Let’s break down some key points of car seat safety, right here – right now, quick and dirty.
Choosing a car seat
Choosing a car seat can be overwhelming; fun; necessary; and just tedious. But some things to remember are:
- What kind of car do you have? You will want to choose a seat that is easy to install in your car. Babies R Us allows you to take car seats out to your car to install them and see how they work! This way you can see how much leg room it leaves you, or if the middle seat placement will be the best.
- Do you want an infant car seat? The pro of this type of seat that you will be able to take them in and out of the house and restaurants and stores a bit more easily, but they will also outgrow it sooner. An average weight limit is 25-30 pounds for infant seats.
- Would you prefer to go straight to a convertible car seat? The bonus of this seat is that it is more economical in the long run, but it may be more inconvenient in the early weeks and months of your baby’s life.
How long should my child rear face in their car seat?
This question is one of the more controversial topics and where I would venture to say that the most parents have strong opinions on and/or feel judged about. Yet it is one of the biggest concerns regarding car seat safety as of late.
In 2011, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that children remain rear-facing in their car seats until they were 2 years old, or until the height requirement had been reached in the seat.
There are car seats, such as the Diono Ranier (the newer version of the Radian), that can rear face until the child is 50 pounds. The height will typically vary per child, but these limits often are not exceeded until the child is 4-5 years old. Also, this seat will fit a child in a forward-facing 5-point harness until they are 90 pounds. Children remaining in a 5-point harnesses as long as possible while forward-facing is equally as important as them rear-facing for as long as possible.
This video shows a comparison of what happens in a car crash to a child who is rear-facing vs. a child who is forward-facing.
How do I install my car seat?
The car seat will come with a manual. You must read that thoroughly, along with the car seat (and any other appropriate sections) in your car’s owner’s manual. Using the two will give you a better idea of how to properly install a car seat.
However, to maintain the utmost amount of safety for your child, I absolutely would not stop there!
You will also need to utilize a Certified Passenger Safety Technician (CPST) to make sure you are installing the seat properly.
You can find a local CPST who will come to your home or meet you somewhere and work with you on how to properly install your car seat.
How do I put my child in their car seat safely?
The manual that came with the car seat will give you instructions on how to safely use the car seat, but again, there is an additional step that is very important, using a professional!
The CPST that worked with you on your car seat installation will also help you to properly and safely secure your child in their car seat.
Two common mistakes when putting children in their car seat are not placing the chest clip in the right location (it should be even with the armpits), and not tightening the straps enough (you should only be able to fit 2 fingers underneath the straps).
The Car Seat Lady shows how to secure an infant in their car seat:
The Car Seat Lady shows how to secure a toddler in their car seat:
When do I stop using a car seat?
Not for a VERY long time!
Most people move their child from a 5-point harness, to a booster seat, to a regular seat belt with no booster FAR too soon. It is surprising to some that the recommendations for the size a child must be in order to safely ride with no car seat or booster are so strenuous.
But the guidelines actually make so much sense, because the bones and tissues of children have not finished growing and are not as strong or stable as those of adults.
The general guidelines are as follows:
- Children should be in a rear-facing car seat until they are at least 3-4 years of age (or they outgrow the weight or height maximums in an extended maximum seat).
- Children should be in a 5-point harness while forward facing until they are at least 5-6 (or again, outgrow the maximums in weight or height).
- Children should be in a booster seat until at least age 10-12 (also taking into consideration what the seat allows).
- Children should be no younger than 13 if allowed to ride in the front seat of the car.
Other car seat safety tips
- Take your child out of their car seat if they are sleeping, even if they are in an infant seat. The “squishy” nature of their bodies and necks, coupled with the way they sleep in their seats can cause breathing difficulties, lung compression, or even death.
- Do not use “aftermarket” items in, on, or around your car seat unless it has been specifically approved by the manufacturer. This includes but is not limited to: winter accessories, seat protectors, head stabilizers, etc.
- It is advisable to never accept or purchase a used car seat because you do not know the history of that seat and the integrity and safety of it could be compromised.
- Do not put your child in bulky clothing (including coats) while in the car seat. Keep them warm by using blankets on top of them. The extra fabric causes the belts to not fit properly, so they will not be able to do their job and adequately protect your child.