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Most states have laws that specify you must have an infant car seat when traveling with your baby by car. The reason is those accidents while in a motor vehicle cause the highest number of injuries and deaths in children.
And, for brand-new infants, those statistics were worse — up to 95% of parents installed their car seats incorrectly.
Prevention is key.
It is recommended to buy a baby car seat before your baby is even born. Now, if you’re pregnant – the very last thing you’re probably thinking about is getting baby back from the hospital. Your mind is probably concentrating on birth and making sure that all goes to plan. However, did you know it’s actually the law to bring a baby home in a car seat?
With this in mind, you need to go shopping for one right now, just in case you’re nearing labor and don’t yet have one. Do your homework to ensure the car seat you choose fits your car and is suitable for your new baby.
- how to choose the right infant car seat,
- infant car seat installation tips, and
- what infant car seat mistakes to avoid.
Let’s dive in!
Choosing the Right Infant Car Seat
Before we discuss installation, we need to go over some quick reminders about what’s an appropriate car seat for your newborn.
Since we’re talking about a baby infant car seat, you’ll have a few choices to choose from:
- a car seat that’s for infants only
- a car seat that is convertible (meaning it can grow with your child)
An infant car seat with a base is nice because it allows you to remove the inner insert with the baby. Therefore, you can carry a baby with you into stores and restaurants in his own seat. (Get ready to develop some serious biceps, Mama!) While they may not be as versatile in the car, they’re designed to be used as carriers, chairs, and rockers out of the car. The majority of designs unclip straight off the base and some can be attached to strollers, so you don’t have to disrupt your baby when they’re sleeping.
As your baby grows, it might be tempting to use an infant booster car seat. However, these aren’t appropriate until your child is much older — weighing anywhere from 40 to 85 pounds.
Every infant car seat weight limit may different, so check with the manufacturer (it’s usually listed in the manual or right on the car seat).
And, while it might be tempting to go for looks — like an all-black car seat to match your car’s interior — making sure the car seat you choose is safe is most important. Infant car seat safety should be the first priority.
Purchasing the best car seat for your baby can be daunting, however, you don’t have to buy the most expensive on the market. There are just three things to take into consideration:
- Your baby’s height and weight
- Your baby’s age
- Proof that the car seat adheres to safety standards
Making sure you have all of these top tips ticked off will make sure your baby is properly secured for travel.
Research your state’s laws on children’s car seats before purchasing. Some states may fine you around $100 for using the wrong car seat for your child.
Top Tips for Buying a Car Seat
If you haven’t yet bought your baby’s car seat, we’ve put together some top tips to keep in mind, to make the whole process easier.
1. Test a few car seats before buying
When buying a car seat, don’t opt for the very first one you see, unless you’re sure it’s the right one.
It would be a good idea to test a few in your car before making a final decision. This way, you know you’ve chosen the best available to suit your baby. If you’re not too clued in on what you should be looking for, ask a retailer’s advice. They’ll have professional training in the benefits of each car seat and the fitting. You could also have a read of the safety 1st air car seat manual to get to grips of the laws and safety regulations.
2. Check for Isofix connectors
Some cars have Isofix connectors (or simply known as car hooks) built into them – check if your car does before selecting a car seat. These are usually installed between the gaps of the backseats to make it easier to fit car seats.
3. Never buy second-hand
It would never be a good idea to purchase a second-hand car seat, even though it may save you some cash.
You can never be sure if it was involved in an accident or may even have lost some parts along the way. As a result, your baby’s safety may be at risk. As well as this you can’t even be 100% confident it’ll fit your car. Always visit a store, and never shop online for your baby’s car seat.
4. Think long-term
Pick a car seat that’ll grow with your child. It’s best to choose one that’s going to last you in the long-run, rather than having to fork out cash for another.
By law, newborns must travel in a rear-facing seat, to begin with, but can then move to a forward-facing seat as they grow. Therefore, it would be ideal to choose one that’s convertible, to save you having to buy a new one just a few years on.
5. It meets safety standards
You’ll need to do some research to find out which car seats are the safest for your newborn. Luckily, those you pick up from most stores have been tried and tested to meet safety standards and regulations. Always carry out a spot check for the JPMA logo on the box, which means it’s been confirmed safe by Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association.
Installing Your Infant Car Seat Properly
Once you’ve decided upon a seat, it’s time to install it. Here are some quick tips:
- Read through the car seat instructions and your vehicle manual to understand how to install the seat correctly.
- If you have trouble understanding the instructions, call the seat manufacturer and/or your automaker to get clarification.
- Use the provided tether system in your car. If your car is older than 2002, retrofit it with a LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) system.
- Check that the seat is flat on the bottom and has a correct incline. Push hard on the seat bottom to squish the air out of the infant car seat cushion for better positioning.
- If your car was manufactured before 1996, check to see if the car seat moves forward even if the belts are tightly buckled. If it does, install a locking clip around the seat belt.
- Check if the seat moves side-to-side. If it does, tighten it until there’s no movement.
While these instructions might seem simple, today’s infant car seats can be quite elaborate and confusing. As a result, we’ll outline some of the most common things that go wrong with a car-seat install.
