As many of you know, our owner MMT and her two year old son were in a horrific car crash in June of this year. MMT continues to suffer from the injuries sustained in the crash (which involved being struck by two cars, a bus, and the concrete median) but her toddler walked away entirely and completely unscathed...because he was seated in a properly-installed, rear-facing care seat.
At Intown Doula, we support your parenting choices without bias or judgment. We encourage our families to strike out on their own and find what works for them. We offer our clients information and then we allow them to apply it how they see fit.
Car seat safety is the one topic that we insist upon being taught a certain way. And the reason is simple: the fact is, MOST of the parenting decisions you make on a daily basis are not life-and-death. They just aren't. Your daughter is not going to be in a vital situation because you chose Dr. Brown's bottles over the Comotomo. Or use a Halo bassinet versus a traditional crib for the first little bit. Or buy baby food versus making it all yourself. But getting in the car with your baby is, statistically, the most dangerous thing you do each and every day, and it truly is lifesaving to have up-to-date information about car seat safety.
We boldly declare that rear-facing car seats, when installed properly and according to manufacturer's guidelines, and when utilized to the limits of the SEAT and not the LAW, can save lives. We know this because we've seen it. We never, ever want you or your family to be harmed, so we consulted with KayLee Proctor of Little Apple Doulas, a licensed CPST and Paramedic, to put together a two part blog about car seat safety just for you.
Your children are your most precious cargo and, surprisingly, one of the most dangerous things your family can do each day is ride in the car.
CDC data from 2014 reveals motor vehicle collisions as the leading cause of injury related death for ages 5-24 and the second leading cause for ages 0-4.
Fortunately, there are some simple things you can do to keep everyone in the car as safe as possible when driving.
1. BUCKLE UP!
All passengers in the car should be restrained. For adults, that means modeling proper seat belt use for younger passengers. Properly fitting seat belts should lie across your chest and hips (not dig into necks or bellies). Children should be placed in restraint systems that are appropriate for their height, weight, age, and maturity level. It is never acceptable for a child to ride in the lap of another passenger or share a seat belt with another passenger. Even our furry friends can ride safely in a harness or crate to prevent them from becoming ejected or a projectile during a wreck.
2. PICK THE RIGHT SEAT
With so many options, how does one choose the perfect seat for their child? The right answer is a lot simpler than you might think: the right fit for your vehicle, the right fit for your child, and the one you can operate correctly every single time. A local baby store may have floor models available to test out before you commit. Looking through car seat reviews can also help you with choosing what may work best for your family.
3. BUY IT BRAND NEW
Used car seats are not a safe option for your child. There are multiple factors that play into the safety of your child’s seat and you can’t guarantee the history of a seat you are purchasing from a friend, at a yard sale, or from an online group.
- Car seats expire, typically within 6 years of the manufacture date, due to the break down of the plastic over time.
- Car seats that have been in car accidents, even minor ones, can be unsafe to use as well.
- Cleaning car seat parts needs to be done according to the manual to prevent degrading the materials and jeopardizing their safety features.
- Storage and handling of the car seat needs to be done carefully to keep the integrity of the plastic intact.
- Checking car seats as luggage on an airplane is risky and may result in your car seat being damaged even if the damage is not obviously visible.
- Recalls on car seats can also pose a safety hazard and may not have been handled properly at the time of the recall.
4. FACE IT THE RIGHT DIRECTION
Babies and toddlers are safest riding rear facing, much safer in fact. A baby/toddler head is very large and heavy compared to the rest of their bodies and the vertebrae in their necks cannot handle the strong force applied in a collision if they were to be forward facing. The most severe injury related to forward facing toddlers is internal decapitation, which often results in the death of the child.
Legally, in many states a child can be turned forward facing once they reach 1 year of age AND 20 pounds. We implore you to refer to the AAP guidelines instead, that states children should ride rear-facing until at least 2 years of age. Many car seat experts will encourage parents to max out the height and/or weight limit of the seat (whichever comes first) in the rear-facing position before moving to forward facing. Studies show that around age 4 is when the vertebrae in the neck are more likely to tolerate the forward excursion a collision would place on them in the forward facing position.
5. INSTALL IT CORRECTLY
First, utilize your car seat’s manual to understand its features and how the manufacturer dictates installation of the seat. Next, select which method of installation you’d like to use.
There are two methods to installing your child’s seat: LATCH and seatbelt. Both are safe and have been crash tested but you can only use one method when installing. Try out both methods to see which one will be easiest for you to use 100% correctly every time.
LATCH method – check your car’s manual to verify which back seat locations can accommodate car seats being installed with LATCH. Use the anchors in the car’s back seat to hook the LATCH connectors. Tighten the LATCH straps while applying pressure to the seat in a downward motion towards the back of the car.
Seatbelt method – check your car’s manual to verify which positions a car seat can be installed. Some inflatable seatbelts may be incompatible with your car seat. In most newer models, you can pull all the slack out of the seatbelt, slide it through the appropriate belt path, buckle it in, and apply pressure to the seat down and back as you tighten the seatbelt. You should hear a ratchet sound as your feed the slack back in and the seat should be locked in place when you are finished.
Some seatbelts lock near the metal portion (latch plate) not where the slack feeds into (retractor). In this case, ensure the seatbelt is locked once slack is pulled. Some older models of vehicles have neither feature and a locking clip must be used. Each seat should come with a locking clip in the event your car requires one for a safe installation.
Once installed, use your non-dominant hand near the belt path to shake the seat back and forth, side to side at the same strength you would a firm handshake. The seat should not move more than 1 inch in either direction. If it does, tighten it more until it cannot do so.
The final step is to ensure the recline angle of the seat is within the parameters indicated on the side of the car seat itself. Sometimes this looks like a wheel, a bubble level, or a sticker
A forward facing seat should also be secured with the top tether. The location of the anchors for top tethers can be found in your vehicle’s manual.
Stay tuned for Car Seat Safety 102!