26 Weeks: Car Seat Safety

May 28, 2012

From the moment I became pregnant, I started listening to Pregtastic podcasts. When I was out walking, while taking a shower, while making a meal, on car trips – everywhere. I. Learned. So. Much.

I was very sad when I reached the end of the 250ish episodes, but I discovered the continuation of Pregtastic: New Moms, New Babies. Unfortunately it seems both shows are on a hiatus right now, but that doesn’t mean the information isn’t great. NMNB has been great to hear from new moms and how things are going, and the topics covered are really educational.

If you only listen to one mommy podcast in your life, this one should be it: Child Seat Safety, Proper Installation and Seat Recommendations.

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I really know absolutely nothing about car seats, yet their job is of utmost importance. I know the baby has to be buckled in and I know that it’s wise to go to the fire/police station to have them verify that the car seat is installed properly. But in this podcast, there was much that I didn’t know that might end up saving my baby’s life someday. (A tough phrase to say/type).

The podcast is led by Robyn Siminoff, a Child Passenger Safety Instructor, and she shocks even the moms in the studio with some facts about carseat dos and don’ts. Some of the rules seem a bit extreme, but when you think about the role the car seat is playing in your child’s safety, this is serious information.

Here were a few pointers that I took away and packed into my brain:

-Never put your car seat insert in the washing machine (SHOCKER! All the moms had done this!) Anything other than wiping/hand washing will ruin the fibers of the straps so that in a crash they would not spring back as they are suppose to and the baby can fly out if the straps break.

-Even if you are in a fender bender and your car is not damaged, the impact from just you slamming on your breaks is enough to “wear out” the single-use straps. You need a new seat, or at the very least, new straps. (Soooo annoying, but remember we’re talking life or death here. If you were in a much more severe crash a few weeks later and those straps didn’t work…you’d probably wish you had addressed them after the first bump).

-Straps need to be secure and tight at ALL TIMES. Whenever the baby is in the seat. This includes when grocery shopping or in strollers. (Note car seats should never go in the top part of a grocery cart – they can tip out no matter how heavy it feels!) A lot of car seat accidents happen when the baby isn’t even in the car but because mom doesn’t put on the straps for a quick carry.

-Robyn does not recommend a mirror to see your baby’s face. This distracts mom and makes a car crash more likely a la texting while driving. If your baby is upset, you will hear him cry and whether you can see him or not you will likely take the same action (pull over to nurse/adjust or ride it out till you’re home). The mirrors can also fly around in the car in a serious crash.

-Speaking of flying debris, if you would not want to hit your baby in the face with an item yourself, don’t have it loose in the car. Stuffed animal = probably OK. Stroller, cooler, heavy purse = not OK. She suggested strapping your purse in with a seatbelt.

-The angles of the car seat are very important. The baby’s head should not fall forward and the base should be totally even. Don’t add any layers to your baby that would allow him to slip out like a big snow suit – the suit would stay in the car seat and the baby would fly out of the suit. Instead put your baby in in no more than 2 layers and then put all the warmth over him and the straps.

-Always have your car seat checked out if you put it in a different car for the first time. Tight isn’t always right.

Safe baby transport to all!

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{ 46 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Reghan May 28, 2012 at 8:17 am

very informative entry and things I wouldn’t have known! thanks!

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2 Erin Motz May 28, 2012 at 8:53 am

No machine washing?! That’s crazy – I would have never known that. There’s so much to learn!

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3 Liz May 28, 2012 at 9:27 am

You can’t wash the car seat cover ??!!! I can understand not washing the straps (I wiped or hand washed). BUT I washed the cover all the time. Swim diapers leak and so do regular diapers (especially breast fed poop). Puke, spit-up, spilled (or shaken for baby entertainment) juice or milk, ground in blueberries / grapes / cookie / muffin.

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4 KERF May 28, 2012 at 9:39 am

Maybe if you can detach the straps you can….I haven’t played with many carseats to really know how they work, but this instructor was adamant about machine washing

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5 Sarah May 28, 2012 at 9:33 pm

I’m not an expert, either, but we’ve got two car seats, and the cloth cover/insert comes off separately from the straps on both of them. The owner’s manual is very clear (in both cases – different brands) that the straps can only be wiped, but that it’s fine for the cover to be machine-washed. I’m pretty sure this is typical of most seats on the market these days – it’s a big selling point to be able to wash the cover, so I bet that once one manufacturer started making it removable, they all did.

