Having stated that, I have to confess that when we first started in this business we had no idea. We were just trying to simplify the ordeal of getting out in the cold with a little baby. We designed our first car seat cover for warmth and convenience.
It wasn’t until we started selling our car seat cover, that a nurse informed us of the "no snowsuit" rule at her hospital and that our car seat cover was the perfect solution.This was the first time our car seat cover was deemed safe. From that moment on, we have dedicated ourselves to countless hours of research and educated ourselves on car seat safety. Collectivley, speaking with Child Passenger Safety Technicians, Fire and Police Services and other health care professions about car seat safety and our cover - I realised that there was so much I didn’t understand about it and I was on my second baby. We decided, as a company and as parents - that selling our safe car seat cover was not enough - we need to help spread the word on car seat safety.
Do you know what the number one cause of death is for children? It is motor vehicle accidents. In fact, car accidents are the leading cause of death for children under 10. Now let’s think about this for a minute. This means that out of all the possible threats out there like choking hazards or poisonous materials, driving is still the most dangerous and common thing your child will face (and most likely on a daily basis). I am not minimizing other threats - I know that if we didn’t take precautions to deter these other risks they could become the number one cause of death. As parents, we put dangerous substances high on shelves out of reach, we childproof our homes with locks and baby gates and to keep our babies safe in cars, we use the infant car seat. It reduces fatalities by over 70% but only if used correctly. At roadside checks 78% of parents were not using the infant car seat correctly. This needs to change.
From my experience, part of the problem is looking at the infant car seat as a chair for your child in the car. It is not something for them to sit in, it is not a bassinet, it is the safety device that could make the difference between life and death. But often we don’t see it this way.
Most times, when you drive with your baby in the car it won’t matter if you use your car seat correctly. You could have it installed wrong, the straps could be too loose and in cold weather you can dress your baby in a snowsuit. You will drive to an appointment, then drive to the grocery store, then drive home with your baby and all will be fine for thousands of consecutive days and it won’t matter one bit if your seat is in correctly or not. But life is unpredictable and so are accidents - there might be that one time that you need your baby’s car seat to function correctly, to work the way it is designed to. And if this one day happens to you and you are not using it correctly the consequence may be devastating and it will be compounded with ‘but what if I had only...’
In short, the car seat is not a chair - it is a safety device and you can never skimp on proper usage. If you are trying to get out the door on time and you need to choose whether to feed your baby, change its’ diaper or take the extra time to make sure the straps fit - then the car seat safety needs to win every time. Babies might cry if hungry but I’m pretty sure they can survive hours without food and the worst consequence to an occasional wet diaper is maybe a rash. But the worst possible consequence of not using a car seat properly is....the place none of us wants to go. I made a lot of parenting decisions this way.
So, now that we know why it is so important it is to use car seats properly I’ll go over some of the ways we can make sure we use our seats correctly. One of the first things we need to know about is "no snowsuits". I know it’s the middle of summer and it’s the last thing on our minds but in Canada - winter is always around the corner and I am confident that during the first year, it is a reality that your baby will encounter their first snowfall.
Say no to snowsuits!! But why? Snowsuits add extra bulk that interferes with the harness system, the same goes for bunting bags and any other extra padding that did not come with the car seat. On occasion, some parents and sometimes grandparents think I am crazy when I say this. After all, we all wear our coats in the car - this is true but we aren’t tiny and weak and our coats are not twice as thick as we are. The bulkiness of the snowsuit makes a significant difference in how the straps fit over the shoulders of your baby. If there is an impact or you have to stop your car quickly - the padding can compress, making the straps loose around your baby. Loose straps are dangerous... I like to remind people that women dilate to 10 cm and babies get out. This space needs to be small enough to hold baby in. A snowsuit interferes and makes the harness unsafe.
If snowsuits and bunting bags are dangerous. How do you take babies out in the winter? You can layer blankets over top of the baby and harness or you can use a safe shower cap style like our baby parka car seat cover. When looking for a cover, you want to make sure it doesn’t have a backing that interferes with the restraint system this includes bunting bags with slats that you pull the straps through. There is no need for extra lining in your seat, they already come pre-lined and the bonus is that it has been crash tested by the manufacturer. Other benefits to not using snowsuits are that they are time consuming and expensive, you will need different sizes and they are difficult to adjust for varying temperatures. Over heating can be very dangerous to babies.
For the same reasons, winter coats are also not recommended for use in forward facing toddler seats...seat belts and harness straps are to be as close to the body as possible. In the winter, you can simply take off your toddler’s coat and put it on backwards after they are harnessed or there are a few products available to address this problem that are poncho style or coats with sleeves that open. Our baby parka toddler coat solves this problem.
Now that we have the bulk out of the way, let’s look at how tight to harness your baby. This is where I compare an infant car seat to a roller coaster. Have you been on a roller coaster? One that goes upside down and twists and turns? When you are pulling down the shoulder harness over your head, I am pretty sure you are pulling it as tight to your body as possible to avoid falling out. The same theory applies when strapping your baby into their car seat. Car seats only work if they hold the baby in so you want to buckle in your baby like they are going on a roller coaster every single time you drive. The straps need to be fairly tight without slack and the chest clip should be placed at the armpit. The straps should be tight enough so that you can turn the seat upside down. Yes, this is a little freaky but think of the roller coaster spinning on a controlled track, now imagine the chaos of a highway collision where your car flips over - this might be the one day you need your child’s car seat to work and it needs to work in this position too.
So one more time, the straps need to be tight and the chest clip should be at the armpit. And remember when you were on that roller coaster, buckled in your seat on the platform waiting as the staff doublechecked everybody’s harness system. This is what you need to do every time you buckle your baby in.
The last really important thing to know about safely buckling your baby in is shoulder strap placement. Hmm? You may be wondering what is so important. If you have already checked out some car seats you may have noticed that car seats come with several slat options to pull the shoulder harness straps through. You may have figured out they are to adjust when the baby grows. Well that is correct, but when do we move them? And how close should they be to the shoulders? Well that depends on whether they are forward or rear facing. Rear facing is at or below the shoulder and forward facing is at or above the shoulder.
I am going to explain rear facing where the strap is at or below the shoulder. If you are in an impact in the car, the force pulls to the front of the car, so in the rear facing car seat the back absorbs the force. The baby moves into the seat and the straps hold baby in place keeping their neck and spine flat against the seat. Babies should sit rear facing for a year or more because their bodies are undeveloped and their muscles are weak, they could not handle being pulled away from their seat. Also their heads are 1/3 of their body weight and their spinal column is not strong enough to withstand the force of it being pulled. They are making convertible seats now that go to a higher weight limit rear facing so you can extend the time your child sits facing this way.
When forward facing, the straps should be at or above the shoulder. The force in an accident will pull the body away from the seat and you want them to be held flat against the seat. If the straps were below the shoulder the child’s body would be pulled out and down and not against the seat.
For a visual, please see our videos:
The last point I want to make is - even with the manufacturer’s detailed manual and the information we can find online - I would still recommend getting a professional installation - especially the first time. Working with a Child Passenger Safety Technician is well worth the time and money. These Technicians are trained and know what to look for and have considerable knowledge and expertise. They are familiar with various makes of car seats and also various makes of vehicles. They will share their information with you and teach you how to install your baby’s car seat. With enough knowledge and practise, I am sure that all parents can learn how to correctly install and use their baby’s car seat...keeping their babies safe!
Your baby's car seat is not a chair - it is a safety device.
Written by Paula Ling, baby parka