Car Seat Safety: Pre-Baby Installation Tips

car seat installation tips

Photo by seamore

I remember bringing my babies home from the hospital so clearly -- it was just the most wonderful day. In fact, I get all teary thinking about how new and tiny and perfect they were. Your desire to protect them is so intense, of course you want to choose the right car seat for your newborn and get the installation absolutely right. (Enter to win one, if you haven't already!)

I know I had tons of car seat questions, like all first-time mamas.

Is middle or side placement best? How can you get the tightest fit? Should you find a certified car seat safety technician to help you install it? And how long before your due date should it be installed?

I spoke to a technician with the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and with two local certified experts -- Jen (carseatmom) and MacKenzie (carseatmama) -- to get the answers.


When should pregnant moms install the car seat for their baby-on-the-way?

carseatmom and carseatmama both recommend installing the seat -- making sure you know how to do it and are comfortable with it -- about 4 - 6 weeks before your due date, in case you deliver early.

carseatmom suggests installing the base in the car and then leaving the seat in the house, though, in case you wind up in a crash before the baby comes. That way you won't need to replace the whole seat, just the base that's installed.

And if you get a certified technician to check your work, the expert with the Center for Injury Research notes that you should plan ahead -- often the fitting stations (at a car dealer, fire house, or State Police station) have limited hours to help parents, so it's best to make an appointment well in advance.

Should you get a Child Passenger Safety Technician to install your car seat?

The Center for Injury Research says "It’s vital that parents learn how to install a child safety seat on their own and not rely on techs to install the seats for them. A tech’s job is to educate parents and help them learn how to install the seats, not to do the installation job for them.

We recommend that you have a technician check your work after you thoroughly read the car seat manual as well as the car owner’s manual and do the best job you can installing the seat. Our short videos on installing car seats will show you the basics and serve as a visual guide.

The two most important factors are making sure that the seat is installed as tightly as possible and that the harness fits the baby so snugly that you can’t pinch a fold in the strap."

carseatmama says "There's no substitute for having a certified car seat tech help you properly install your seat. You will be amazed at how much you learn. I've never once had a parent say 'Oh, I already knew all of that.'"

What's safest, center or side placement of a seat?

The Center for Injury Research says "Current guidelines recommend the rear center seating location for installing a child restraint. This recommendation is based primarily on the fact that in the center your child is most likely to be farthest away from any intrusion as a result of a crash. Recent research has shown that children seated in the center had an injury risk 43% less than children seated in either of the rear side positions.

The data from this study do not indicate that a child restraint in an outboard (side) position is a poor choice, but rather that given the available space and the ability to obtain a tight installation, restraining a child seat in the center rear allows for further reductions in injury risk beyond the already excellent protection afforded by child seats attached in the outboard positions."

The most important thing is that parents place their child in the seat position in which they can get the tightest installation.

As carseatmom says, "It's better to have a great fit outboard than a poor fit in the middle."

How can moms find a certified technician?

There are several ways to find a car seat fitting station near you. Try one of the following:


Safe Kids Worldwide

NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration)

Don't forget to check out Baby Buzz, Toddler Buzz, and Big Kid Buzz for more great car seat safety info!

*** (This information is intended as general guidance -- you should read your auto and car seat manuals, and consult a certified technician if possible, to ensure the proper use and installation of your baby's passenger seat.)

Read More >