Taking a new baby home can be a stressful event. Leaving the comforts of the hospital, where someone can answer any question with the press of a button, to strapping your tiny human into a car seat and taking them out into the real world! How scary is that? Wouldn’t you like to know that your baby is as safe as possible from the get-go?
It is estimated that 80-90% of car seats are being used incorrectly. Many people think it’s as simple as putting the seat in the car and buckling up the straps. Not so! Before you even put your child in the seat, you need to make sure it’s installed correctly.
When buckling the seat into your vehicle, use either the UAS (Anchors) or the seatbelt. NOT both!! After attaching the lower straps, pull on them and tight as they will go, while applying light pressure to the seat to push it down. When this step is done, your seat (or base, in the case of an infant seat) should not move more than an inch from side to side. If it does, keep pulling on the straps until it doesn’t.
After the seat is secure, if it is a forward facing seat, you will need to secure the top tether. This is the strap that is at the top of the seat and the anchor for it can be found either on the ceiling above the seat, or on the floor or back of the vehicle’s seat. If there is no top anchor, you cannot install a forward facing seat there.
(photo courtesy of healthychildren.org)
Once the seat is properly installed, you can now buckle your child in. For a rear facing seat, the straps must be at or below the child’s shoulders. Once they are in, tighten the straps by puling on the bottom strap that hangs off the front of the car seat. Don’t be afraid to pull it tight, it won’t hurt your child. You shouldn’t be able to pinch the straps. If you can, it’s too loose. The chest clip should be at armpit level.
For a forward facing seat, everything remains the same, with the exception that the shoulder straps are at or above the child’s shoulders.
Rear Facing Strap Position
(photo courtesy of rearfacingtoddlers.com)
Forward Facing Strap Position
(Photo courtesy of orbitbaby.com)
Proper chest clip placement
(Photo courtesy of csftl.org)
(photo courtesy of treadingragingwaters.com)
The other thing that many people are doing wrong without even realizing it, is using after market products on their seat. These range from strap covers to car seat covers. If it didn’t come in the box with your seat, it hasn’t been safety tested and could compromise the safety of your child. The only exception to this is car seat covers that don’t go behind the baby, such as shower cap or canopy style covers.
After making sure the seat is installed correctly, the next question many people have is “what seat should I be using?” or “when can they move to the next stage of car seat?”
Here is a breakdown of each type of seat and the recommendations for each.
These bucket style seats are great for brand new babies as they can be clicked in and out of the car and the stroller without disturbing a sleeping child. Most of these seat have a weight range of 5-30lbs, but most babies are either too long, or the seat gets too heavy to carry long before it is outgrown. At this point, is a recommended that you move to a rear facing convertible seat.
Rear Facing/Forward Facing
It is recommended that your child stays rear facing until at least 2 years of age, if not longer. Nowadays, many seats allow this by having rear facing weight limits of up to 35-40lbs. The main argument many people have for turning around children before this, is that their legs are too long and it won’t be comfortable for them. Have you ever watched young children sitting on the couch or even at the kitchen table? They are acrobats, and put themselves into crazy positions without any effort. Many children cross their legs, or hang them over the sides of the seat.
Once your child reaches the rear facing height or weight limits of the seat, it is time to turn them around (don’t forget to adjust those shoulder straps!) Many seats allow for a forward facing child to remain in a 5 point harness until age 6 or 7 (around 65lbs).
Many people seem to want their child to be in a booster seat the day they turn four. This is not recommended as many children that age do not have the capacity to sit in a booster seat properly. Your child is ready for a booster when they have outgrown the height and weight limits of their current seat and can sit properly the entire duration of the trip without slouching, leaning over, unbuckling the seat mid-ride, etc. If they can’t do this, but have outgrown their current seat, your safest option is to purchase a new 5 point harness seat with higher height and weight thresholds.
In Canada, the minimum requirement for sitting in the car without a booster seat is 8 years old or 80 lbs or 4’9” tall, but many children aren’t ready to be booster free until closer to 10-12 years of age. To see if your child is ready for this next stage, they must be able to pass the 5 step test:
(photo courtesy of thecarseatlady.com)
People will always have questions about car seats and their child’s safety but the best way to ensure you are using your seat correctly is to contact a Certified Car Seat Technician. These people have been trained to know all about each and every car seat on the market, how to install them perfectly, and even which seats work best in which vehicles. They will often host car seat clinics where you can register to come out and have your seat checked for free! Keep your eye out for a Sweet Stella’s hosted clinic coming soon!