As those of you who either know me in person or read this blog regularly know, I am slightly
obsessed with passionate about car seat safety.
Last summer, when we were getting ready to move Little Sister from her infant car seat to a convertible seat, I did quite a bit of research online to decide which seat was best. I discovered the car seat safety forum on Babycenter.com and have learned SO many things from the knowledgable folks there. Since last summer, I have replaced 3 of our 4 seats and am about to replace the 4th (Big Brother is about to outgrow the seat in my car).
Here are some of the most important things I’ve learned:
• The child seat’s harness should be snug enough that you can’t slip more than 2 fingers between the strap and the top of the child’s shoulders. The chest clip should be even with the child’s armpits. For rear-facing children, the harness should be threaded through the highest slots that are below the child’s shoulders. For front-facing children, the harness should be threaded through the lowest slots that are above the child’s shoulders.
• The “front facing at 20 lbs AND 1 year” guideline is truly just the bare minimum. The AAP actually says it’s best to leave a child rear-facing until the maximum weight allowable by the seat. For most current seats, that’s at least 33 lbs. Little Sister will be rear-facing until she hits 33 lbs or until she outgrows rear-facing by height. Children can happily rear-face until age 3 or longer.
• The 30 lbs minimum weight listed on most belt-positioning booster seats allows kids who are WAY to young to sit properly in a booster to do so. Kids should be in a harnessed seat until they are least 4 years and 40 lbs., longer if possible. And then they should stay in a booster until they’re 4’9″, usually between 8 and 12 years old.
• There are seats available that will keep kids harnessed beyond the former standard of about 40 lbs. Big Brother is in a Britax Regent and will probably stay in it until he’s about 8. Little Sister is in the girly version of the Britax Decathlon, which will probably last her until 5 or 6, and then she’ll inherit the Regent for a couple of years. Other higher-weight harnessed seats include the Sunshine Radian and the Apex (but you MUST have high headrests to use this seat, as the headrest is not reinforced).
• Car seats expire after 6 years. Yes, it’s true that car seats expire. It makes sense when you think about all the use these things get, the extreme hot/cold temps, etc. Just think what a plastic toy would look like if you after six years of that much use!
• The 3-in-1 seats made by Dorel (Alpha Omega, Eddie Bauer) are NOT “the last seat you’ll ever need” even though that’s how the manufacturer markets them. These seats are great for rear-facing because they have a 35 lb limit, but most kids outgrow the front-facing harness around age 3 – far too early to use the seat in booster mode. And the seat doesn’t make a very good booster, because the closed belt loops don’t allow the car’s belt to retract easily and the shape of the seat holds the belt too far from the child, often positioning it on their belly instead of over their thighs, which is the correct position. I actually had the Alpha Omega for Little Sister (I was seduced by a great price) and had such a hard time with it (could never get a tight install in any spot in my car) that we bought the Decathlon and replaced the Alpha Omega with the Fisher Price Safe Voyage Deluxe that had been in hubby’s car.
• Puffy coats are a no-no because in an accident, they can compress, causing the child to move more or potentially even slip out. A good rule of thumb – if the harness fits snugly without the coat and you have to loosen it to buckle up with the coat, it’s too puffy. We make Big Brother take his coat off, buckle him in, and then he puts his coat on backwards. He thinks it’s hilarious and it keeps him just as warm.
If you have a child in a car seat, even if you’re not thinking about replacing the car seat, I highly recommend checking out the Babycenter forum and learning as much as you can about car seat safety. You might be surprised to know that you’re doing something wrong – I know I was!