According to some estimates, more than 90% of parents do not install or use car seats correctly. Here’s what you need to know to keep your baby safe.
You know why it is so important to put your baby in the car seat no matter how long the journey takes: car accidents are one of the leading causes of injury and death in children, and most occur less than 40 kilometers from the house (and not, as is often believed, on motorways).
An accident, even at 30 miles per hour, creates as much force as falling from a three-story window. But using a infant car seat safety – especially the first time – can be tricky. How do you know it is installed correctly? And how can you protect your newborn’s flexible head? Here’s everything you need to know to make sure you’re using your little one’s car seat as safely as possible.
Types of car seats for infants
There are three types of car seats that you can use with your baby:
- Infant car seat. This small portable seat (sometimes part of a stroller system) has a carrying handle and a separate base that must be left in the car. (If you have more than one vehicle, you can purchase additional bases for most car seats.) It is designed for infants and babies weighing up to around 22 to 40 pounds, depending on the model, and is intended to be used only in the rear-face position. Most babies outgrow babies 9 to 18 months of age. At that time, you will need to provide your baby with a convertible or all-in-one car seat.
- Convertible car seat : With a higher height and weight limit (up to 40 to 60 pounds), this seat can be used longer in the rear-facing position and can then be used in the forward-facing position. Only problem: the adjustment of a convertible seat may be slightly less safe for a newborn. So, if you choose this model, make sure your baby fits it perfectly.
- All-in-one car seat (3 in 1). An all-in-one seat can be transformed from a rear-facing car seat into a front-facing car seat and finally a booster seat. Just make sure yours is designed for use with babies (not all are). The downside is that it does not have a carrying handle or a separate base. And as it is bigger, in addition to ensuring that your newborn fits him perfectly, you will need to consult his manual to make sure that the seat fits your car model.
There are also two types of harnesses; you will want to opt for the 5-point harness because it guarantees that baby remains the safest:
- 5-point harness: All new car seats these days are designed with a 5-point harness because it offers the most protection points. The harness belts attach to the seat at five separate points: two above the shoulders, two on each side of the baby’s hips and one between the baby’s legs.
- 3-point harness: older harnesses may have straps that attach to the seat at only three points: two above each of the baby’s shoulders and one between the baby’s legs.
How to install a car seat properly
Regardless of the vehicle or car model you have, there are three important rules you should always follow when installing an infant car seat:
Place the car seat on the back seat. The safest place for your baby is always in the back – preferably in the middle, away from the passenger air bags. If your car does not install a car seat correctly, place the seat on each side of the rear seat (or, if you are driving an SUV, in the second row). Only one place where you should never put a car seat: in the front seat. In the event of an accident (even a minor one), the passenger airbag could open and seriously injure your baby. (Please note: all children under the age of 13 belong to the back seat.)
Face it backwards. Experts, including the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), urge parents to keep children in a rear-facing position for as long as possible, until they reach the highest height or weight limit allowed by their seat. The AAP updated its car seat safety guidelines in 2018 to omit the child’s age as a milestone for switching to a forward-facing seat (previously the group used age 2 as a parameter, but also urged parents to respect the size and weight of their specific car seat). Why is it so important to keep your child facing back as long as possible? Facing backward provides the best protection for the head, neck and spine of an infant or young child. Infants and other small children are 71% less likely to be fatally injured in a car accident if they are facing backwards.
Make sure the base is securely attached. A car seat must not swing, swivel, slide or tip. If it moves more than an inch forward or to the side, it is too loose. You will know that a rear-facing infant seat is installed tight enough if, when you hold the top edge of the car seat and try to push it down, the seat back stays firmly in place at the same angle .
How to properly put a baby in a car seat
Ready to hit the road? We have some safety tips to keep in mind:
- Dress your baby comfortable and convenient. Because the straps of the harness go between the legs of a baby, dress it with pants, leggings or tights that allow you to highlight it.
