Car seat safety: Buckling up baby the right way

Photo courtesy of car-safety.org

Babies do not come with an owners manual. Instead, the hospital sends you home with the next best thing: A stack of brochures covering everything from whooping cough to radon awareness to read in your spare time.

In April, I received my requisite pamphlet pile when I gave birth to Jovie at York Hospital.

A disproportionate number of these pamphlets focused on car seat safety (you’re also required to watch a video on the topic before leaving the hospital). But I was surprised to learn that the nursing staff was no longer checking to make sure newborns were properly strapped into their car seats at discharge, as they’d done when I had my daughter Lily in 2010.

Nurses are no longer performing the car seat checks because, with the addition of two state-mandated tests on newborns, they don’t have enough time, hospital spokesman Barry Sparks said in an email.

These days, car seats are complicated devices, with enough padding and straps to make it seem like your kid is headed on a manned mission to Mars rather than another trip to the grocery store.

They’re accompanied with a lengthy manual and a recommendation from pediatricians that they be installed in the car by a certified technician.

In my family, car seats come with an extra level of screening. Her name is Nana. My mom is a crusader for car seat safety.

Shes adopted the cause with the furor of a toddler lobbying for chocolate milk. (To witness extreme zealotry in action, just stop by my house around 3 or 4 in the afternoon when Lily plants herself in front of the refrigerator pleading for “taw-cut mik” followed by celebratory foot stomping and humming when I inevitably cave to her demands.)

Mom spent several years working as a car-seat safety specialist, checking to ensure that premature babies would be able to travel safely in the seats their parents had bought for them.

She’s on constant alert for misuse. When Brad and I puzzled over how to get the straps on Jovie’s seat to fit more snuggly, mom was able to flip the seat over and readjust them in seconds.

When the “Today” show aired a YouTube video of a 3-year-old grooving to that ubiquitous Gotye song in the car, mom immediately commented that the car seat’s chest buckle wasn’t properly positioned.

A nursing magazine recently published a letter to the editor she wrote pointing out several problems in a cover photo that showed a baby nestled in a car seat.

The instant the American Academy of Pediatrics updates its recommendations regarding car seats, mom emails my sisters and me. “Did you see this?” she’ll write. 

As the daughter of the Joan of Arc of car-seat safety, I’d be remiss not to use this Smart column to share her tips about safely transporting your little ones.

Because who knows, one day that baby you’re carrying could be the first man or woman to walk on Mars. 

10 car seat safety tips from my mom

1. Buy your car seat four to six weeks ahead of your due date. Read the instructions and learn all of the parts.
2. If using a pre-owned car seat, make sure it is less then 6 years old, has all the original parts and has not been recalled or involved in an accident.
3. Have the car seat base installed by a certified car seat technician.
4. Install the seat in the back seat of the car (front-seat airbags have been known to kill infants and small children).
5. The safest way for babies to travel is rear facing (the most recent AAP guidelines suggest toddlers stay in rear-facing seats until age 2 or until they reach the maximum weight and height for their seat).
6. Do not use any after-market products that did not come with the car seat originally (i.e. headrests, shoulder pads or blanket inserts.)
7. Do not dress the infant in bulky sweaters, coats or snowsuits before putting them in the car seat. Bulky clothing prevents the harness straps from being tightened snuggly. If it is cold, put a warm blanket on the baby after he has been properly secured in the seat.
8. Ensure there is no slack in the harness strap after you’ve buckled the baby in. You should be able to slip one finger between the harness strap and the babys chest. The top of the harness clip should be at armpit level.
9. When using a shopping cart, dont balance the car seat in the front seat of the cart. Instead, place the car seat in the bottom of the cart to prevent it from falling on the floor.
10. Don’t completely cover the baby with a blanket or other cover while he is in the car seat. You should be able to see the baby at all times.

– Source: Kathryn Nana Haller, R.N.


Susan Jennings is mom to Lily, 21 months; Jovie, 7 weeks; Snacks the dog; and Bart, Peanut Butter and Delaney the cats; and wife to Brad the human.

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1 Response

  1. June 22, 2012

    [...] full article below: Smart Magazine | Car seat safety: Buckling up baby the right way (author unknown) “A disproportionate number of these pamphlets focused on car seat safety [...]

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