Recently, on a shopping trip, I approached a fellow mom. Her completely adorable infant was buckled into a bucket style carseat which was perched precariously atop the store’s shopping cart. I complimented her baby and then gently informed her that those seats are not made to be on top of the cart; it causes a top-heavy situation which makes the cart prone to tipping, and could even damage the locking mechanism made to keep the seat safely secured to the base your car.
She snapped at me to mind my own business before continuing on down the aisle.
I get it. We, all of us moms, are trying our very best. We are taking in all of the research and making decisions that work for our families, and very resentful of unwanted advice and perceived judgment.
I was not always a CPST. I did not always use best practices with my car seats. I didn’t know! Every day, I am learning more, and I, like you, am just trying to do my best. This is a picture of my son at four months old, and while he is adorable, this is practically an advertisement of what NOT to do. Dangerous aftermarket car seat insert? Check. Overly bulky coat affecting the harness fit? Check. Too low placement of the chest clip? Check. I don’t remember a specific instance of putting his seat on the top of a shopping cart, but I probably did.
I am so, so lucky that we were never in an accident that could have proven my errors to be fatal. So please, don’t be mad if I stop you and critique your car seat – you never know if you might not be so lucky.
Here are few car seat tips to keep everyone safe:
Most of the car seat accessories in the big box stores are not recommended, or even illegal.
The sleeping bag style car seat inserts, neck pillows, and fluffy shoulder strap covers are not crash tested with your seat, and may alter how it works in a collision. If it did not come in the box with your seat, use extreme caution before using it. Check your manual – use of these aftermarket items is forbidden and can void your warranty. Additionally, many states have a “proper use” clause in their child restraint laws, and going against the manual would actually be illegal.
State laws are minimums, and do not reflect best practices.
Just because something is legal, does not make it the safest. Most states allow for turning your child to forward facing at one year and 20 pounds. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends waiting until at least 2 years, or until your child outgrows the limits of his seat. Best practices is for children to ride rear facing until age 3-4, forward facing with a 5 point harness until age 5-6, in a booster until age 10-12, and in the back seat until age 13.
Get your seat checked by a certified Child Passenger Safety Tech.
Car collisions are the leading cause of death for children up to age 13 in the United States, and up to 85% of child restraints show critical misuses. An improperly used car seat can actually be MORE dangerous than not using one at all – CPSTs are trained in the various types of car seats and safe installation, and checks are often free. Find a tech near you here: http://cert.safekids.org/find-tech-0 Remember that car seat safety does not end when your child graduates to the next stage. The misuse in boosters is higher even than for newborn seats!
Read your manuals – for the car seat AND for your vehicle.
Make sure you are getting the safest possible installation every time! Your vehicle manual will tell you which seating positions allow for child restraints, where the LATCH and tether anchors are located, and anything you need to be aware of for the air bag system. Your car seat manual will tell you when the seat is outgrown, weight limits for use with the LATCH system, and how to properly use the seat. Car seats are not accessories; they are critical pieces of safety gear – make sure you are using them properly!
–Sarah Ludwig is a former teacher and mom of two. She is a childbirth educator, doula, baby wearing educator, and child passenger safety tech; she is also on the Westchester Safe Kids Advisory Board. You can also find Sarah on her own family blog, lovetheludwigs.com.