Beginning even before you find out you’re pregnant, parenthood is filled with decisions (which brand of pregnancy test to purchase??). Some simple, some difficult, all important… and although it can be overwhelming, I’m pretty sure there will come a time when our children are making their own choices and we’ll look back on these days wishing we could be as involved as we once were.
One of the first choices for parents-to-be is which car seat will safely cradle their sweet new baby in the car for their adventures into the world. It’s required by law to have a car seat properly installed and ready-to-go when you leave the birth center or hospital so this is something which must be decided well before baby is born (same for home birthing families as well – you need to be prepared should the need arise to transport baby). Most community fire and police stations offer free car seat safety checks to help parents be sure their seats are properly installed- just call and ask!
Walking into any store which sells car seats, you’ll see that there are SO many choices – where to even begin?? It can be helpful to do a little online research and talking to friends who have “been there” before venturing out to make the purchase. The AAP recommends that children face the rear until at least 2 years of age or until they reach the height and weight maximum allowed by the car seat manufacturer (usually listed on a sticker on the side of the seat or base). It’s highly advisable to stick to these guidelines as you want to be sure your child is as safe as possible when riding in a vehicle.
There are three types of seats which can rear-face: rear-facing only (those small infant seats with a handle), convertible (which should be used rear-facing and can be turned forward when the time is right, and 3-in-1, a kind that can be used the longest (the same as a convertible but can also be a booster seat).
It seems that most parents gravitate toward the “infant car seat travel systems,” including the car seat and stroller, which attach together securely. This makes sense and seems like a great idea. We used one of these for our first baby. The infant seat with handle securely buckled into a stroller when I wanted to walk or shop. It seemed to work out well for me during the early days of my first son’s life… I lifted that (big, heavy, awkward) car seat by the handle and lugged it into the grocery store and Target, setting it into the shopping cart, just like many parents I’d seen do the same.
This was OK for strolling around while my babe was asleep but when he cried and wanted to nurse, I had to awkwardly toss my blanket over my shoulder and stand there trying to help him latch on while simultaneously trying to not flash the other shoppers. As a new mom, this was extremely nerve-wracking and awkward, but soothing him came naturally and I stopped and nursed as needed.
Little did I know how unsafe the practice of resting a car seat on a shopping cart is. But that’s what everyone else did… what other option was there? At the time, I didn’t give a second thought to my system of carrying the seat in, resting it (securely, I thought) in my shopping cart and going on my way, hoping my son would sleep while I shopped. This is actually totally dangerous and NOT advisable.
When I became a mom for the second time, the whole scenario was different. I learned a lot between child 1 and 2 and came to feel differently about many things. This time, we bought a “convertible car seat” that matched my older son’s. I wouldn’t need to purchase another car seat at all, unlike the infant seat which only lasts until they outgrow it (maybe a year or so at most). Wyatt was born at home and we didn’t leave the house for a few weeks after his birth (but it was installed in the car, just in case).
I had no problems securing him in the car seat, with a little help from an infant headrest which cradled his head and neck. When we arrived at our various destinations I simply scooped him up into a wrap, held big brother Jack’s hand and went on our way. If Wyatt was asleep in the car, he rarely woke when I picked him up. If he was awake, I simply wrapped him up, lowered my shirt and helped him latch onto his milk. No lugging of the car seat and a happy, satisfied and calm baby (and mom!). It really was as easy as it sounds.
I’ve found that avoiding the infant car seat altogether (and choosing another style), or at least leaving it in the car, has been awesome and something worth considering. Here are 8 reasons why…
1. Your hands are free if they’re not filled with car seat! (You can carry your bag, coffee, a tote filled with the contents of your children’s playroom or nothing at all.)
