Did you know this about car seats?
This picture would not earn me “Mother of the Year” awards now! There are so many mistakes with this car seat I can’t name them all. My only excuse is that this was 25 years ago! Don’t beat yourself up if you have made mistakes with your child’s car seat…just make the changes now! Information is empowering!
The car seat, one of the best protection devices developed for children. It makes me cringe to think of the days when children would ride next to their parents standing on the seat, or in Mom’s arms. I also cringe when I think about some of the mistakes I made when my kids were little…I certainly did not have them restrained correctly when I look at current recommendations. The incidence of death and serious injury of children in accidents when properly restrained has decreased dramatically. The key is properly restrained. In order to do ALL the right things when you use your car seat, a parent often needs an engineering technology degree. Have you seen those instructions?! There are several common mistakes that many parents unknowingly make when putting their precious child in their car seat.
1. The chest clip should be positioned at the nipple line, or directly even with your child’s arm pits.
- This keeps the harness straps positioned correctly and places the clip over your child’s chest protecting their soft little tummy and organs from the clip in an accident.
2. The harness straps should be snug.
- When your child is buckled in, with your thumb and forefinger try to pinch up the harness strap. If you can pinch any excess, the harness is too loose. A harness that is too loose could result in your child traveling up the back of the car seat during a crash and being ejected.
3. The car seat must be installed tight.
- When installed, you should not be able to move the car seat more than an inch side to side or front to back. If the seat can move more than that amount, during the force of a crash it will loosen even more and your child could be violently tossed and whip lashed in the seat.
4. Car seats expire!
- Just like milk, car seats have an expiration date! Because there are safety developments over the years, an older car seat may not follow the latest safety recommendations. The plastic on the car seats will also tend to break down with the continued heating and cooling. Materials just wear out! Straps become looser, and the plastic may develop microscopic cracks that you can’t see. Many car seats have an expiration date stamped on the bottom of the seat. If there is no expiration date, your car seat expires 6 years after the manufacture date. That is the MANUFACTURE date, not the PURCHASE date. So, if you buy a car seat at an overstock store like a Big Lots (which is perfectly fine) those seats may have sat on a shelf for a longer period of time. Be sure to find the manufacture date stamped on the car seat.
5. Dirty harness straps are safer than washed ones!
- Kids are messy, and often the harness straps have everything from food, to spit up to something worse on them. They are NOT meant to be washed. The straps can be stretched and the material broken down from detergent and water. The fire-retardant also will be removed when you scrub with detergent. If you must wash the straps, the best way is spot cleaning with a damp cloth. If you have already scrubbed those harness straps clean, contact the manufacturer and explain what you have done. Some will send you a new set.
- You can wash the car seat pad if it is removable and your manual states that this is OK. Sunlight can do wonders for odors…set that seat out and let it bake in the sunshine!
6. The correct harness strap position depends if your child is backward facing or forward facing.
- When your child is facing backward, the harness straps should be coming out at or below your child’s shoulders. Put your child in the car seat, be sure their little bottoms are down in the seat well, put the chest clip in the correct position and take a look. If the harness straps are entering the seat above your child’s shoulders, you need to change the positioning of the harness straps. This positioning of the harness straps prevents your child from traveling up the back of the seat to far in a crash. The more movement a child has in a crash, the greater the force on his or her little body.
- When your child is forward facing, the harness straps should be coming out at or above your child’s shoulders. Once again, when your child is correctly positioned in the seat, if the straps are coming out below your child’s shoulders they need to be adjusted. This positioning of the harness straps protects a forward facing child’s head and neck during a crash keeping it from being thrown forward.
7. Car seats need to be replaced after a crash.
- Car seats protection is for one crash only. If you have been involved in a crash, even if the car seat looks fine, the entire seat should be replaced even the base. If the crash was a “fender bender” you can look at your car seat manual and see the recommendation. Many still suggest replacement. Most insurance companies will cover the cost of replacing the car seat. Once again, it is difficult to see any microscopic damage to the plastic or the stress on the harness straps that can occur with a crash, minor or major.
- In a previous post, I wrote about the dangers of buying certain baby equipment used (Be Frugal and Safe) Take a look and see which equipment is not safe to buy used. Car seats that are used have no history coming with them, you have no idea if they have been in a crash, how they were cared for (were those harness straps scrubbed?) or even if all the parts are present. Save money in other ways….not on a car seat.
- If your car seat has expired or is damaged, cut the straps before disposing. This ensures that no one will use the damaged or expired seat.
- There are so many cute snow suits and jackets for kids, just don’t put your child in that cute coat strapped into the car seat! In the even of a crash, the puffy, heavy coat will be compressed by the harness straps due to the force of the crash. As that jacket compresses, the straps become loose, and your child could be ejected from the car. So how do you keep your child warm? Warm the car up first, throw a blanket over the child after the child is strapped in the seat, or for an older child put their winter coat on backwards after the child is strapped in.
10. No “add ons” to the car seat.
- No additional items strapped to or put on a car seat that did not come with the seat. Toys that hang from the seat, additional padding etc. may change the way your child is positioned in the seat, or come flying off and become a projectile during an accident. Things like mirrors attached to the back seat, or roller blinds to block the sun are also dangerous projectiles during a crash.
11. Make a choice—LATCH system or seat belt…not both!
- Every car seat manufacturer states that the LATCH system in a car OR the seat belt should be used when installing the car seat….not both. It does not make the car seat installation safer to use both. One or the other please!
- LATCH has a weight limit, 65 lbs between the car seat and your child. Once the seat and your child weigh over 65 lbs together, you must install with the seat belt!
12. Rear facing until your child out grows the weight limit of your convertible car seat for rear facing.
- The American Academy of Pediatrics is saying rear facing until AT LEAST 2! The weight limit for rear-facing is 35-40 pounds for most convertible seats, with a few seats going as high as 45 pounds. The height limit is the same for any rear-facing seat – the child’s head must be at least 1 inch below the top of the car seat. A child that is facing backwards is 5 times more safe in a crash. Children are flexible and can cross their legs easily and comfortably when facing backwards. The worry about leg injury is unfounded. Recent studies show us that forward facing children have more leg injuries that rear facing!
13. The handle on the infant carrier seat does not have to be down.
- This is the recommendation that surprised me the most. Depending on the manufacturer, the handle can be positioned in several different ways. You must check your car seat manual. Most will allow you to place the handle up. This actually allows the car seat to fit in cars easier as they take up less room. Check out that manual.
- Don’t add anything to your car seat that did not come with it. The car seat’s safety testing is not valid if you add items like toys to the handle, extra padding, strap padding, or anything else. Stick with what came with the car seat only!
- This was the most shocking information I found. Most of our older children are riding with a seat belt that is positioned unsafely. Here are 5 questions to ask to see if your child can use a seat belt only without a booster:
- Does the child sit all the way back against the auto seat?
- Do the child’s knees bend comfortably at the edge of the auto seat?
- Does the belt cross the shoulder between the neck and arm?Is the lap belt as low as possible, touching the thighs?Can the child stay seated like this for the whole trip? (For squirmy kids, try switching the seat belt into the locking mode.) The car seat lady (love this site….written by experts in the field!)
- There are so many ins and outs of buying and installing a car seat. My suggestion is you have a professional install it the first time and show you how. If you have your seat in now, make an appointment to have someone check it. They will make sure your child is as safe as possible. Call your local Fire or Police Departments, usually they have a certified car seat specialist there. Most local hospitals will too. Ride safe!
Take a breath, enjoy the joyful moments of each day, and remember you don’t have to be perfect to be the perfect parent.