It’s a well-known fact that of a parent’s numerous duties, two of “the big ones” are teaching their children and keeping their children safe. That second one is often much more complicated than it really needs to be.
At one point or another, every parent has purchased a car seat, looked at the straps and stickers and whatnot, and wondered, at least for a moment, “what the heck am I supposed to do with this thing?” For those of us that are still wondering, the information in this article should be useful.
Car seats for infants are always rear-facing.
Because Baby’s bones are still soft and his muscles aren’t strong enough to deal with supporting his weight in the case of an impact, it’s important that the frame of the car seat is in a position to support Baby’s body. This means that if there were to be an impact, Baby is pushed into the car seat, rather than out of it.
This is also why car seat manufacturers have strict rules about what sort of cushions or blankets should be between Baby and the seat or between Baby and the harness that holds him. When in doubt, leave it out until you can look it up.
The car seat must be properly secured before baby is buckled in.
A car seat, like a bassinet, stroller, or high chair – should be purchased before Baby arrives. Make sure you have enough time to get familiar with the car seat, how it works and how to get it in and out of your car (or, if it’s a convertible or 3-in-1 model, how to put it in your car and leave it there).
Car seats can be secured either with the seat belt, or with the anchor (“LATCH”) system. Either one is safe, and one might be easier to use in your car. Some car seat manufacturers specify that only one method should be used – either the seat belt or the anchors, but not both. This is because in the case of an impact, the two systems will pull on the car seat in different ways. This might damage the car seat and prevent it from protecting Baby as well as it should. With that in mind, just use the system that’s easiest for you to operate in your car.
In addition, when buckling Baby into his new car seat, you’ll want to make sure the straps that hold him in are snug. Make sure the shoulder straps are slightly below the top of his shoulders when he’s sitting in the car seat, so the strap hooks up and over his shoulders, holding him snug against the back of the seat. This will make sure the pressure of an impact is distributed to the sections of Baby’s body most capable of dealing with the force without hurting him.
The weight limit is VERY important.
In some car seat safety courses, the instructor will tell you that weight is even more important than length/height in child seat safety. This is because Baby can bend his legs if his feet touch the back of the seat, and there is little or no pressure put on the legs during an impact.
On the other hand, if Baby’s weight is higher than the limit the car seat is designed for, the pressure of that extra weight might damage the car seat and prevent it from protecting Baby the way it should. With this in mind, we recommend paying close attention to the weight limit on Baby’s car seat, and upgrading or converting the car seat once Baby has reached the maximum weight limit for his seat. (Convertible and 3-in-1 seats tend to have a higher weight limit than the rear-facing only seats, but lack carrying handles.)
Car seats have expiration dates.
This was a surprise for many folk attending a car seat safety class for the first time. Each car seat includes an expiration date, which predicts at what point the natural degradation of the plastic might begin to affect how well it could stand up to significant impact. For this reason, it’s generally better to buy car seats new, rather than used. This expiration date counts down from the manufacture date, not the date of purchase, since it’s tied to how old the plastic is, not how long it’s been in use.
In sum – car seats are complicated, but if you have the right information and time to make yourself familiar with it, then your car seat will keep your baby safe, comfortable, and healthy for a very long time. You can find more information on car seat safety here, and we encourage new or expecting parents to enroll in classes and seek out resources either online or in person.