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6 Crystal May 30, 2012 at 12:40 am

You can usually machine wash the cover and air dry, but only spot clean the straps. SO much of cr seat use is manufacturer dependent which is why you need to rely on the booklet that comes with the seat and not general internet posts.

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7 Rachel May 28, 2012 at 4:57 pm

I have yet to come across a carseat that the straps come off with the carseat cover. I wash the cover whenever it needs it and the straps stay safely attached to the carseat.

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8 Gretchen May 28, 2012 at 6:07 pm

All seats I had the straps came off, and not the easiest to get back on. That’s the only way you could get the cover off. Maybe some brands are different?

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9 Lisa @ I'm an Okie May 28, 2012 at 9:34 am

Great tips! Thanks.

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10 Juliene May 28, 2012 at 9:59 am

Most car seats(or at least the ones we’ve had and seen) the insert and straps are separate. Mine was a graco snugfit 35 and the straps stayed attached to the plastic while the insert came off. I washed mine and im pretty sure it said it was ok in the instruction manual. My hubby is a worrywart and wouldn’t have let me if it wasn’t written somewhere. Haha!

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11 Lauren May 28, 2012 at 10:12 am

Just wanted to make sure you saw this, Kath.
http://blogs.babble.com/being-pregnant/2012/05/24/baby-trend-alert-12-chevron-etsy-finds/?utm_campaign=babbleancillary&utm_medium=referral&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_content=post

And most covers slip from the straps and can be washed. No dryer though :) It would be a nightmare if you couldn’t. The Chicco website gives specific instructions in how to care for your car seat, including laundering. http://www.chiccousa.com/product-care-instructions.aspx

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12 KERF May 28, 2012 at 11:58 am

Love those chevron things!

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13 Steph May 28, 2012 at 10:14 am

Most car seats have a pad that is removable around the straps – this means you can safely machine wash the pad without ever taking the straps off the seat. This is imperative when your 6 month old has an explosive poop that leaks through their outfit into the car seat!

PLEASE find a Certified Passenger Safety Technician in your area rather than taking your seat to a fire/police station. My dear friend is a CPST and has received significantly more training than the firefighters have (as evidenced by her schooling them at various safety checks). If you need a referral, I can put you in touch with my friend and she can help you find someone locally to go over the installation with you.

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14 Maura @ My Healthy 'Ohana May 28, 2012 at 10:15 am

Great information! A friend of mine from residency is an excellent pediatrician and so passionate about car seat safety…she has a great website at http://www.thecarseatlady.com with up to date information on the latest car seat safety and installation tips.

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15 KERF May 28, 2012 at 11:36 am

Great resource!

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16 lauri May 28, 2012 at 10:28 am

The insert for the chicco keyfit30 comes out w/out the straps, really easily actually! Where does she suggest you keep the stroller?! We have an suv now and keep it in the back part. We also have a mirror up, its gives me peace of mind to SEE her when driving. It was a bit distracting at first whenever I turned to check my blind spot, but I’ve learned to ignore it now.

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17 KERF May 28, 2012 at 11:35 am

Probably in the trunk. Can I fit through?

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18 Lauri May 28, 2012 at 12:33 pm

I guess it would probably fit in a trunk, but in an suv there is no where else to put it. I guess it just doesn’t seem realistic to have everything tied down inside the car… groceries, diaper bag(s), stroller, shopping bags, umbrella, etc. Its Something important that I never really thought about though…

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19 Alli May 29, 2012 at 9:30 am

You need one of those nets or metal cages that separates the cargo area from the rest of the car. They recommend them for everyone actually, and every manufacturer makes them! Call your local dealer!

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20 Kelly Baker May 28, 2012 at 10:48 am

Car seat cover – I have the Grace snug ride, and the cover is completely separate from the straps. IT IS A MUST TO WASH THE COVER. I’ve had baby puke in the car a few times, and if you couldn’t wash the cover, it would not smell good in the car.

Mirror – I thought I wouldn’t want a mirror for the same reasons listed above, but the peace of mind in seeing baby is way more realistic than the mirror impaling baby in a crash. I figure as long as the mirror isn’t a sharp shard of glass, we’ll be fine. To each their own on that one!

