By: Andrea Moyer
October has a special place in my heart for a number of reasons, not the least of which because it is the birth month of our oldest child. So many memories come flooding back! I remember the clear, cool October skies and bright autumn sunshine on her birthday. I remember doing everything we could to get her to wake up so that we could take her photograph for her birth announcement. I also remember the time it took to learn how to properly strap that precious little newborn into her first car seat!
Realistically, we understood that babies don’t break, but in that moment of trying to get the baby safely and not fatally snug into her car seat, myself, my husband and even the nurse who was assisting us nearly gave up and almost walked her home. It was about as far as you could get from the warm, fuzzy homecoming moment we’d envisioned as new parents, but it need not be the case with you and your newborn.
Car seats seem to evolve almost as rapidly as modern technology, but the basic premise behind safely containing a small child remains relatively unchanged. I’ve pulled up some tips here and tweaked and streamlined them for the sleep-deprived parents of newborns, but you could also use them for older children as well.
Backseat is Best – Obviously. We’ve been told this for the past thirty years and quite frankly, not much has changed. It’s still the best place for children, especially if your vehicle has a passenger air bag.
Rear Facing Passengers – Infants weighing less than 20 pounds should always ride in a rear-facing car seat until they're about age 1 and at least 20 to 22 pounds. No exceptions. In fact, I don’t even think you could find a forward facing car seat for infants. Infants who weigh 20 pounds before 1 year of age should ride in a restraint approved for higher rear-facing weights. Always read your child restraint owner manual for instructions on properly using the restraint. Children over age 1 and at least 20 pounds may ride facing forward.
Safety Belts – Check to see that the safety belt holds the seat tightly in place. Put the belt through the correct slot. If your safety seat can be used facing either way, use the correct belt slots for each direction. The safety belt must stay tight when securing the safety seat.
Harness – This was our Waterloo. We couldn’t seem to get the straps adjusted tightly enough around our newborn, but thankfully she survived our clumsy attempts and eventually we figured it out. There is an easy way to check this. The harness should be adjusted so you can slip only one finger underneath the straps at your child's chest. Or, if you have unusually large fingers and this doesn’t help you, simply try to pinch the harness strap. If you can do this, it is too loose and must be tightened. Place the chest clip at the child’s armpit level.
Larger children – Yay!! You’ve graduated and so has your child. Older children and those weighing more than 40 pounds can use a booster seat. This is so much easier to deal with and it is just as safe. Use a belt-positioning booster seat, which helps the adult lap and shoulder belt fit better. A belt-positioning booster seat, used with the adult lap and shoulder belt, is preferred for children weighing 40 to 80 pounds.
Safety check – Most important! Get into the habit early on of checking the safety belt fit on older children. The child must be tall enough to sit without slouching, with knees bent at the edge of the seat, with feet on the floor. The lap belt must fit low and tight across the upper thighs. The shoulder belt should rest over the shoulder and across the chest. Never put the shoulder belt under the child's arm or behind her back. The adult lap and shoulder belt system alone will not fit most children until they're at least 4 feet 9 inches tall and weigh about 80 pounds.