Car Seat Safety - 95% of Parents Are Doing It Wrong

I've always had my gripes with child safety - more importantly car seat safety.

I can't tell you how many times I scroll through my Instagram feed, only to see countless people I follow and their defenseless children, incorrectly buckled into their car seats. Repeat parents that I follow, are just as guilty - if not more, than the first-time parents I keep up with. Each time I spot the errors it's honestly heartbreaking. To see that so many people are obviously clueless when it comes to such an important safety measure, I just can't help but get disappointed. To those that I feel comfortable with, I reach out and suggest corrections to which thankfully they are receptive to; but not everyone is up to hearing about what they're doing "wrong" with their child. It's a very fine line to walk on when you make suggestions to another parent about their parenting skills, or lack thereof. Some may take the advice as a blessing and are all ears. Others may get super defensive and accuse you of overstepping boundaries. In any event, as someone who only wants the best for my baby, and everyone else's, I can only hope for the best.

But people...are you NOT doing your research when it comes to this? Or do you just think that fastening a buckle here, and a buckle there is all it takes? Well, it's not...there's A LOT more to it. I seriously WISH you'd all get the memo. </end rant>

To know that three out of four car seats are installed incorrectly into their cars is already alarming (source: AAA), but to learn that nearly 95% of parents perform at least one critical error when either installing or securing their child into the seat, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, is infuriating and astonishing; and just scrolling up and down my social feed, I sadly believe it.

Negligence along with inappropriate use or installation of a car seat can be DEADLY. Just because you feel your child is in the seat, does not mean that they are safe and protected in the event of a car crash. Thankfully however, this can be all avoided if people just took the time to educate themselves on how a child should properly be strapped into a car seat at all times, not just when in a moving car; as well as proper installation that can be verified (usually by local traffic officers or firefighters here in the States), and the safety benefits of extended rear-face seating.

Getting It Right

Safely securing a baby into an infant car seat should be an easy thing if you follow the following steps below:

  • Belt Adjustment: Prior to seating baby, always ensure that the shoulder straps are always coming out of the seat, at or just beneath the baby's shoulders; this only applies for seats that do not have no-re-thread straps. Note that when forward-facing, this will change to at or above shoulder level.
  • Strap Covers: If for some reason you are unable to slide your trap covers up to the baby's shoulders, so that they can still give way to the position where the harness buckle needs to be, then do so; otherwise - remove them entirely. Strap covers are not safety devices, completely optional and can be uncomfortable for some babies.
  • Avoid Chin to Chest: A lot of infant car seats will include additional padding behind the head which can cause baby's head to fall forward, causing an uncomfortable chin to chest position, which in turn blocks the airway passages. The padding can sometimes be removed, but if you prefer not to do so, then turn your baby's head to the side to allow better air flow.
  • Always Loosen Straps Fully Prior To Placing Baby: Because straps are constantly being adjusted time and time again, and babies grow daily, it is important that you are bringing the straps to what I like to call as their "reset" point every single time. Loosen the straps each time before you position baby in the seat, this will ensure that you are able to tighten the straps precisely as needed and that there is nothing that is getting stuck or in the way.
  • Butt First: Always place baby by positioning their tushies first into the seat and make sure it is all the way into the back of the seat.
  • Buckle Crotch Then Chest Clip: It's best practice to always buckle the crotch fastener first and then the chest clip. This will allow you to gather any belt slack in the leg/thigh area that you can bring up to the chest belt pathway. When you buckle the chest clip, please keep it low - at first; this will change in the next step.
  • Gather Slack and THEN Tighten Belt Harness: As noted above, starting from the bottom (leg/thigh area) gather any slack from the leg/waist/thigh area and scoot it up towards the direction of the chest clip and shoulders. Once you have gathered all of the lower slack then you can begin to tighten the belt harness. If you fail to gather any of the bottom slack, then the harness will still be able to tighten but it will remain loose at the waist area.
  • No More Than One-Finger Pinch: I prefer not to be able to pinch any of the belt when checking the amount of snugness of Grayson but the rule of thumb is that you can allow up to one-finger width of slack between baby and belt. Anything more than that is too much.
  • Chest Clip At Armpit Level: The chest clip is your baby's brace. Please make sure that it is always armpit to armpit, never any lower or higher.
  • Baby In The Middle: Unless your car is a 4-seater, an infant car seat should always be placed in the middle seat.
  • No Coats, Snowsuits, Buntings, Winter Jackets, Thick Layers or Leg-Unifying Clothing: This is probably one of the most important things to know when placing a baby or child into a car seat. They cannot in any way, shape or form, have on any outerwear, thick layers, buntings, etc. NOTHING!!! This is crucial and extremely important. Why? Because all of the added layers, create space and loose inches of belt, which pose a threat to your baby. Using coats or anything similar, create a dangerous gap between the belt harness and your baby, which can be deadly should you crash. Your baby can be harmed or instantly eject out of the car seat since they are not snugly secured into their seat; the belt is not securing their chest and body, rather it is securing the coat and/or added layers! So what's the fix for chilly and sub-zero temperatures?
    • If you are able to, you can start the car prior to leaving the house so that it can warm for several minutes before you quickly enter with baby.
    • You can also cover baby with a blanket after baby has been securely strapped into the seat, so that the blanket is over the baby and the straps.
    • In the same fashion, you can also place coat on baby, backwards; so that they can stick their arms through the sleeves - this same method should apply to older toddlers and kids.
    • Lastly, another option is a warm infant car seat cover or car seat specific coat like these amazing versions from my favorite sub-zero-temp-friendly brand 7AM Enfant, which have all been tried and tested by me and @LittleMrGray. I can proudly say that each of these withstood every bit of our Northeast Artic and brutal winters and kept Grayson nice and steamy just like he likes it:
 7AM Enfant Car Seat Cocoon

7AM Enfant Car Seat Cocoon

 7AM Enfant Nido

7AM Enfant Nido

 Grayson @ 2-Months

Grayson @ 2-Months

The Nido's are my favorite because they can be transferred to regular stroller seats as well, and since I had both the fleece and the down version, if I ever had to venture out on a day where wind chill factors were "negative" anything, then I would just double both of them together like in the picture shown. Same as for the days when it began getting warmer, the down-filled version was no longer needed...we were just fine with the fleece! The Nido was designed by The Car Seat Lady in collaboration with 7AM Enfant, and they are not only perfected to keep you baby warm and safe but they don't restrict of hinder your child's seat at all. They are designed with a round cutout in the back so that your baby's car seat harness can flow through freely to strap your child.

To see all of the steps above in action, because I promise it's not as difficult as it reads; check out this informative video from The Car Seat Lady, detailing everything step-by-step:

And if you have ADHD or don't have the 8-minutes to watch the video, she even created a shorter version y'all:

Also, twisted straps are dangerous! Here's how to deal with them:

Lastly, for those in the New York City area or in Baltimore, The Car Seat Lady offers lessons and install checks in person, also a valuable resource for parents in any other U.S. city including those two named above, visit this link at SaferCar.org to get access to a list of car seat installation inspectors in your area.

If you have any questions on your car seat installation, leave me a comment or send me a note!

Xo,
Ros