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21 Averie @ Averie Cooks May 28, 2012 at 11:19 am

Putting in a carseat seems like “yeah whatever anyone can do it” until you try to do it! It’s way harder, more awkward, and tricky than one would ever imagine. You are bent over in the weirdest angles, trying to reach buttons and hooks and things you never knew your car had deep in the crevices of seats, all the while knowing that your baby’s safety is at risk if you do it wrong. No pressure or anything :)

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22 Dina May 28, 2012 at 11:48 am

Just a note on replacing a carseat that has been in an accident. It is a necessary pain to replace it, but most car insurance companies will cover the cost of the new seat right along with any repairs to your vehicle.

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23 Tara May 28, 2012 at 12:13 pm

Nice tips but in reality with a 7 month old myself we’re not following a few. The mirror is a must for us. I hate not being able to see the baby when we’re in the car.

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24 Wendy May 28, 2012 at 1:09 pm

Did she say anything about the position of the handle? When I had my first baby, I had a police officer inspect it, and he told me to be SURE to keep the handle in the down position while the seat was in the car. The seat is designed to flip up and hit the back of the seat so that the seat supports the infant’s head during the crash and protects his/her neck. If you leave the handle up, it interferes with that motion, and can cause the baby’s head to snap forward, injuring the neck (or worse). I see SO many people driving around with the handle up, so I don’t think this is common knowledge!

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25 KERF May 28, 2012 at 2:23 pm

Yes!

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26 Kelly Baker May 28, 2012 at 2:41 pm

It depends on the carseat! You must read the safety instructions for your specific seat. My seat (grace Snugride) had four positions, and the full upright was one of the safest options for the car. It totally depends on how the seat was designed and tested!

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27 Sarah May 28, 2012 at 9:36 pm

Ditto this – it can even vary between different models of the same seat (e.g., different years of the snugride have different “rules” about this.)

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28 Melissa May 28, 2012 at 2:36 pm

I agree with everything except for the mirror. For me, it is much more distracting to have a crying baby and not be able to see what is going on. The mirror we have straps on to the headrest really well (2 separate straps) and is really lightweight also.

I also agree with having the carseat professionally installed. It’s completely worth the small amount of money for the peace of mind.

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29 Steph May 28, 2012 at 7:56 pm

Most CPST’s will not charge for an installation. My friend does it for free and if someone insists on paying then she asks them to donate a booster or a cheap convertible car seat that she can give to a family in need.

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30 Megan C May 28, 2012 at 2:44 pm

I’m sure this was covered in the information you heard but just curious, did you know car seats have expiration dates? I had no idea, nor would I ever have thought that would be an issue. My clinical instructor this past semester was certified in car seat safety. Very interesting stuff :]

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31 KERF May 28, 2012 at 3:00 pm

I think she mentioned checking on recalls and things after like 5 years…I can’t quite remember

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32 Megan C May 28, 2012 at 4:21 pm

That’s probably a good thought too but I think this is more like an actual expiration date, just like food :] Something about with continued use the seat gets microscopic cracks and weakens over time. Not that anyone would ever do this but I’m fairly certain if you x-rayed your seat they would show up. I’m no expert but its something to look into if there is BERF 2 :]

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33 Crystal May 30, 2012 at 12:41 am

The expiration date is on a sticker on the seat, typically 7 years.

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34 Natasha May 28, 2012 at 5:44 pm

I can’t imagine not being able to wash the seat cover. I never wash the straps (just wipe clean) but the cover… My babies have all leaked poop out their diapers at leat once each in their car seats not to mention pee, carrot juice, bell pepper juice, and other things that really require a wash!

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35 Julie H. of Spinach and Sprinkles May 28, 2012 at 5:57 pm

It is soooo important and so true ‘better safe than sorry’…. I’ll have to make sure I listen to that podcast soon!

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36 Lindsay @ Fuel My Family May 28, 2012 at 8:39 pm

The most important one I feel most people overlook is how tightly the baby should be strapped in. You should NOT be able to pinch any of the strap if the baby is secure enough. It seems like it would be too tight but its not. I see picutres friends post on facebook of their babies in their carseats and the straps are literally sagging down over their shoulder they are so loose, kills me!

