Car Seat Safety
Christine Sweeney, LICSW Program Manager, Parent Connection, BIDMC
SEPTEMBER 14, 2018
There are so many choices and a significant range in price when it comes to buying a car seat. It can be pretty overwhelming, and expense does not necessarily correlate with better. For many families, one baby does not mean one 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 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 http://www-odi.nhtsa.dot.gov/cars/problems/recalls/childseat.cfm.
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 http://www.seatcheck.org/ under “Inspection Locator” or call 1-866 SEAT-CHECK, (1-866-732-8243).
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 travelling 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 website, http://www.healthychildren.org/ provides a wealth of information in infant/child car seat safety.
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.