Depending on where you are looking, sometime between September and November someone somewhere is celebrating Child Safety Month. Despite the slightly unorganized media positioning, I’ll accept three months of focusing on safety. Hey, logical safety measures are important!
One thing we know for certain- this week is Child Passenger Safety Week which means there has never been a better time to assess your child’s safety seat installation and usage. At our house, we stated things off with a bang- Baby N graduated to a “big girl” convertible seat on Monday!
Yes, yes… N is currently 18 months old, and yes, yes… she was still in an infant seat up to this point. Though long legged, her slight torso and light weight kept her a candidate for a safely extended life in her infant seat- there was still at least an inch of hard plastic shell above her head and she hadn’t outgrown proper shoulder harness positioning up to this point. Plus, travel sure was easy when we could tote her through the airport with the B-Safe quickly and snugly snapped into the B-Agile, and it’s been so convenient to snap one seat between the bases in two different cars! But- alas- babies do grow up and my sweet N has now passed the point of ideal infant seat safety, so it was time to search for a convertible seat.
Now, if you know me even slightly, you know that I am a baby gear junkie but I have to openly admit that carseats make me a tinge nervous because of the serious safety implications they carry. Your child’s life may very well depend on your selection, so it isn’t the time to make decisions based on aesthetics. Even after researching diligently, you might make the incorrect choice as I learned the hard way with my infant seat.
(Insert dream sequence sound effect and transformative wavy lines)
When I was pregnant, I put hours of research into selecting the “best” infant carseat on the market. I looked at crash ratings, reviews, compatibility with stroller models, ease of use in taxis and airlines, and even compatibility with EU standards- and I felt confident at the end that I had selected the VERY BEST CARSEAT EVER CONSTRUCTED! I purchased my wonder seat, took it home to unpack and off-gas before baby arrived, and went about my merry way to focus on researching babywearing techniques.
As luck would have it, about a month before Baby N’s arrival I went to a Bump Club Chicago Couples Safety Dinner at which Brook’s from The Safety Squad was speaking. When my husband heard that Brooks would teach us how to install the seat (in our minds this read: “You know that huge manual that came with your seat? Don’t read it. I’ll just tell you how to do it.” For those of you who might not know…. You still need to read your manual, silly!) we signed up immediately, quite ready to check one more to-do off the baby list.
We arrived at our appointment with our wonder seat in hand and I was honestly prepared for Brook’s to take one look at it and say something like “Wow, you picked the very best seat in the world! You really did your research!” but things ended up going very differently than I had hoped. Brooks and my husband worked with the wonder seat for quite awhile. They employed locking clips. They twisted buckle stalks. They tightened. They jiggled. They nearly rocked the car on its side. Then Brooks calmly looked at me and said something I never dreamed I would hear after all my research to find the wonder seat:
“Jenn, you want your baby to be the safest possible, right?”
“This seat is not the ideal fit for your vehicle. Do you want to buy a new seat, or do you want to buy a new car?”
Now obviously Brooks was joking about buying a new car, but he knew something that I didn’t when I was making my carseat purchase- at the time we only owned one older model car (manufactured before LATCH was required) which meant there were things we needed to consider when making out seat purchase that I hadn’t ever dreamed to research. Wonder seat soon found a place with a family whose car had LATCH, and we purchased a new seat that day and learned all about its installation backwards and forwards.
Does that sound daunting? Does that make car seat safety seem impossible and totally unattainable? It sort of does…. BUT IT’S NOT!!!!!
Here is what I learned from my experience and how I applied it on my most recent carseat selection (and how you can apply it too):
KNOW YOUR CAR- Given my previous experience, this is where I will always start since this is the location that carseats are actually designed to do their job and save lives! Take out your car owner’s manual and read the section on carseat installation so that you know what your vehicle manufacturer intends for you to do with a seat in that particular model. Roll up your sleeves, crawl around, and find all the attachment points.
Think about how you use your vehicle. Do you need to fit multiple seats in one row? Do you often carry items secure items around your carseat? Will you be moving the seat between multiple vehicles? If so, think about BOTH vehicles!
Do a little Googling to see what people with your make and model of car might have to say about their experiences, contact the dealership to see if they have any information that may be of use, and make a list of the safety and installation features that may be necessary for your specific vehicle (or vehicles) to reference when selecting a seat.