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37 Angel7 May 28, 2012 at 11:34 pm

I did not know that you should not put the carseat insert in the washer. That is news to me.

http://faithfulsolutions.blogspot.com/

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38 Sara May 29, 2012 at 9:20 am

If you go here: http://www.nhtsa.gov/cps/cpsfitting/index.cfm you can find a car seat inspection station near you!

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39 KERF May 29, 2012 at 9:22 am

Thanks!

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40 Diane May 29, 2012 at 10:35 am

I agree about not having a mirror (also same goes for portable dvd players that hook on to the seat). I have a very sneaky boy who liked to kick it these off while I wasn’t looking and they could go flying in his face if I had to brake hard.

Most car seat cloth covers come off separate from the straps.

I don’t know what the car seat rules are in your state, but in TX kids need to ride rearfacing until 2 years old. I know why they do this, but it is literally impossible for any kid with long legs. Everyone I know had to turn their kids forward facing at 1 1/2. Their knees are up in their face otherwise. I think their are exceptions to this rule when they reach a certain weight, but my boy is tall and skinny, so doesn’t meet the weight requirements. Good rule in theory, but impossible in practice.

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41 Crystal May 30, 2012 at 12:43 am

Knees crossed or up is fine and it is not impossible. My kid got to 3 rf-ing and she’s in teh 90% percentile for height. No kid anywhere has ever been documented as having a leg issue due to ERF, but serious injury/death has been documented from FF-ing too soon. Most kids cross their legs in seats forward or rear facing b/c there’s either nowhere to put them (rf-ing) or they dangle and it hurts (ff-ing).

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42 Steph @ DairyFreeOmnivore May 29, 2012 at 10:40 am

The pointer about not overdressing the baby and then strapping them in is so important at all ages- even toddler. If you put a thick coat on the baby/toddler and put them in the car seat it changes how you have to adjust the straps and they aren’t as tight. I never have any of the my kids wear heavy coats in the car anyway- they can overheat. We would just cover the baby with a blanket on the way to the car and then remove it once she was secured. For the older infant/toddler we would wrap the coat around them on the way outside, and then take it off as we put them in their seat.

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43 Sam May 29, 2012 at 1:14 pm

We have a safety mirror strapped onto the seat above my son with two straps. It takes a little bit of practice, but you learn not to let it distract you.

Car seats do have expiration dates printed on the seats (ours are on the underside). Replace the seat once it hits the expiration date. Sucks if the seat is in otherwise great shape and you’re planning to have more kids, but it’s obv. better to be safe. It is also important to register car seats when you purchase them so that the manufacturers can stay in touch with you re: recalls/safety issues at any time.

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44 Katie of Cabbage Ranch May 29, 2012 at 2:53 pm

This is a great post, Kath! To our dismay, we found our EMS/firefighters wouldn’t inspect our car seat. After a ridiculous amount of research and running around, my husband finally found a certified inspector at our community center. It was not well advertised, required an appointment, and was generally a hassle… but so worth it for the tweaks she made, what she taught us about strapping the baby in, and definitely for our peace of mind. We’re the only parents I know in this town who actually had a pro inspect the seat… Other parents want to do their best to keep their babies safe but it’s SO HARD to find someone certified! I’m so glad to see the link Sara posted in the comments!
Oh- and we also had the seat reinspected as our baby reached toddlerhood, and based on her recommendations left our daughter rear-facing until after she was two years old.

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45 EmilyP June 3, 2012 at 5:35 pm

I’m late to this post, but I’m surprised you didn’t mention one of the keys of carseat safety, but maybe it’s because it doesn’t apply until they move to a toddler/child seat. I’m talking about keeping kids rear-facing as long as possible, until the day they hit the weight limit on rear-facing. The AAP recently changed their recommendation to keep kids rear-facing until 2, but that’s the BARE minimum. Keeping them rear-facing longer is better. In Europe kids stay rear-facing until they are 4. Watch some youtube videos of kid crash test dummies forward facing and rear facing and you’ll see a huge difference. Kids can cross their legs if they get tall, but you can’t fix a broken neck on a forward-facing kid.

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46 KERF June 3, 2012 at 5:47 pm

I figured this was a given, but thanks for bringing it up!

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