Infant Car Seat Safety: Newborn to 2 Years
With some studies showing that up to 90 percent of car seats are installed incorrectly, I have compiled the following tip s to help keep your newborn safe when using infant car seats.
According to some estimates, most car crashes will happen at very short distances from the home, typically less than 25 miles. To add on to that, these crashes will not happen on the major highways, meaning that even that short drive to grab some groceries could potentially be fatal.
Using the car seat can be quite tricky especially if you are a first time mother, given that some child safety seats installation instructions may be complex. Moreover, given that the child usually has delicate features and other peculiarities such as a large than normal head, proper installation and use of a car seat is paramount.
Types of Car Seats You Can Use With Your Infant
The infant car seat, the convertible car seat and the 3 in 1/all in one car seat are the three types of car seats you can carry your baby in when traveling.
- Infant Car Seat - This is a small car seat that has the advantages of being portable and lightweight and could also be part of a travel system when combined with a stroller. It has a base that you do not have to lug around while the shell has a handle allowing you to carry the child around or put it in a stroller. Designed for use for babies weighing in at 22 to 40 pounds, you should only install and use it in the rear facing mode. Your child will typically exceed the weight and height limits of the infant car seat between 9 months and and a year thus necessitating the shift to an all in one or a convertible car seat.
- Convertible car seat - These car seats can be used from birth and will usually last longer than the infant car seat given that they have higher weight and height limits of up to 40 to 60 pounds. The good thing about convertible seats is that you can use them for extended rear facing and then turn them to front facing from 2 years old. The only issue with convertible car seats is that you may have to buy a car seat insert to ensure the child fits snugly in the seat.
- 3-in-1/all-in-one car seat - the 3 in 1 car seat gets its name from its design which allows it to be used in rear facing, forward facing and booster mode. You need to ensure that your model of car seat can be used with an infant. But similar to the convertible, it may not fit your child snugly, does not have a separate base or handle and may be too big if you drive a small car such as a coupe or sedan.
You will also need to check for the type of harness used. The 5 point harness is always a good option since it ensures the child is more snug thus keeping them safer. Luckily most new car seats come with 5 point harnesses. With five points of attachment: one between the baby's legs, two at either side of the baby's hips, and two above the shoulder. The three point harness only has one between the baby;'s legs and two above the shoulders of the infant.
What Makes for a Good Infant Car Seat Fit
- Short Crotch Buckle - Given that the infant is tiny, you may often find that the crotch buckle is too long making it difficult to fit in the crotch buckle and the chest clip. The best way to avoid this is to go for car seats that allow J-Looping of the crotch buckle to make for a better fit for your preemie.
- Close Crotch Buckle Position - To prevent any slouching you need to make sure that the crotch buckle is as close as possible to the baby body. Slouching can be dangerous as it interferes with the kid's natural breathing.
- Low First Shoulder Strap Slot - Always make sure that the straps are as near as possible to the shoulders. The recommended position is typically at or just below the shoulder level.
Proper Installation of the Infant Car Seat
Installation is a very important part of keeping your infant safe. You need to follow car seat installation instructions for an infant car seat here. The following are important steps to follow:
- Position the car seat in the back seat - while you may feel like you want to see the kid and hence install the seat in the front, I always recommend installing it in the back seat. The back seat particularly the middle is the safest spot a the child will be less vulnerable to crash debris in the instance of a crash. Having them in the back seat also ensures they are not vulnerable to injury from an airbag which could seriously injure their small bodies.
- Have it rear facing - it is important to keep the seat in the rear facing mode for an extended period of time. It recommended that you keep your child rear facing until at least they are two years old as in this position, they are less likely to suffer from whiplash injuries to the spine, neck and head.
- Ensure the base is tightly secured - Ensure that the seat does not tip, slide, pivot or wobble. The best way to ensure that the car seat is installed snugly is to ensure that it does not move more than an inch back to front or from side to side when you try to push it.
- Recline the car seat properly - To ensure your newborn rides in maximum safety and comfort, they need to ride in a semi reclined angle such that their body and shoulders and pushed forward and their head is back to prevent slouching. The best angle to prevent slouching is the 45 degree angle at which the baby will be most comfortable and will be able to breathe naturally.
Get the Car Seat Installation Checked by a Technician
The American Academy of Pediatrics in a 2014 report established that up to 90% of new parents use or install their car seats incorrectly. The biggest issue for new parents is installing the car seat harnesses too loosely. As such it is critical to check that your installation is up to speed. You can always find an expert to check your handiwork at the following places:
- Call 866-SEAT-CHECK or find a seat inspection center by looking it up in the NHTSA directory
- Enquire at the local fire or police station, car dealership or baby store which will in most instances perform the car seat safety check for you for free.
- Given that a car seat safety technician usually has the latest on the use and installation of a car seat, you can consult one by looking them up on the National Child Passenger Safety Certification Program website.
Buckling the Baby Into the Car Seat
When you are ready to get on the road it is critical t keep the following in mind:
- Dress the newborn in appropriate clothes - Given that the harness straps pass between the legs of your baby , it is critical to take this into account and dress them appropriately. Tights, leggings or pants may come in handy in ensuring a tight yet comfortable for the kid.
- Install the seat at a 45 degree angle - too flat an installation and the kid could slip right through the harness while too upright and their head will flop onto their chest making them uncomfortable and breathing difficult. Check the angle indicators of your car seat to ensure the seat is installed at the right angle.
- For more protection to the child's head especially if they are younger than 6 months you may want to use the inserts that come with the seat or pad the sides with a tightly rolled blanket to prevent the child heads from bobbing and flopping during the journey. NOTE: Do not use a head support device or accessory that did not come with the car seat as they may not be safe and will void the warranty on your car seat.
- Adjust the Harness - Most parents will use the harness as is which is a big mistake as children come in different sizes. Ensure that the straps are below or at your kids armpits for maximum safety. Ensure that the straps are untwisted and lay flat and are tight enough as not to let you insert more than two fingers between the baby's collarbone and the harness.
- Get them some toys - Trust me you do not want a child screaming in the backseat when you are driving. Be sure to attach some toys to the seat that the child can play with with short cords or plastic links. Alternatively get them some activity centers which are sure to keep them occupied for a long time allowing you to concentrate on your driving.
How to Calm Down a Crying Infant in a Car Seat
If you have had your preemie cry when you put them in their infant car seat, you are not alone. Most infants will typically cry when you dress, change his diaper or put him in the car seat. In this regard Dr. Harvey Karp the author of The Happiest Baby on the Block herself a pediatrician recommends the following to calm down a child in their car seat.
- Sucking - This is one of the most powerful techniques for calming down a child - once the child is in the car seat, give them a pacifier to calm them down - works almost instantly.
- Swinging - A newborn has been used to the swinging motion of the mother while she was in the uterus. Preemies will therefore have a hard time adjusting to the motion not being there. You can simulate this motion by swinging the car seat gently by the handle until they are calm before bucking them in.
- Shushing Sounds - Babies in the uterus usually experience constant white noise from the blood moving around the mothers body. You can simulate this calming sound track by making a loud shushing noise to calm down the newborn.
- Swaddling - The baby will typically spend the last months of their time in the womb in a fetal position with constant support and touch from the uterine walls. To mimic this constant touch roll up blankets and place them alongside the baby to provide the calming touch that they crave.