2. Your nursing babe has easy access to milk than if they were strapped in.
3. It’s easier on your back (those seats can feel SO heavy and awkward to hold!).
4. Baby is sweetly satisfied to be near mamas heartbeat, warmth and scent if you carry her in a baby carrier or in your arms instead (babies small enough to fit in an infant seat are still so fresh and new to the world – their mother is their “home base”).
5. Wearing your baby makes caring for your other child(ren) a LOT easier.
6. You won’t have to purchase an additional car seat when they grow out of the infant seat, that’s a big savings.
7. You’re into the store and back into the car faster (once you get the hang of “putting your baby on,” it becomes super easy and quick).
8. Your shopping cart is ready and open to fill with stuff (if you have an infant seat in your shopping cart…it’s much harder to pack in groceries).
My present-day shopping experiences look a lot different: My almost-five-year-old hops out and walks, sometimes rides in the seat portion of a cart, mostly stands on the front, pretending to be a train engineer, while my almost-two-year-old goes into my Ergo or sling but is starting to want to walk and be his big brother’s shadow. I prefer to wear my little one or let him walk, but we use the stroller sometimes- because we all know that the best part of a stroller is its ability to hold all our “stuff” (I love it for when we walk and jog too).
In terms of babywearing, there are so many additional developmental benefits- emotional, physical, and psychological- to babywearing in addition to the convenience. When your baby is a newborn and most likely to use the newborn car seats, your baby is going through what is called the “4th trimester.” During this time your baby is learning to transition from the warm, cozy comfort of your womb to the outside world. Babywearing, instead of putting your baby in a car seat, can strengthen the bond between baby and parent.
Additionally, babywearing also helps with your child’s cognitive development. Research has shown that baby wearing aids in a child’s developing speech and language because a child is held close to your face, able to better see your facial expressions and hear the words you are speaking. It also is a huge source of comfort for a child to be held close to his or her parent during those early months and even the first few years. Babywearing, especially in concern of a car seat, is significantly safer in terms of a sleeping baby and can even reduce the risk of SIDS when they are sleeping in a crib or bassinet.
Babywearing also helps to promote neural development, helps a child learn to hold their head up faster (there are so many neat things to see after all!), and even helps mom boost her breastmilk supply. It can also help a child’s respiratory and gut health (gravity helps everything go down instead of sitting flat).
There are also several different kids of baby carriers that you can try, so don’t be discouraged if the first one you try you didn’t like.
• Wrap carriers- These are one of the most traditional types of carriers and they have been used for centuries by different cultures and ethnicities. They are also one of the most difficult to master for a first-time wrapper so they often aren’t the choice of many new parents.
• Ring Sling- This fabric sling is easy to put on and easy to wear. Your child can easily sit against you or on your hip, and you tighten it by adjusting the straps on the sling. It is best used for an older child but it can also be used for infants if done properly.
• Soft Structured Carriers- These types of carriers have become the most popular in recent years. They hold your baby easily against your chest and are easy to put on without constant adjusting. They are also ergonomic and comfortable to wear for long periods of time.
• Mei Tei carrier- This is a cross between a wrap carrier and a soft structured carrier. Straps become loose after a long wear and sometimes have to be readjusted.
• Backpack carriers- These are typically used for long and prolonged use, like when hiking. They are only to be used for children six months and older, generally, but they are also often the carrier of choice for big toddlers.
Undoubtedly, there will be parents who read this and totally disagree with me and enjoy using the infant car seat. There may be moms who have tried babywearing and find it totally uncomfortable…or some who have never had the chance to learn how to wear their baby (search Facebook and Meetup.com for local babywearing groups to learn about and try out carriers). Like all choices, every parent should listen to their instincts above all other voices of advice. I urge you to take the time to research and explore your options, not worrying if your way of doing things differs from those around you.
I didn’t write this for the purpose of judging or debating anyone’s decisions; my goal is to show you another option. I didn’t know that I had choices like this when I was navigating motherhood with my first baby and I wish someone had told me. We all have so much to learn from each other!
Car Seat Resources: