Did you know the majority of parents are using their carseats incorrectly? Did you know car accidents are a top cause of death in children? Did you know the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends parents keep their child’s carseat rear-facing for at least 2 years?
I didn’t know most of this info when I first had my son, but I have learned a lot since then, so I’ve compiled some general information here. All pictures are used with permission, & please follow the purple links for further information!
Not all carseats are the same. Expired carseats, used carseats, & carseats that have been in a moderate-to-severe accident are not safe for use & need to be discarded properly. As much as I love reusing things & using hand-me-downs, the only way I would accept a used carseat is if I was certain the owner had never been in an accident with it & if I knew it was not expired. I was in an accident a couple years ago & although my son’s carseat did its job well & didn’t appear to be damaged at all, my car was totaled, therefore the carseat was rendered useless. I recommend saving your receipts when you purchase a new seat, because your insurance company may want to see it in order to cover the cost of a new one. My car accident had a big impact on me (punny!) because it wasn’t my fault at all; I am a good driver, but a gigantic excavating truck ran a red light & hit me out of nowhere. It showed me that the extra thought put into carseat safety is worth it.
Another reason not all carseats are the same is their rear-facing weight/height limit. Rear-facing carseats are 500% safer than forward-facing. Ideally every passenger in the car would be able to sit rear-facing because it really is the safest way to ride in a vehicle. Unfortunately, some carseats have low rear-facing weight limits, which forces parents to turn their child forward before it is safe or recommended to do so. Double unfortunate is the fact that carseats with higher rear-facing options are typically more expensive. A good carseat is an excellent investment though. Some of the better options could be the only carseat your child will ever need, since they convert into a booster seat, which children should be in anywhere from 8-12 years old, depending on both height & weight.
I understand that some people wonder about kids not having anywhere to put their legs while rear-facing, or possibly breaking legs during a collision. I made the mistake of turning my son’s seat forward when he was 12 months old, because I thought it was supposed to be a happy milestone. I learned more shortly after & turned his seat back around. He has never complained about discomfort; he sits with his legs outstretched or folded. If we got into an accident that was bad enough to break his legs, it can be assumed it would have broken his neck if he was forward-facing. Broken legs are easier to fix than broken necks.
Here are some of the best carseats with the highest rear-facing limits:
-Diono Radian RXT (rear-facing to 45lbs, forward-facing to 80lbs, booster seat up to 120lbs, steel reinforced, $250-$350 depending on deals)
-A few options from Britax (rear-facing to 30-40lbs depending on the type, forward facing to 55-70lbs, booster seat on some seats, $170-$250 depending)
-First Years True Fit (rear-facing to 35lbs, forward-facing to 65lbs, under $200)
-Graco My Ride 65 (rear-facing to 40lbs, forward-facing to 65lbs, $150)
-Eveflo Triumph Advanced Convertible (rear-facing to 35lbs, forward-facing to 50lbs, $130)
As a low-income parent, I’ve always been fairly horrified by the high prices of good carseats, with the essential implication being the more money you have, the safer your child gets to be. But there are certain parenting choices that can significantly lower the cost of raising children, like using cloth diapers, breastfeeding instead of using formula, & cosleeping in lieu of an expensive crib, hopefully freeing some finances to afford a decent carseat. I was blessed with the gift of a good carseat this Christmas (shout out to my parents- thanks so much!).
A few other rules about carseats:
-The chest clip goes on the chest, near the nipples & armpits.
-The straps should be completely flat throughout the harness system & snug against your child; they should not be twisted or loose. This is a perfect example of how the straps should be tightened:
-Carseats have slots for adjusting the straps as the child gets taller. The strap should be in the slot at or below the shoulders for rear-facing; at or above the shoulders for forward-facing.
-Aftermarket products are not safe. This is any product that does not come with your carseat, with the exception of angle adjusters & cup-holders that are specifically made for your carseat by the same manufacturer. Head support things, mirrors, fluffy strap cushions, etc. are all considered unsafe by car safety professionals. Here are the manufacturers’ statements about adding bulk to the seat.
-The carseat should be in the middle seat if possible. This can drastically reduce injury in a side collision.
-Carseats are for cars. The infant carrier style of carseat gives the wrong impression, in my opinion, that carrying an infant around in a carseat is safe. This is not true. Infant carrier carseats lower oxygen levels, which can be problematic for newborns. Infant carrier seats are NOT supposed to be used in shopping carts. Even if your infant carrier “clicks” onto the shopping cart, that is NOT its proper use, & it is not safe. A baby recently died this way. Slings & proper infant carriers like the Ergo or Becco are much safer options.
-Thick winter coats should not be used underneath the carseat belts, because it can create slack during a collision, basically as though the straps are very loose. As a native Minnesotan, I found this bonkers when I first heard it, but the manufacturer statements against adding bulky products to the carseat applies to coats as well. To test this, get your child bundled up in their winter gear, then buckle them into the carseat & tighten the straps properly. Then take them out of the carseat, out of their coat, & buckle them back in. If there is any slack, their coat is not safe to be worn under the belt. I have a few thin but warm fleece jackets for my son that work well. I warm my car up during the winter anyway, so I put his coat on to go from the house to the car, then take it off before buckling him in & he wears it backwards on his arms. It can feel like a hassle in -20 weather, but it’s worth it.
Reading your carseat manual is one of the best steps to keeping your child safe. There are varying ways for installing carseats in different cars, & rear-facing latching is different than forward-facing, so attention must be paid to the details of proper installation. Even after reading my manual I prefer to take my carseat to professional carseat technicians who can show me exactly how to correctly install my carseat. You can find carseat technicians in your area here.
What are your most valuable carseat safety tips, Dear Reader? What, if any, mistakes did you make with your child’s carseat? What kind of carseat do you have? How long did your children rear-face? Feel free to leave your tips & advice here!
About Kristen Tea
I am a 27-year-old single, attached, informed, lactivist, intactivist, peaceful Minnesotan mother of almost 4-year-old Sun Ronin a.k.a Sunny Boy. I am an artist & lover of expression. I'm also a student with many things to learn, including nutritional therapy, lactation consulting, doulahood, yoga instructing, & more. I believe that unplanned pregnancies do not have to equal uninformed motherhood, & women have the power to restore humanity to everything we touch.