- Adjust the seat to a 45 degree angle. If the car seat is too flat, your baby can slip through the straps; too straight and his head may fall too far forward and make it difficult for him to breathe. That’s why all rear-facing seats have built-in angle adjusters or indicators, so check yours. Your baby’s head should be at least 2 inches below the top of the car seat. Once your baby is older and has more head control, he can sit at a more right angle.
- Make sure the baby’s head is secure. Even at a 45 degree angle, you will want to keep a baby’s head from swinging. Most baby seats have special padded inserts to secure the baby’s head; Otherwise, garnish the sides and area around your baby’s head and neck with a well-rolled blanket. And never use inserts that do not come with the car seat; not only will this void the warranty, but it could make your baby unsafe.
- Adjust the harness to fit your baby. One of the biggest mistakes parents make is not adjusting the harness correctly. The straps of a rear-facing safety seat should be at or below your baby’s shoulders. Use the retaining clips attached to the harness strap and attach them at armpit level, with the harness clip in the center of your child’s chest, to prevent the straps from slipping off your baby’s shoulders. The straps should be flat and untwisted and should be tight enough so that you cannot place more than two fingers between your baby’s harness and collarbone. (If they’re too tight and pinch your baby, she’ll let you know!)
- Use rolled up blankets if the baby is soft. Many newborn babies are slumped on one side of the seat. In this case, place a rolled towel or blanket on each side of your baby’s shoulders. Only use specially designed supports if they are supplied with your car seat. And never put padding under your baby, as this can affect the safety of the harness.
- Also put on toys. The last thing you need when I’m about to drive you is to drop her love. So, attach toys to your unique car seat with plastic links or very short cords, or get one of these activity centers specially designed for a car seat. Also, go for lint, so if you have to stop briefly, it’s less likely to hurt her.
Should children wear a jacket in a car seat?
You should never tie your baby to their car seat in a jacket or snow suit. Because they add an extra layer between your baby and the harness, bulky winter clothing can make it difficult to tighten the harness straps. Instead, cover the baby’s body with a blanket on top of his secure car seat.
Is it safe for a baby to sleep in a car seat?
Properly secured car seats are designed to be perfectly safe for a supervised nap during a short drive. However, you should never, never rely on your baby’s car seat as a place to take a nap. A 2015 article in The Journal of Pediatrics warned that car seats are not intended to be used for unattended sleep – and that babies who are allowed to nap in their car seats risk dying from strangulation or suffocation. Remember: the only safe place to sleep is on his back, in his crib.
Can I use the car seat in a shopping cart?
Many infant car seats can lock into shopping carts, which is safe, but also potentially dangerous. The weight of the baby and the car seat makes the basket heavier and more likely to tip. So be very careful when placing your baby’s car seat on a cart (or, as recommended by the AAP, use a sling, baby carrier or stroller for optimal safety when shopping).
And on flights?
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recommends using a child safety seat in flight (attached with the airplane seat belt) until the age of 4. Most convertible, forward-facing infant seats are certified for use on aircraft.
When can I place car seat facing the road?
The AAP recommends that children remain in the rear-facing position as long as possible, until they reach the highest height and weight limit of their seat. The group no longer suggests using the age of 2 as a measure to make the change and says that many children will actually be able to sit backwards until their second birthday.
Most seats convertible in height and weight allow children to ride rearward facing up to 2 years or more, according to the AAP. Keep in mind, however, that your state may have slightly different guidelines (and still use age as one of the parameters), so make sure you are aware of these requirements as well.
What this means for you is that it is important to check the manufacturer’s instructions to find out if it is time to get a new seat or, in the case of a convertible seat, to change position. If different ones have lost the paper instructions (it happens!), Most websites have them as downloadable PDF files. And if you have questions or concerns, you can always ask your little one’s pediatrician.
The health information on this site is based on peer-reviewed medical journals and well-respected health organizations and institutions, including ACOG (American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists), CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics), as well as the books What to Expect by Heidi Murkoff.
You can read my review of the best convertible car seat for small cars here.