KNOW YOUR SEAT- Once you select and purchase a seat READ THE MANUAL. All of it. Take the seat out of the box (Save the box and receipt just in case it isn’t the right seat for you upon installation!) and study the diagram identifying the key parts and features. Learn how to identify them, what they do, and how they work. All of them. If you’re so inclined, have your partner quiz you… and then quiz them back!
Register your seat right away so you find out immediately should there be a recall.
As for the manual? Once you know it by heart, store it in your glove compartment so that it ready should you ever need it!
RELY ON A PROFESSIONAL EYE- Find a CPS (Child Passenger Safety) Tech and have them teach you how to install you seat. Don’t just have them check and fix your handiwork. Make sure they show you what was wrong or right. Have them watch you and your partner install it. Make sure you understand how to install it in a taxi, airplane, with LATCH, with lock off, backwards and forwards! It’s best to assume that you will use every feature of your seat at some point so learn how to use it when there is a professional on hand.
Learn how the adjust the harness and how baby’s body and head should be positioned. Ensure you have the seat installed at the correct angle and learn how to adjust the angle as needed. Take video if you are so inclined. And if you are waiting on baby PRACTICE your install and baby positioning with a stuffed friend from the nursery!
See… that isn’t nearly as bad as it sounded at first! Here is what this meant for me this time around:
After reading my car’s manual, I knew that I was looking for a convertible seat that we would install easily in the outside seat with LATCH and could accommodate for my vehicles lack of dedicated front tether for the safety strap while we keep Baby N rear facing as long as possible. Size wasn’t a huge factor since I have one child in an SUV. I also knew I wanted a seat that was easy to adjust since it will be with us for a long time.
My husband’s car requires a center installation with lock off. There is no dedicated front tether anchor nor is there the ability to accommodate for the lack of anchor, but there is a rear center anchor. He drives a sedan, and with a center installation it is nice to have a bit of a smaller seat so that an adult can possibly sit in the back seat if needed.
Details, details, details… YIKES! Sound complicated? It does… BUT IT”S NOT! (Did you really need the run down of my specific details? Probably not, but I share them to help you see the kind of information you should consider to help you avoid making a less than ideal choice for your child in a sea of possibilities.)
For my car, I decided on the Britax Advocate 70-G3. One of the key selling features for me was the true side impact protection and side impact cushion technology given that I knew I would be installing the seat directly next to the car door. This technology is said to reduce side impact crash energy by 45%- totally important if my baby is seated next to a door (or another passenger for that matter) during an accident. The tether was easy to attach despite my car’s lack of dedicated anchor and has a two-point attachment to minimize forward rotation while the seat is anchored. The harness also adjusts with no re-thread, which is good as this seat will hold Baby N until she is 70 lbs (which, at this rate, may mean she could sit in this seat through high school… HA!). The side impact cushions make it a little large, but I’m not concerned with the size since I’m only toting Baby N in my SUV.
Once I memorized my manual and had the thing installed, it was time to call in the professional to check my work. Enter Jamie Grayson, The BabyGuyNYC! (Can’t you just hear the trumpets sounding and see the luminous glow that surrounds this angel of baby gear safety!?!) If you haven’t heard him speak, engaged with him via facebook or twitter, or caught him on The Martha Stewart Show you should know that Jamie is everything you could ever desire in a Southern gentleman turned actor turned Baby Planner/Baby Gear Guru/ Certified CPS Tech and more. Thanks to the magic of photo messaging, FaceTime, and good ol’ mobile to mobile chatting Jamie was able to check out my handiwork and give me a long distance thumbs up. (Don’t have TheBabyGuyNYC on speed dial? Find a CPS tech here!)
While teaching myself how to install my seat multiple ways, I also discovered how easily the Britax lock off system works. Although we haven’t tackled a carseat purchase for my husband’s car yet, it seems like a small model like the Boulevard will be perfect for his vehicle that lacks the ease of LATCH.
Ahhh… Convertible seat selection success! I feel redeemed.
In all seriousness, selecting a carseat is a big decision- especially when you consider that car crashes are the number one killer of children 1 to 13*. Fortunately the market is filled with lots of options that are extremely safe when used correctly. By taking the time to consider your specific needs and commit to learning how to safely and appropriately use your seat with the help of a trained professional, you can ensure that your seat provides optimal protection to your child should you experience an unfortunate accident.
*Statistic: Traffic Safety Marketing- NHTSA