The Most Common Infant Car Seat Install Mistakes
There are plenty of ways you can install your infant car seat incorrectly. According to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) study, here are some of the most common things parents miss:
1. Wrong: Rear-facing seats with an incorrect recline angle.
The NHTSA study found that 12% of rear-facing convertible seats and 16% of rear-facing infant seats were not angled correctly.
Infant car seats should recline at 30 to 45 degrees. This is in part because a 45-degree angle of recline helps keep the baby’s airway unobstructed.
Make sure you adhere to the manufacturer’s instructions if you want to know the correct position for your reclining child car seat. This avoids your child’s hard slumping forward. If you need further guidance on the car seat angle, don’t worry too much, as car seats usually have pointers and adjusters to ensure you get the right angle.
Look for an adjustable foot that helps maintain the correct angle of recline. In addition, it should have a built-in angle indicator that shows you’ve got the right positioning.
2. Wrong: Forward-facing car seats that were too loose.
Forward-facing convertible seats in the NHTSA study were prone to movement — 17% moved more than two inches in a side-to-side motion.
To fix this, give the belt path a tug each time you use the seat to check for motion. If it moves, push on the bottom infant car seat cushion firmly while pulling the latch strap to tighten it.
3. Wrong: Not using a tether anchor on a forward-facing convertible seat.
If the tether strap isn’t connected to the tether anchor, it can’t reduce the seat’s — and your child’s head’s — movement.
Almost 40% of convertibles baby seats that were forward-facing were installed without this important connection.
To fix this issue, just make sure the tether strap is connected to the tether anchor. Anchors are normally found on the car’s rear shelf, the seat back, or the cargo floor or ceiling area.
(Check your car’s manual if you can’t find yours.)
These are just a few of the many — sometimes subtle — ways your car seat could be installed incorrectly, putting your baby at risk of injury if you’re in an accident.
4. Wrong: Swapping to a forward-facing seat too soon
Although it’s lovely to see your little one’s face beaming back at you through the mirror, it’s not worth switching them to a forward-facing seat too early on. Many parents make this mistake so they can keep an eye on their little one, however, it’s a real danger hazard.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that your child should be traveling in a rear seat from birth up until the age of two (or dependant on their height and weight limitations), before switching to a forward-facing seat. Small children can stay in a rear-facing car seat up until the age of 3 or four.
When your baby is old enough to make the transition to a forward-facing seat, it would be ideal to invest in front-facing car seat covers. These are great for protecting the material and some may even have pockets to stash their games and essentials.
5. Wrong: Not removing heavy outerwear
When your little one reaches the toddler stage, it’s natural to want to wrap them up in cozy outerwear to keep them warm while traveling – however, this wouldn’t be advised. Make sure all coats, blankets and other bulky clothing is removed before placing your baby in their car seat. If not, harness straps won’t be able to fulfill their proper job of keeping your baby securely fastened.
Puffy coats can compress at force (during a crash), meaning extra space is created between your baby and the harness and less secure in their seat.
6. Wrong: Placing the car seat in the front passenger seat
You may have always wondered why car seats are placed in the backseat, rather than the front passenger seat. There’s a very good reason for it. If there was ever an accident, there is a serious risk that the airbags may explode into your baby’s car seat and cause suffocation, head or neck injuries.
Airbags are designed for adults to take the impact and open at a force of 200 miles per hour to cushion the blow. While this force is safe for adults and older kids, it can be extremely dangerous for babies. Therefore, never place your child’s car seat in the front passenger seat.
Getting Help with Newborn Car Seat Installation
Even if you think your infant baby seat is installed correctly, it’s a good idea to get it checked by someone who understands infant car seat requirements to be sure.
First, get your newborn car seat inspected. Take it to one of the many inspection locations of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
NHTSA partners with State and local agencies to provide locations around the country for families to get their car seats checked for proper installation. In addition, they ensure you’re using the right seat for your child.
If you know you’re having trouble with installation, you could also go to a local firehouse or police station.
It is important to note, that not every firefighter or police officer knows the correct way to install all the various types of car seats.
You’re better off finding an NHTSA inspection location or seeking a child passenger safety technician. Child passenger safety technicians are experts in car seat installation.
Furthermore, experts have taken 40 hours of instruction on the curriculum that the NHTSA, Safe Kids Worldwide, and the National CPS Board provides. Most importantly, they have the skills for installing and inspecting of all types of seats.
That makes them the ultimate guide for proper car seat installation and safety. Best of all, they can also provide configuration advice to ensure your car seats are positioned to best advantage in your vehicle.
And, if you’re having some frustration over car seat installation, it’s worth it to leave it to the experts.
Keeping Baby Safe Onboard
With a new baby on board, make sure that her car seat is size appropriate for her age. Also, that you have it installed safely and correctly.
If your newborn infant car seat manual is poorly written or you’re struggling to comply with the instructions, don’t get frustrated.
Find a certified child passenger safety technician or a local NHTSA car seat inspection location. Let an expert help you secure your child’s car seat correctly.
Above all, having a properly-installed seat means peace of mind for you and safety for your child.
What is your favorite brand and model of infant car seat?
Share in the comments below!
Disclosure: This site contains affiliate links to products. We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.