Before you head home from the hospital, you’ll need to make sure you have a car seat properly installed. The seat should be the right size to fit your newborn and should be rear facing.
I admit, I sometimes watch the television show Teen Mom–and I can’t count the times I’ve yelled at the TV, “Rear facing! Why isn’t that baby rear facing?!” Isn’t this common knowledge?
I thought I had a pretty good handle on it. My plan was to buy a car seat, have my husband install it, have the fire department check the installation, and be done with it. After that, all you have to do is buckle the kid in, right?
The first dilemma we had was choosing a car seat. Did we want an infant seat or a convertible seat? And for God’s sake, what’s the difference? Basically, an infant seat is easier to use during those first couple of months, but a convertible seat will last you a heck of a lot longer. Infant seats click into bases that are installed in the car, making them really transportable and easy to move from car to car or from car to stroller. A convertible seat is more permanently installed in the car; while you can certainly move it from car to car, it’s not always easy.
We were really lucky in that we were able to purchase a used travel system (which is a stroller with an infant seat that fits on top of it) from a friend for a really good price. (NOTE: I would never recommend purchasing a used seat unless you know, without a doubt, the history of that seat.) But we had a second car and wanted a second seat. We had the option of purchasing a second base for the infant seat we already had (for about $80) or a convertible carseat (for about $200). I had a hard time spending $80 on a base for a carseat that was used [so I knew I wouldn't have time to use it with a future baby before it expired (which brings me to did you freaking know car seats expire?!)] and that would only last us about a year–not when I could spend just a little over $100 more and buy one that would last for 4 years. Logically, it made more sense to buy the convertible car seat for the second car. That way, when he outgrew the infant seat, we’d only need to buy one convertible seat, rather than two.
Consumer Reports was an excellent resource to help decide which convertible seat we wanted. I spent more time researching this particular baby product than I did all the other products combined. We finally settled on the Britax Roundabout 55 because of its crash test ratings. It’s been a great seat and we’ve been happy with our selection. The only negative attribute is that it’s a pretty big seat. While installed in the rear-facing position, it pushes the passenger seat of our Forester up pretty close to the dashboard. But it’s a pretty easy install (which I think is a huge contributing factor in the safety of a seat), a comfortable seat for our son, and, like I mentioned, has excellent crash ratings.
The next question was, where do we install it? The middle is the safest location, but that wasn’t possible because the middle of our seat isn’t level because of cup holders. Also, Subaru only utilizes the LATCH system on the sides. Which, by the way? Subaru is supposed to be one of the safest cars on the market. They make family cars and safety is clearly one of their priorities and top marketing strategies. So, get with the program on the LATCH System, Subaru. Not cool.
We decided to install the car seat behind the passenger seat. That seemed like the next best place because it would allow the driver to reach the baby to stick in a pacifier, or hand him a bottle or whatever. But most importantly, I was informed by a first responder that most side-impact collisions occur on the driver side.
After Bo installed the car seats, I went into panic mode and was really worried that they weren’t installed correctly. After all, Bo was going to be a first-time Dad and hadn’t exactly installed a ton of car seats. I wanted to have them checked by a professional, to make sure they were installed correctly. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration provides a really great resource for finding a local car seat inspection location here. I’m pretty sure all the places they list are free. I think it’s really important to take a couple of extra hours out of your day before the baby is born to make sure you’ve installed the car seat correctly. You can have the safest seat on the market, but if it’s not installed correctly, it doesn’t matter.
As it turns out, choosing a car seat and making sure it is properly installed is only the beginning. I truly had no idea that there were so many things that could negatively impact the effectiveness of a car seat.
Did you know (because I sure as hell didn’t)??
- Using both the LATCH system and the seatbelt to install your car seat sounds like it makes it double safe. It doesn’t. A car seat needs to be able to move some during a crash to help absorb some of the impact. Thankfully, Bo actually read the manuals to both the car seat and the car, so he knew this. Read your manuals–both of them.
- When you first put Junior in the car seat, use the pinch test to make sure he’s strapped in tightly. If it’s cold outside and he’s wearing a heavy winter coat, take it off before you put him in the seat. You cannot get the straps tight enough if he’s wearing bulky clothing.
- Check to make sure the straps are positioned correctly. When the child is rear-facing, the straps should be at or below shoulder level. Once she’s turned to forward-facing, the straps should be at or above shoulder level.
- The chest clip actually goes on the chest. It should be at armpit level. If you’re doing it like this, you’re doing it wrong. Instead, it should be like this.
- You should never use any after-market products with your car seat. I knew this to an extent, enough that I never used any of those toys that fit across the car seat (they’re actually intended to be used only when the seat is on the stroller, but it’s a little misleading). I did, however, use those cute little car seat strap covers. But the one that makes me really cringe is the Snuggin Go that I so loved when he was a newborn. I thought I was making him all warm and cuddly in his seat, and even protecting his delicate little neck, by using the Snuggin Go. What I didn’t realize was that the addition of these items could impair the effectiveness of his car seat had we been in a crash. I don’t know just how dangerous these items are (or even are not), and I guess that really depends on the accident. However, I do know that insurance companies will not replace your car seat if you’re in a crash if you’ve used anything on it that is after-market. So basically, if it didn’t come with your seat, don’t use it with your seat.
- Weight limit isn’t the only thing you need to consider to know if your child has outgrown her car seat. Height matters too. When rear-facing, if your child’s head is 1″ from the top of her car seat, she’s too big for it (this is the rule with most car seats–read your manual!). If she’s not yet ready to forward-face, it’s time to buy a new car seat.
- Do not put the infant seat on top of your grocery cart. It’s not meant to hold them and it is not safe. I must have done this a dozen times before I realized how unsafe it was. For more information, and for alternatives, read this.
- This is a big one: do not turn your child to front-facing too early. I know that the law in many states says you can turn the seat when the child is at least one-year-old and/or 20 pounds. But as we all know, the government isn’t the most reliable and responsible thing in the world. They’re often a little slow to react (government shutdown, I’m looking at you). And the American Academy of Pediatrics only updated their guidelines 2.5 years ago, so we really can’t expect the government to have already caught up, am I right? There are simply too many studies that prove that your toddler is much safer rear-facing for as long as possible. As an example, The Journal of Injury Prevention found that children under age 2 are 75% less likely to die or be severely injured in a crash if they are rear-facing. Other studies have found rear-facing to be up to five times safer than forward-facing. Children should not be turned forward-facing until they reach the maximum rear-facing weight of their seat or when the top of their head is within one inch of the top of the seat shell, whichever comes first. As for our family, we’ve chosen to not turn J until he’s at least 2-years-old. However, because the neck and vertebrae are still underdeveloped at this point, we still won’t turn him unless he has outgrown his convertible seat at the rear-facing position. No, your kid isn’t too tall to ride rear-facing. He’s flexible and he can bend his legs. And yes, that can risk a leg injury. But I’d really prefer my kid had a broken leg than a broken neck. Just a personal preference.