#childsafety | 10 car seat guidelines every parent needs to know

Car seats are an amazing bit of engineering. When used properly, these bits of plastic, metal and
cloth keep our children safe. Over the years, car seats (and laws requiring us to use them) have
gotten better and better, and made our

kids significantly safer on the road.

But in some ways, car seats aren’t super intuitive. There’s a lot for new parents to know about car

Here are 10 things parents need to know to keep babies safe in car seats:

1. Only use them in the car, never at home or at daycare


In the car, a car seat is absolutely the safest place to be. But once your baby leaves the vehicle,
that changes.

Researchers with

the American Academy of Pediatrics

and the

Canadian Paediatric Society

say the most dangerous time for a baby to be in a car seat is when they’re not actually in a car.

It’s important for new parents to know that car seats really should only be used in the car, and
not as a place for a baby to sleep, as they aren’t designed to be a safe sleep surface. When babies
are allowed to sleep in car seats outside the vehicle they are at risk for something called
positional asphyxia, where the position of the body blocks the airway.

Parents should not be shy about making “never use the car seat outside the car” a rule for anyone
who watches the baby—grandparents, babysitters or daycare providers may not know this.

Any childcare provider should understand this and should never let a child nap in a car seat
outside the vehicle, especially unattended.

2. Mind the minimum and maximum wieghts

Some car seats are approved for babies who weigh as little as 4 pounds, while others have a minimum
weight of 5 pounds, and the maximum weights can vary from 20-some pounds to over 60.

This is something to think about when shopping for your first car seat. Are you cool with buying
another car seat when your child grows out of an infant-only seat, or would you rather get

an all-in-one that they can sit in until they’re 10?

It’s important to adhere to car seat’s weight requirements to keep your baby as safe as possible.

4.  Don’t keep babies in car seats for long stretches of time

When you’re road tripping with a baby, plan for frequent stops.

The AAP recommends

parents plan “to stop driving and give yourself and your child a break about every two hours.”

When it comes to babies under a month old, some car seat researchers suggest putting off the longer
drives for a few more weeks.

Professor Peter Fleming,

a noted car seat researcher

, says parents of babies who haven’t hit the 1-month mark should try to keep road trips brief.
“Restrict it to say, no more than half an hour or so,” Professor Peter Fleming he

told the BBC


If you’ve got to go farther than that, just plan for rest stops to get baby out of the car seat
(and maybe get mama some Starbucks).

5. Take off the baby’s winter coat, before buckling them in

According to the AAP

, bulky coats and snowsuits can compress in a car crash, leaving the straps too loose to keep a
child safely in their seat.

Car seat experts suggest dressing kids in layers and removing bulky coats before strapping children
in. They can wear a thinner fleece jacket as well as their boots, mittens and hat, and after your
child is buckled in you can put their coat on backward (over the harness) to keep them warm if

6. Don’t use after-market accessories

If it didn’t come with your car seat, don’t put it on your car seat.

Toys, head cushions or soft strap covers are commonly found in retailer’s baby sections, but using
them isn’t a great idea,

say safety experts.

Aftermarket, third-party accessories can void car seat warranties and put babies in danger.

7. Keep them rear-facing as long as you can

According to the AAP, rear-facing car seats are the safest, and there’s no age limit on when kids
need to be turned around. It’s actually about size, not about age

(although the guidelines used to say kids should be rear facing until age two, they’ve been

Car seat experts with the AAP don’t want parents to rush transitioning kids out of rear-facing
seats—or later, into boosters—because every transition actually reduces the amount of
protection a child has in the event of a crash.

Many modern car seats have weight limits of 65 pounds or more, so kids can stay in them for quite
some time.

8. Use the LATCH system (when appropriate)

Modern cars have those car seat anchors in the back seats known as the Lower Anchors and Tethers or
LATCH system. They allow parents to clip the car seat into the anchors (hidden in the folds of the
seat) without having to use the adult seatbelt.

Do check your vehicle’s manual though to find out what the weight limit is on your LATCH system (in
most vehicles is only built to hold 65 pounds). The weight limit is close to the weight limit of
many of today’s car seat models, but the LATCH weight limit does not take into account the weight
of the car seat.

If your baby (okay, elementary schooler) is 40 pounds, combined with their 15 or 20 pound car seat,
this will put them over the weight limit for the LATCH system. It’s time to switch to securing the
car seat with the seat belt.

9. Use the top tether strap

Car seat experts say

one of the most common mistakes parents make when transitioning from a rear-facing car seat to the
forward-facing position is not using the top tether strap. It’s there for a reason, so make sure
you use it when it’s time to turn your child around.

10. Bottom line: Always use as directed


When parents use car seats as the manufacturer intends, they help keep our children as safe as they
can possibly be. There’s a lot of information about car seats, and it can sometimes feel
overwhelming. If something is confusing, reach out to your manufacturer. Chances are, they’ve heard
your question before.

When used as directed, car seats are an amazing piece of safety equipment, one all mamas should be
thankful for.

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