Before my husband and I had our two kids, we knew NOTHING about car seats or any of these common car seat mistakes. Who knew that by allowing them to wear their coats, forward facing because “they’re two” or by using after market products you were putting your child at risk of injury, or worse!
Once our daughter was on the way just 5 years ago, my passion for proper car seat safety was ignited. While shopping for her first car seat, I quickly realized that not all car seats were made the same and I was entering a world of knowledge I had no idea existed! Below I have written about five common car seat mistakes that you may not realize you are making and tips to keep your kids safe while traveling in car seats.
REAR FACING (RF) – FORWARD FACING (FF)
I’m sure every parent can relate to the excitement you feel when your child reaches a milestone! But moving up car seat stages is one not to be rushed into. This is probably the most common and dangerous one parents can do. Although they are within the height and weight ratings for FF, does not mean they are just as safe as RF.
As of 2011, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that kids remain rear-facing to a minimum of two years old, regardless of height or weight, and should continue to rear-face until they outgrow the seat in that mode. (Also advised is that most children will need to ride in a belt-positioning booster seat until they have reached 4 feet 9 inches tall and are between 8 and 12 years of age.) A rear-facing child safety seat does a better job of supporting the head, neck and spine of infants and toddlers in a crash, because it distributes the force of the collision over the entire body. For children under two years, rear facing is more than 75% safer then forward facing. -The American Academy of Pediatrics
Because of this, both of our kids are still rear facing. Our son is a little over two and our daughter is almost 4 and a half! This crash test shows two dummies in a simulated car crash. Same weight, height and car seats but one is RF and one is FF.
Turning your child around before they outgrow the height or weight limit of their car seat could have a big impact on them if they were in a crash. The reasoning being that in a FF car seat, the harnesses will slow down the body in the crash. But since there is no strap to hold the head back, it can cause the spinal cord to break. Resulting in paralysis or death, because it only takes 1/4 inch of stretch before a young child’s spinal cord is at risk of rupturing. As long as your child is still within the RF height and weight limits of his car seat, that is the safest position.
OUR REAR FACING CAR SEAT RECOMMENDATIONS
These are the ones we use(d) with our kids and have been able to keep them RF still (p.s. click any blue text on my blog for more info):
–Safety 1st Smooth Ride Travel System with onBoard 35 Infant Car Seat
Infant Car Seat with Stroller. Both of our kids used it NB-13/18m. Weight 4-35lbs. I can’t find the height limits. But my kids are tall and my daughter was in it until 18 months. Price $150-$180.
–Safety 1st Complete Air 65 Convertible Car Seat
Our daughter used it until about age 3 when she was getting near the limits, but was still safe inside the guidelines. She moved up to the next car seat listed because our son was outgrowing his infant seat and needed a convertible. He is currently riding RF in this car seat. Weight: RF 5-40lbs and FF 22-65lbs. Price $119-$273.
–Graco Extend2Fit Convertible Car Seat
This is the car seat my 4.5-year-old rides in every day! She is 43 inches tall and I’ll answer your question now: Yes! She is very comfortable and has plenty of room for her legs to rest. One of the things that sold me on this particular one is the three positions extendable footrest that gives her an extra 5 inches of room. Weight: RF 4-50lbs and FF 22-65lbs. Height: RF, the head should be no less than 1 inch from the top of the head rest. Which is adjustable with 10 different positions. And FF up to 49″. Price $176-$200.
I’m so passionate about this topic I could talk about it all day. But I’ll stop here and recommend this article from The Car Seat Lady if you want to read more about RF vs FF!
HOW TO KEEP YOUR KIDS SAFE AND WARM
With winter hitting hard in some parts of the country, it’s normal for us to bundle up our kids in thick layers and puffy coats. But by wearing coats under the harness, it prevents the straps from securely tightening on your child.
A typical coat or snowsuit adds four inches of slack. Which greatly increases the risk of being ejected from their seats in the event of an accident, because every coat will compress, allowing the body to move that much more away from the seat. The same thing goes for kids in boosters and adults in seat belts. If you’re a visual person like myself, this video from The Car Seat Lady really helped demonstrate the difference in safety for kids with and without coats on.
TRY THESE TIPS WE PERSONALLY DO
- Blankets: My kids have special “truck blankies” that stay in the truck all the time. We picked ones made from fleece and sherpa so they’re always super warm! My son got this classic airplane one for Christmas and my Frozen loving daughter has this Elsa and Anna one. You can also turn their coats around backward to act like a blanket after they are buckled in.
- Preheat your vehicle: On icy winter mornings when my Daughter has school, I like to head out to our truck about 10/15 mins before we leave to warm it up. Plus you don’t have to scrape your windows, score!
- Layers/Jackets: Think super thin and warm clothes. Like fleece, thermals and ones made of down feathers. Just make sure they are the correct size, plus thin and tight otherwise they will bunch under the straps and that is not safe. If you wish to keep a jacket on your kid, I’d recommend the thin down jackets. Like this girls one from Columbia and this one for boys. And these fleece zip ups for girls and boys. Bonus tip: zip their jacket up after they are buckled in. Like this below,
TO VERIFY YOUR CHILD IS SECURELY FASTENED, PERFORM THE “PINCH TEST”
(This is a great way to make sure the harnesses are tight enough, whether you’re checking because of a jacket or not.)
- Strap your child in their seat while wearing the jacket you want to test.
- Tighten the harness to remove any slack.
- Unbuckle your child from the car seat without adjusting the harness.
- Take off your child’s coat, then buckle the child back into the car seat.
If you were able to pinch any between your fingers, then the coat is too big. If not, then it passed the pinch test, yay! Just remember that not all jackets are the same and to test each one to be safe.
CHEST BUCKLE – EVEN WITH ARMPITS
The chest buckle should be placed even with the armpits. In doing so, you are placing it over the rib cage which is there to protect the organs. Improper placement can affect the safety in an accident, causing organ damage and/or internal bleeding.
PROPER HARNESS HEIGHTS – RF VS FF ARE DIFFERENT
I always knew that for my RF babies the harness straps need to be AT or BELOW the shoulders. But it wasn’t until I was researching proper FF tips about a year ago, that I learned FF car seats actually have different requirements for harnesses. Which is that the harness straps need to be AT or ABOVE the shoulders. This is because in the event of a crash, depending on the direction a car seat is facing, the straps perform differently.
AFTER MARKET PRODUCTS AND ACCESSORIES
You know all those cute and fun after market products you bought for your childs car seat? Like the toys you can strap on your infants handle bar, the soft and fluffy head/body inserts to make them super comfy, the covers to make the harnesses more comfortable, even the seat protectors UNDER the car seat… Yeah, you get where I’m going with this, unfortunately, they are not approved for use with your car seat. Bummer!
Why you may ask? Because everything that comes in the box with your kiddos car seat or items that were sold separately and have been specifically allowed by your car seat manufacturer have gone through numerous crash tests. The car seat and these products have to go through these rigorous tests together time after time to make sure they are safe for every size of kid that is allowed in that seat. With all the after market products out there it really is impossible to check every possible combination to verify safety. You can click here if you want to read more about this topic.
I hope you were able to learn something new here today! With car seat rules and regulations always updating, the best thing you can do is to arm yourself with the most updated knowledge. And as always, follow your Mommy and Daddy instincts 🙂