, the accident may have compromised one or more of its components rendering it ineffective at protecting your child during a collision.
Car safety is just one way you can protect your child while you are driving. Using the appropriate car seat is another. Taking the time to learn about a car seat before you buy it is the best way to protect your child while you are on the road. Car seat manufacturers provide you with much of the information you need to make an informed choice. If you have questions, always call and make sure you get the answers you need before strapping your child into a new seat.