There is nothing more overwhelming to a newly pregnant woman than walking into a baby super store. I like shopping, but I was on the verge of a full- blown panic attack when I went to register for my first child and the woman behind the counter handed me a folder of everything you “need” for your child. I am a researcher by nature, so I turned around, went home to study up on the essentials – the most important of which is the car seat. I was new to this and did not realize that over the course of the next five years, I would not need one, not two, but three car seats to keep my little guy safe.
All car seats and boosters sold in the United States must meet safety guidelines set by the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, so if you are buying your car seat new (and you should be), you know it will be safe. What should you consider when choosing a car seat?
Buy the correct car seat for the age, height and weight of your child.
Install the car seat correctly in your vehicle.
Secure your child in the car seat properly EVERY time the child is in the car.
Children should stay rear-facing until 2 years of age, or until the child meets the height and weight requirements set by the manufacturer. In Ohio, children less than 4 or 40 pounds must use a child safety seat. Boosters properly position the seat belt. Use a high back booster if the car's backseat is below the top of your child's ears. Your child must use the booster until he is 8 years old, or is at least 4'9" tall. Keep in mind that these are minimums for age and weight; check the manufacturer’s information and keep your child in the appropriate car seat until they have met the age and height limits recommended by the manufacturer.
Once you have installed your car seat, have it inspected by a child passenger safety technician. The National Highway and Traffic Safety Association has an inspection site locator, found here.
And a head’s up! Beginning in February 2014, parents should not use the lower anchors of the car seat system, LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children), if the combined weight of the child and the car seat is 65 pounds or more. If the car seat and child weigh 65 pounds or more, the car seat should be secured using the seat belt, rather than the LATCH system. Here is an easy infographic on these changes, be sure to check it out.
As I write this, we are in the middle of a long, cold winter. In fact we just came out of something called a Polar Vortex. It was colder than I can ever remember. So of course we are all busy bundling up the kids. But did you know that bulky clothing/coats and car seats create a potentially dangerous combination? It is important to remember to remove any bulky clothing, such as snow suits and winter coats, from your child before placing him or her in a car seat. Anything that is between your child’s body and the harness straps of the car seat decreases the seat’s effectiveness in an accident. The fluffiness of a bulky coat creates space that in an accident is compressed, creating too much space between the child and the straps and that extra space puts the child at risk of being ejected from the seat. But there are ways they can safely be in their seat while staying warm. You can cover your child with a blanket after he or she is safely strapped in the seat. You can even turn the coat around and put it on backward with their arms through the holes.
Don't forget yourself! Make sure you always wear your seat belt. This will help your child form a lifelong habit of buckling up. Stay warm!
Sarah Denny, MD, FAAP, works as an attending physician in the Section of Emergency Medicine at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and as an associate clinical professor of pediatrics at The Ohio State University College of Medicine.
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