Baby Car Safety Seat Tips

Christine Sweeney, LICSW Program Manager, Parent Connection, BIDMC

DECEMBER 06, 2019

Mother putting baby in car seat

So it's the start of the holiday season, and in all likelihood, sometime over the next several weeks you'll be hitting the road. Whether you are traveling over the river and through the woods, or just down the street, traveling safely just got a whole lot more complicated than just buckling up.

Choosing an Infant Car Seat and How Many

There are so many choices and a significant range in price when it comes to buying a baby or toddler car safety seat. It can be pretty overwhelming, and expense does not necessarily correlate with better. For many families, one baby does not mean one car seat. One parent may be doing day care drop off in one car, and the other parent doing day care pick up in another car, thus requiring two seats for the same child. It can get pretty expensive.

If you are borrowing a car seat, or using a hand me down, make sure that the seat has never been in an accident. Even a moderate accident can render a car seat no longer safe. Don't use a child safety seat that is more than six years past the manufacture date. This date will be imprinted on the seat, or it will be on a sticker fastened to the seat. Car seats are sometimes recalled because of safety issues. You can check out recalls at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) website.

Why You Should Use a Child Safety Seat Technician

Once you've purchased your seat, it's essential to ensure that it is correctly installed, and that your baby is correctly installed in it! Let's start with the seat installed in your car. If this is your first baby, you and/or your partner may be thinking, "What's the big deal about installing a car seat?" Trust me on this one, or ask a friend who's already had a baby, the correct/secure installation of the car seat is a skill that most of us don't naturally possess. That is why there are specially trained people who do this, and it is worth your time, piece of mind, not to mention your relationship, to just make the appointment and have the seat installed correctly the first time. No drama, no questioning, no fighting, just done.

To locate a Child Passenger Car Safety Seat Technician in your area, go to NHTSA's Car Seats and Booster Seats page under "Car Seat Inspection" and "enter location," or call 1-866 SEAT-CHECK (1-866-732-8243).

Properly Placing Baby in a Car Safety Seat

When you place your baby in the seat, the point where the shoulder straps come out of the back of the seat should be at or below the level of your baby's shoulders. If the straps are higher, move the straps to a lower position. If in the lowest position, they are still higher than your baby's shoulders, you will need a different seat.

Be sure the straps fit snugly. You should be able to fit only one finger between your baby's shoulders and the straps. The "retainer clip" should be at the level of your baby's armpits. Make sure your baby's head does not fall forward in the seat. If it does, reposition the seat. You may use rolled towels to help support your baby's head.

Make sure to read the instructions that come with the seat and the section on child restraints from your vehicle's owner's manual. It is state law in Massachusetts that baby must be in a car seat when traveling in a car.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that infants and toddlers should ride in a rear-facing car safety seat until they are two years of age or until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by their car safety seat's manufacturer.

The American Academy of Pediatrics' HealthyChildren.org website provides a wealth of information on infant/child car seat safety.

Winter Security Precautions for Baby Safety Seats

During the winter months, you must be aware that the security of the car seat restraint system can be compromised when your infant is bundled in bulky clothing. Your baby should be dressed warmly in clothing that fits, secured in the care seat and then covered with additional blankets of coverings as needed. Adding thick, fluffy padding behind baby can compromise the safety/effectiveness of the car seat. Padding that is not part of the seat's original construction should never be used behind or beneath an infant.

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.