Car seat safety is one of my passions. Fueled not only by my mother, a nurse who has seen car accident trauma in a hospital, but by experiencing my own accidents as a teen (none of which were my fault). I still have injuries and scars that will be with me forever. Now that it's Child Passenger Safety Week, I felt it only right that I write something to help moms and dads out there to make sure their own babies are as safe as can be.
Not all hospitals help with car seats. So here is a quick checklist of the most important car seat tips, so you can keep your kid the safest.
Too loose!1. Tighten the harness until you can't pinch any slack across the collarbone. A loose harness is the most common mistake and can result in too much forward movement, head injuries, and even partial or total ejection -- meaning your child goes flying out of their seat. You want the straps as tight as you can get them without hurting the baby. Don't put bulky clothes on under the harness that make it seem like it's tight enough when it's not, either. Blankets go over baby AFTER baby is buckled in.
2. Place the chest clip between the nipples and sternum. This holds the straps (aka the harness) where they need to be to catch your child's body, and it is designed to break on impact. However, it's only designed to break on the hard, strong sternum. Too low, and it doesn't position the harness correctly and can even damage internal organs in the soft belly.
3. Make sure the harness is flat and in the right slots. No twists allowed on the belt! Take the time to straighten the belt if it became twisted. This can create weak points in the harness and also pressure points on your baby's body that can hurt them. Make sure the top of the harness goes into the back of the car seat level with or BELOW your baby's shoulders, never above (until they're forward facing).
4. Make sure the seat is reclined enough. A baby's car seat needs to be reclined at a 45-degree angle. This helps protect their body from stress on the weak neck holding up the big head, or the weak spine in an accident. Also, too upright can make their head fall to their chest and restrict their breathing. Never put the car seat on a cart or floor unless it maintains this angle.
5. Make sure the seat is tight enough. When you push on the seat, it shouldn't move more than 1 inch at the place where the seat belt or LATCH strap goes through it. Movement at the top of a rear-facing seat is normal. Use the top-tether for rear-facing, but only if you have a Radian, Britax, or Coccoro seat (others don't allow it).
6. Don't add anything to your seat that didn't come with it or from the manufacturer FOR your specific seat. Headrests may look nice, but most infant seats come with them. For those that don't, the only safe and approved addition is rolled receiving blankets next to the baby, outside of the harness, like pictured above.
7. Get help, even if you think you've got it right. While you can always call 1-866-SEATCHECK and find a local check-up station, take advantage of this special week and go to one of the many nationwide check-up events. If you have everything right, you'll have that peace of mind. If you don't, then you know your baby will leave there safer!