When Violet was about four weeks old my in-laws came to visit. They were here for five days before they heard my sweet little baby cry above a whimper. In fact, it was significantly above a whimper. Sweet little Violet turned into a screaming purple goblin in a matter of seconds. Why did she cry, you ask? For the same reason nearly every baby does- their arch nemesis, the car seat.
But we all know car seats are a necessary evil, right? I hope I can count on at least that much. Proper use of the right seat can make a huge difference in your child’s level of protection in an accident. But they are such complicated devices, how do we know if we are using them properly? My sister, Brianna Beam, happens to be a Child Passenger Safety Technician, so I decided to get some (hopefully) simple and helpful answers from her on proper car seat use.
Q #1. What are your qualifications?
A: I am a Child Passenger Safety Technician (CPST) certified by the National Child Passenger Safety Board, and I volunteer through Safe Kids Worldwide. We are extensively trained in car seat safety, education, and installation. I am also a registered nurse and a mother.
Q #2: Why are you so passionate about car seat safety?
A: As a registered nurse I see a lot of preventable accidents that result in unfavorable outcomes. I’ve also seen a lot of unpreventable deaths. You can’t control whether your child gets cancer, and you can’t even prevent every accident, but if you could increase your child’s survival rate in an accident by over 71% by doing something as simple as using the right child restraint in the correct way, wouldn’t you want to? As a mother myself it seems like a no-brainer.
Q #3: What are the biggest mistakes parents make regarding infant car seats?
A: Not reading the user’s manual for both your car seat AND your car is a big one, you need to read both to know how to best secure and position the seat. Otherwise harness straps that aren’t tight enough and not positioning the chest clip properly (it should be level with the child’s armpits).
Q #4: What about big kids? What are the safest practices for big kids?
A: The biggest mistake parents make with bigger kids is that they see moving to the next seat as a milestone, when actually to best protect your child you should keep them in each stage as long as possible. For example, instead of turning your baby to face forward as soon as you legally can, you should keep them rear facing until they have exceeded the weight or height limit for your seat (see the manual!). Staying rear facing as long as possible is important because the child’s head is heavier than their body and in an accident, when forward facing, their heavy head pulls the head and neck forward, causing their spinal cord to stretch out like an accordion, pulling the nerves and causing catastrophic results up to and including internal decapitation (which is every bit as bad as it sounds). If the child is rear facing, the brunt of the force is placed on the car seat instead of the head and neck.
Once your child is forward facing, the important part is to keep the five-point harness in play as long as the seat allows. The harness is important because it distributes the force of a crash over all of the strong parts of the skeleton as opposed to the internal organs. A broken bone is much easier to repair than a ruptured organ.
Q #5: Let’s talk about winter wear- how do our kids’ coats affect their safety and how can we keep them both warm AND safe in the car?
A: When a kid wears their big winter coat in their car seat, you are unable to get the straps down as tight as they need to be. If you are unable to get the straps as tight with their coat on as you can with their coat off you create air pockets under the straps, and in an accident those air pockets are going to compress and cause the child to move a whole lot more than if they aren’t wearing a huge coat.
This is an easy fix. There are products on the market that are designed to be worn over car seat straps like ponchos and car seat covers (as long as they don’t go under the baby). Some lighter jackets, such as fleece, are very warm and thin enough to be worn in the car seat. You can also use your child’s puffy winter coat- Take the kiddo to the car, remove their coat, put them in their seat, then put the coat on the child backwards.
Q #6: How should car seats be used (and NOT used) outside of the car?
A: It is a huge misconception that your infant seat is made to fit on top of a shopping cart. IT IS NOT, and this is a very unsafe practice. By placing the seat with the notch (which is the part that locks into the base) over the metal cart it can damage the locking mechanism on the seat, causing it to malfunction… in other words the car seat could no longer be secured to your car. The seat is also likely to tip over and fall out of the cart, causing major injury to baby. Instead, either place the car seat in the base of the cart or look into using an infant carrier (such as an Ergo) instead.
Otherwise, it is a CAR seat, best used in the car only. Car seats should NEVER EVER EVER be used in boats (believe it or not, I see this all the time). In the event they go overboard or the boat capsizes, they will sink like a rock. Those seats are heavy! And not to get off topic, but ALL children under 13 (in Nebraska, anyway, check your state for the local age) should wear a life jacket when in a boat, including infants, and this is impossible if they are secured in their infant car seat.
Also, it is fine to let your baby sleep in their infant car seat for a short time after taking them out of the car, but NEVER unbuckle the straps until you are ready to take them out. Unbuckling the straps, either partially or fully, can allow baby to shift down and baby can either suffer from positional asphyxiation or be choked by the chest clip.
Thank you Brianna! For more information contact your local Safe Kids chapter or check out one of these other resources:
The Car Seat Lady (or look her up on facebook)