Let's Talk Car Seats!
LET’S TALK CAR SEATS! If you haven’t already, you’re going to be receiving a lot of unsolicited advice during pregnancy, childbirth and mostly those early parenting days. I usually don’t pay too much attention to it, and I try not to offer advice to other parents unless they ask. That being said, there are a few topics I do recommend you lend your ear to and this is one of them! I learned about car seat safety because I was doing all the incorrect and unsafe things, and someone was kind enough to take the time and educate me about proper use and keeping my children safe!
It’s been a few years since I’ve been part of the new parent car seat crew, so I reached out to my community and for the top things they wish they knew about car seats as new parents.
AFTERMARKET PRODUCTS & GENERAL SAFETY INFORMATION
If it did not come with the car seat, it is not safe to use. That means none of those cute car seat strap covers, no extra headrests, no car seat pads or protectors that go between the baby and the car seat, or the baby and the straps. Replacement parts should be ordered through the manufacturer, to ensure you’re receiving a genuine part that is intended for your car seat.
Some car seats to allow the use of a towel or mat between the base of the car seat, and your vehicle seat, but that is manufacturer specific so check your manual or their website for details. Rolle up receiving blankets can be used on the side of your baby, but not over the top of their head, and should go no higher than the ears. You do not want to immobilize their heads as you want them to be able to still naturally turn their heads.
If you have a toddler who is a “blanket snatcher” like mine, you may want a cover that stays on your baby’s car seat. This style is referred to as a shower cap car seat cover and these are safe for use in the vehicle but pull down or unzip the cover while in the vehicle so that your baby does not overheat. This is the product we used for our last baby and loved so much: Skip Hop Winter Car Seat Cover.
CARSEAT INSTALLATION & CPST’S
When my oldest kids were newborns, it was THE THING to take your vehicle and car seat to the Police or Fire station and have them install your car seat or check your installation. That practice has long since passed, and it is no longer recommended unless the Police or Fire station has a certified passenger safety technician (CPST) on staff. I want to emphasize that they should be SHOWING you, a CPST should never do the installation for you. They can show you how to do it, they can walk you through doing it, but ultimately you install your seat with their guidance, and they check your work. If you call your local Police or Fire stations and none staff CPST’s, you can search for a local one here: New Find a CPS Technician SKCMS (cyzap.net)
EXPIRATION DATES Did you know that car seats expire? I certainly did not as a brand-new mom, honestly the thought never even crossed my mind. The typical lifespan for a car seat is seven to 10 years. All manufacturers will print this on a sticker that is affixed to your car seat. This sticker will either show
1. The actual expiration date
2. The date the car seat was manufactured
If your car seat provides the date the seat was manufactured… you’re going to have to do some math. You can find the car seat manufactures lifespan for your seat either in your manual, or on their website- then you can calculate away!
PUFFY JACKETS & CARSEATS DO NOT MIX
Bulky “puffer” jackets or snowsuit type outfits that can be compressed, are not compatible with car seat use. Why? Because during the force of a crash, they are compressed significantly, leaving extra space between the straps and your baby. This will result in improper restraint of your baby, and in some cases allow for your baby to slip or fly out. (SOURCE: Winter Car Seat Safety Tips from the AAP - HealthyChildren.org and The Dangers of Winter Coats and Car Seats - Consumer Reports)
ALTERNATIVES: In addition to the shower cap cover style already mentioned, these are safe alternatives:
SELECTING YOUR SEAT
If you’ve found yourself searching online or standing in the car aisle at your local baby friendly retailer and are feeling overwhelmed- you’re not alone! There are a lot of options from manufacturers to seat types and it can get confusing.
1. An infant seat (also sometimes called a bucket seat) is a rear facing only seat, that comes with a base for ease of carrying a new baby in and out of the vehicle more simplistically. I have many friends who skipped the bucket seat and went straight to the convertible. I don’t like to live on the wild side like that, so I did the infant seat every single time. Plus, that click right into the stroller- heavenly! We did purchase an extra base for my husband’s vehicle, and I made sure we read the manual on how to do a proper “baseless install” with just the seatbelt.
2. A convertible car seat can be used from birth (make sure you check minimum weight limits if you’re going this route) and can be both rear facing and forward facing. Some convertible car seats take it one step further and convert into a booster, although those are not often recommended due children outgrowing the seat limits sooner than in a dedicated booster. Convertible car seats do not have a removable base like an infant seat does, so you must uninstall and reinstall the entire seat if you need to take it out.
3. A booster is a seatbelt positioner, meaning you utilize them with the vehicle seatbelt. There are backless options, and options that start with backs that are removable as the child grows.
EXTENDED REAR FACING “The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommendation that infants and toddlers aged 0–2 years be in a rear-facing child restraint in the vehicle’s rear seat, originally introduced in 2011, has been updated recently (Durbin et al., 2018) to a policy that now recommends children remain rear-facing for as long as allowable by the car seat manufacturer’s guidelines.” Emphasis Added (Source: Restraint use and injury in forward and rear-facing infants and toddlers involved in a fatal motor vehicle crash on a U. S. Roadway | Injury Epidemiology | Full Text (biomedcentral.com)
The car seat laws in most states now requires rear facing for a minimum of two years of age. If you read your car seat manual, you will learn that each car seat manufacturer recommends you max out the height/weight limits of the seat before forward facing your child. Now for some of us, that means you we have a child who rear faces until they’re about 14 years old… I am not saying that needs to be a reality. But I will tell you that my four-year-old is still rear facing and I have no plans to turn him around anytime soon because he is just so much safer. If you’re concerned about what they do with their legs we are facing, a quick Google search will alleviate all your concerns! (SOURCE: Child Passenger Safety: Get the Facts | Transportation Safety | CDC)
LATCH- LOWER ANCHORS AND TETHERS FOR CHILDREN
The LATCH system is going to be found in all vehicles made after September 1, 2002, and it consist of two parts. Lower Anchors and a top tether, both of which are used to secure the seat. Lower anchors can be used rear or forward facing, but they have weight limits, and in the US Top Tethers are mostly used for forward facing only.
As far as safety is concerned, using lower anchors does not make your installation inherently safer, it just makes it more convenient, and it can reduce user installation error. One of the most common misconceptions I deal with is people using both the seatbelt and the lower anchors. While it is logical to think that using both the lower anchor and the seatbelt together would make the installation safer and more secure, the opposite is true. The problem with using both, is that the car seat was not tested with both, and the force of an impact can place stress on areas of the car seat that are not built to withstand that (double) level of stress, leading to failure of your car seat. There are a few seats that do allow use of both, but that’s a whole separate topic for another day.
A top tether should always be used for forward facing car seats and it secures the top of your car seat to the vehicle seat. During a crash, the top tether will keep the car seat “back” an additional four to six inches, which means the car seat (and therefore child) is much less likely to fling forward and hit the back of the seat in front of them.
As a reminder, while lower anchors are either/or (lower anchors/seatbelt), the top tether is always used in combination with the lower anchors or seat belt when forward facing, because it holds the top of the car seat and does not interfere or replace the functionality of the vehicle seatbelt.
FLAME RETARDANT AND TOXIN FREE SEAT OPTIONS
Many parents are opting for car seats made with less toxic materials, as well as flame retardant free.
There are six car seat manufacturers who meet some or both criteria.
Out of all the car seats I’ve used, my favorite car seats are the Nuna pipa, the clek foonf that my 4 year old is still RF in, and the britax one4life which my six and seven-year-old are still currently using!
-Julie P. (Mother of six)
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