We don’t leave our babies on a change table unsupervised because they could roll and fall off. When our babies start pulling to a stand, we lower the crib so they don’t fall out. When they start crawling we put baby gates in front of the stairs so they don’t fall down. We plug up electrical outlets so curious little minds don’t go sticking things in them. When our babies are in pain or sick we read how much medicine to give them so we are giving the correct, safe dosage. We do this because we want to keep our babies safe. Do accidents happen? Of course they do – but no parent ever wants these things to happen of course! So we take measures to prevent these things from happening.
One area of child safety that seems to be undermined the most, is one of the areas in which our babies spend a lot of time. The car seat.
I have begged and pleaded for what seems like years on social media for parents to seek education and help for proper car seat installation and how to safely secure their child in car seats. I have now even gotten so brave as to be as polite as I possibly can to either comment on a picture saying that the straps don’t look tight enough, the chest clip is too low, etc. to writing that mom a private email and praying that I come of as caring (which is my honest intention) and not judgmental.
I want to be positive. I don’t want to make anyone feel like a bad parent. A lot of parents are none-the-wiser…but it is our responsibility as parents to make sure we’re using any safety device properly and effectively. Accidents, including car accidents, are the #1 killer of children under the age 0f 14 in both Canada and the US. It is our job to buy whatever car seat suits the needs for the child and our budget, but read the manual and make sure you’re using it properly for your child’s weight and height.
1. Extended Rear-Facing (ERF) is Recommended
Just because your baby is 1 year old, 22 lbs and walks independently, you don’t have to forward face them. In fact, it is recommended to keep toddlers rear facing to two years and beyond, as long as your car seat and your child’s weight & height fall into the safety guidelines for your specific brand of car seat. A lot of car seats can have toddlers rear-facing up to 45 lbs.
A lot of people worry that their child will be uncomfortable as their legs cannot stretch out, but the child doesn’t know any different and it is truly the safest practice. In a severe collision you can fix broken legs – you can’t always fix broken spines.
2. It Is Called a Chest-Clip For a Reason
I cannot tell you how many times I’ve seen on my social media feeds pictures of children not correctly fastened into their car seats. Asides from seeing bulky clothing, which is a no-no, the most obvious fault is having the chest clip too low. The chest clip needs to be at armpit level on your child, not any lower than that. While we’re talking about proper fastening of the car seat harness, you can tell if the harness is tight by performing the “pinch” test on the shoulder straps (try and pinch the fabric vertically) or, alternatively, if you can only slip one finger under the harness at your child’s collarbone.
3. All Car Seats Expire
Crazy, right? This one I did not know until I owned a car seat. All car seats have a label, usually on the side/bottom that give a date that it was manufactured. Car seats expire anywhere from 5-10 years depending on the brand, so please make sure you aren’t using an expired seat! Plastic becomes brittle over time, especially with our climate of being in -30°C (or below) weather in the winter to +30°C (or above) in the summer. The cushions and styrofoam can also wear down over time and the most important – safety regulations and testing also change over time.
4. If a Vehicle is in a Collision The Car Seat Needs to be Replaced
Even if there’s no visible damage to the car seat, or if your child wasn’t even in the car seat, it is best practice to replace it. There can be damage done to the car seat without us being able to see it, so why take that risk?
5. Don’t Rush Your Child Into the Next Car Seat Phase
As I stated in the ERF point, there is no need to rush your child out of their current car seat, as long as their weight and height fall in the safety guidelines for your car seat. Here are some of the safety regulations in Canada:
- Child (convertible) seats are often able to accommodate a 66 lb child – just because your child reaches the minimum weight requirement for a booster seat, doesn’t mean you have to immediately switch
- Minimum weight for a booster seat is 40 lbs as long as they meet the height requirement for your seat
- Minimum weight for a seat belt only (no booster seat) depends on the individual seat and provincial/territorial law – but it is safest practice to stay in a booster seat as long as possible
I have seen way too many pictures on Instagram and Twitter of shoulder straps so loose that they are off the shoulders, children way too young in a booster seat with a seat belt, hugely visible twists in the car seat harness straps, big winter jackets on, the shoulder straps at the child’s ear level and not at or just above their shoulders (for forward facing or at or just below the shoulders for rear facing), kids so slouched over sleeping that there is NO WAY they are tightly secured. It absolutely breaks my heart.
I know that no parent would ever intentionally want to hurt their child, but if you are in a collision and you aren’t using your car seat properly – your child can go flying out of their car seat. I’ve seen the end result of this and it’s heart-breaking. I started learning about car seat safety when I worked in the pediatric operating room before I was even married and had kids. Getting called in to do neurosurgery on a child who had a closed head injury and swelling of the brain from being ejected from their car seat because the child was wearing a winter jacket while harnessed into their seat. So sad, so preventable.
There are lots of car seat clinics in Canada (I couldn’t find any info on car seat clinics in the States) but here’s the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s website on car seat safety for my American readers.
I’ve started taking the approach on my social media feeds to either leave a polite comment or to email the person privately if I see a car seat faux pas and how to fix it. Call me a “car seat Nazi” if you want, but so many people just don’t know, and I sure would want to know if I wasn’t using my car seat safely. I encourage you to kindly do the same. This isn’t commenting about a parenting choice (formula vs breastfeeding, etc.) that we wouldn’t make for our kids — this is a huge safety issue that I am trying to advocate for. It doesn’t make you a bad parent, but it does need to be known.