Monday, January 26, 2015

Baby 101: Carseat Safety

After reading the carseat manual and installing it in our car, I thought we had it down....until we took it to get inspected by a certified carseat technician.  That's when we found out ALL the things we had done wrong, despite following the manual to a T.  I definitely recommend that all of my pregnant friends get their carseat installation inspected by a certified technician (go to http://www.safercar.gov to find a location near you) - they taught us how to install the carseat properly, as well as several other carseat safety tips.  Here are some of the key things we learned:

1) Don't use car seat protector mats


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I had registered for two of those mats that goes underneath the carseat to protect your leather/upholstered seats from being scratched or torn by the carseat, or stained by the food, drink, and bodily fluids of the tiny person in the carseat.  However, we learned that these mats are not safe to use in conjunction with carseats; because they result in the carseat being installed less tightly against the seat itself, they can interfere with the safety of the carseat in an accident.  As soon as I learned how unsafe these are, I promptly returned them - our carseats are now installed directly on the leather (in my car) and upholstery (in my husband's car).

2) Make sure your child is strapped in tightly


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You have to strap a baby in REALLY TIGHTLY for the carseat to provide its full level of safety.  Whenever we buckle our son in, our parents always tell us that "we're doing it too tight! He's uncomfortable!"  The carseat technicians showed us how to properly strap a baby in using a doll, and it was MUCH tighter than I would have done it on my own.  After fastening all the buckles and tightening the straps, you should not be able to pinch any excess slack in the straps.  If you can pinch the straps between your forefinger and thumb, the straps are too loose.  In order to get the straps tight enough, I have to pull on the tightening strap as hard as I can (putting some body weight into it).  

3) No hard toys while driving


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It is so convenient to attach some dangling toys to the carseat carrier handle for baby to play with while you drive - anything to entertain them!  I do sometimes attach a soft (plush) toy, but I make sure not to attach any toys that are made of hard plastic; in the event of a crash, they could fly off or whip forward and injure your child.  Think about how a toy would feel if it whacked you in the face; if it's made of hard plastic, reserve it for when the car is parked or outside of the car entirely.

4) Install your carseat in the middle of the backseat


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Always check your vehicle manual for carseat installation instructions; assuming the manual doesn't prohibit it, install the carseat in the middle of the backseat.  I had this one wrong; I had originally installed it behind the driver's seat, thinking this would be more convenient.  Plus, my car is only equipped with LATCH connectors on the driver and passenger side back seats, not in the middle.  However, the carseat technician informed me that installation in the middle of the backseat is far safer; they're further from either side of the car in the event of an impact, as well as from any side airbags your car might have.  I thought that using the LATCH connectors to install the carseat would be preferable, but using the seatbelt installation method is just as safe and secure.  DON'T use the LATCH connectors from the two side seats to install a carseat in the middle seat; even if they reach, it's not safe!  And don't double up by using the seatbelt installation PLUS the LATCH connectors - only one or the other.

Also, I asked - once you have two kids in carseats, place the toddler carseat in the middle, and the infant carseat on one of the two sides; infant carseats are safer than toddler carseats, so you want to keep the toddler carseat in the safest spot in the car (the middle of the backseat).

5) No coats or thick layers in the carseat


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In the winter, don't put a thick coat or thick layers on your baby while in the carseat; in the event of a crash, these layers of clothing can compress, resulting in your baby being too loosely buckled in the carseat for it to function safely.  Instead, you can use a blanket or put their coat on backwards OVER the carseat straps to keep them warm and still be safe.

6) Stay rear-facing as long as possible


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The AAP recommends that children stay rear-facing in carseats until age 2; it's a MUST until at least a year old.  The longer you can keep your child rear-facing, the better.  Some people get concerned about their toddler breaking a leg in an accident if they're rear-facing, since they get to a point where their legs hit the seat in front of them; however, better a broken leg than something worse!  Riding in a rear-facing carsesat is five times safer than a forward-facing carseat.  Resist the urge to turn your child forward-facing too early!  We haven't purchased a toddler carseat yet, but I plan to get one that maximizes the weight limit that the child can remain rear-facing in order to keep him that way as long as possible.

7) Abide by carseat expiration dates


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Although grandparents might tell you that carseat expiration dates are a crock, they're there for a reason (and not just so that you have to buy a new one and carseat manufacturers make more money); the plastic components in the carseat deteriorate over time with heat and use, so they weaken.  The expiration date is meant to approximate when the safety of the carseat declines to the point of needing replacement.  Both the carseat itself and the carseat base will have the expiration date printed on it (they may or may not be the same date, so check!)

8) Avoid used carseats and replace carseats in accidents


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Carseats must be replaced if they go through a vehicle accident; even a minor impact accident can weaken critical components of the carseat, reducing its effectiveness and safety.  If your car has been in an accident with the carseat installed, replace it.  Likewise, don't buy or borrow a used carseat unless you know the prior owner personally and know it hasn't been in an accident.  Carseats can be expensive, but used carseats are not worth the gamble if you don't know their history!

9) The chest clip belongs at armpit or nipple height


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People get this one wrong all the time, because it seems so uncomfortable for the baby when the chest clip is at the correct position! The chest clip should be at baby's nipple or armpit height when fastened.  Especially with newborns, this will seem like it's totally all up in their neck and about to strangle them.  Don't lower the chest clip!  The chest clip holds the shoulder straps together; in the event of an accident, your baby may be propelled forward from the force of the impact.  The chest clip is what keeps the straps close together to keep the baby's body from slipping between the shoulder straps and flying out.

10) Pay attention to the weight limit for the infant insert


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Many carseats come with an infant insert, which helps position newborns to that the straps can be fastened properly around their tiny bodies.  Your carseat's manual will include a maximum weight limit for the infant insert; make sure to familiarize yourself with the weight limit and remove the infant insert once your baby exceeds the limit.  Otherwise, the straps won't be positioned correctly for your too-large baby if they're still sitting on top of the infant insert.

11) Move to a toddler carseat when baby reaches the height or weight limit


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Every carseat comes with a height and weight limit; once your baby meets EITHER of these two limits, it's time to move to a toddler (or convertible) carseat.  It's not safe to keep using the infant carrier with a baby that is either too tall or too heavy for the carseat's specifications.  Most of my friends' babies have hit one of the two limits WAY before the other, so pay attention to your carseat's limits!

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