I can still feel the strap snap against me as the wind is knocked out of me and the world turns over. I can still feel the sharp pain and the blood running down my legs. And I can still hear the cries of my baby, and they block out everything else.
I have these memories because I was in a car accident with my third child (then 13 months old). The accident was no fault of my own and turned what should have been a pleasant outing to the beach with my baby and my mom into a very scary, very painful visit to the ER.
Before this accident, I was pretty passionate about car seat safety. When I was pregnant with my oldest child, I took a car seat safety course. I learned the correct way to install the seat, and I learned how to put my baby into it safely. After she arrived, I took her in her seat to periodic car seat checks given by our city. I have continued to do this as I had babies #2 and #3 – and will do so for baby #4 (or more!).
I felt strongly that an accident could happen at any time. I wanted the very safest for my children. I spent a lot of time researching car seat safety and learned some surprising things.
I strongly urge you to research car seats. I will provide you with a number of resources and my recommendations here.
First I want to urge you to take a car seat safety class. These classes are taught by trained instructors (technicians) who can teach you exactly how to install a car seat. Call your police department or local hospital to find out when a class is being taught in your city. Or check out Safe Kids, an organization that teaches classes all over the country.
Get your car seat checked at an inspection. Be sure to take your baby with you if he or she has already been born. The car seat technician will be able to verify that you are securing your baby in the car seat correctly. Again, call your police station or check with Safe Kids to find schedule a car seat check. Public family events and festivals often have car seat checks during the activities.
Be sure to read the manual that comes with your baby’s car seat. Read it twice. Maybe three times. You want to be certain that you are installing your baby’s car seat correctly. You want to be completely positive that you are putting your baby in the seat correctly. This could save your baby’s life – it saved my baby’s life.
Learn about the difference between rear-facing and forward-facing. Your baby is much safer rear-facing past 12 months – until he or she reaches the limits of the car seat. Choose a car seat that allows your baby to rear face longer. For more information and some very revealing videos of crash-test-dummy children, read this information on the superior safety of rear-facing children.
Did you know that a 5 point harness keeps your little one the safest? It keeps your baby tightly in his or her seat. It also evenly distributes the force of any impact across your child’s body. Keep your child in a 5 point harness as long as possible. A belt-positioning booster is much less safe than a 5 point harness (though a belt-positioning booster is certainly safer than a small child using only a seatbelt.)
Many vehicles require that you use a locking clip on the seat belt. Be sure that you read the instructions for your car seat and your vehicle carefully. If your vehicle requires a locking clip, then use it. Don’t ever install the car seat without it. You should also be aware that most seats are only safe to use with LATCH up to a certain weight limit. Know this limit and when your child reaches it switch to installing with the seatbelt.
If your child’s car seat has been in an accident (even without your child in it), you will probably need to replace the seat. Hairline cracks in the plastic can cause the seat to fail if it were in another accident. This could cause your baby’s death. The NHTSA has guidelines to help you decide if you can reuse your baby’s seat or if you need to get a new one. Insurance will replace your seat in many cases.
If you are given a used car seat only use it if you know for sure, it hasn’t been in an accident. The same rule applies to buy a used car seat – in fact, it’s probably best never to buy a used seat. Call your police department, local hospital, or check with Safe Kids – they will get you a new, safe car seat even if you cannot afford to buy one.
If your car seat is over six years old, replace it. New standards are being added to car seat production every year, meaning that older car seats are substandard and may not protect your baby adequately.
I know that I have given you a lot to think about. I know that it may not seem worth the bother, but I promise you that it is. After my accident, I had to be taken to the ER on a stretcher. I could hardly breathe or move. But my baby toddled around the ER smiling and charming everyone that saw him. He had only a small bruise from his car seat strap. I am so thankful that he was rear-facing in a properly secured seat. Otherwise, I might not have him today.
Find out why I chose and swear by Britax Convertible Car Seats for my kids.
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