3/24/2011

What Do You See in Your Rear View Mirror?

A few days ago, MSN published an article stating that children should be in rear facing car seats until they are two years old. Based on the feedback I read on this article, it seems to be a hard rule to follow. I think we all look forward to the day that we can turn that baby around and see their smiling face in the rearview mirror. But, when it comes to our baby's safety, it is less about seeing those big blue (green/hazel/brown) eyes in the mirror and more about keeping them safe. Which means that, yes, you will have to put them in a regular car seat, rear facing, after they have outgrown their infant carrier. And yes, it may be a bit of a financial burden, but how much did you spend on your cell phone/tv/computer? Do any of those things save your life??? Just sayin...

I wrote about this exact topic over a year ago, so I am thrilled to see some big name editors encouraging parents to make safe choices. Especially after reading articles from parents who are too stuck in a rut (or lazy) to make good choices for their kids. Our babies are 500 times safer in a rear facing car seat than a forward facing car seat. Their head are unproportionally large for their bodies and their necks are cartilage; still firming and growing so when you slam on the breaks or are rear ended, their adorably large noggins are thrust forward at an amazing speed. It's whiplash for us but it is internal decapitation for them (which means that the cartilage and spinal cord inside their neck snap and they die instantly).

Here are some life saving rules to remember when buckling in your kids:

Rule #1: Make Sure Shoulder Straps Are in Proper Position
When baby is rear-facing, the top of the shoulder straps have to be at or below the baby's shoulders. When forward-facing (which your baby shouldn't be), they need to be at or above. This is measured perpendicular (at a right angle) from the recline of the back of the seat, not from the ground. When in doubt, put a popsicle stick into the slot with your baby in the seat to check -- sometimes the fabric of the seat can make it hard to tell where the strap really is.


Rule #2: Rear-Facing Is the Responsible Choice
Unless your child has serious medical problems, they should rear-face until they literally cannot anymore. With all the new, cheaper seats with 40-pound or higher rear-facing limits, it's possible for anyone to have a seat that will keep their child rear-facing until the bare minimum of 2 years old and 30 pounds, as per the AAP's improved guidelines. But as they state, 2 years is the bare minimum -- your child is still significantly safer rear-facing until you cannot fit them that way any longer. After all, it is 500 percent safer.


Rule #3: No Gaps Allowed Between Baby's Crotch/Groin Area and Harness
This is really only an issue with newborns, but an important one. If there is a gap between crotch and harness buckle, roll up a washcloth or receiving blanket and put it in a upside-down U shape, with the middle between baby's crotch and the harness and the rest lying flat between the legs. This is one of the only "add-ons" allowed. When in doubt, call the manufacturer.


Rule #4: Be Sure the Chest Clip Is Positioned Properly on the Chest
The chest clip belongs between the nipples and armpits. This positions the straps so your child doesn't fly out of the seat -- and can cause damage when placed anywhere else.


Rule #5: Know the Proper Guidelines for Outgrowing a Seat
Outgrowing a seat has nothing to do with legs touching the seat. There has never been a case of legs breaking from touching the seat and even if there were -- would you choose for your child to break their legs or their neck? Only one of those can be fixed. Your child has outgrown a seat in weight when they reach the max limit for that position. Your child has outgrown their seat in height, rear facing, when there is less than an inch of the hard shell left at the top of the seat above your child's head. This is measured perpendicular to the seat's recline. However, there is a new seat that has different guidelines -- so be sure to read the manual for your seat! My children seem to outgrow their seats in height before they ever reach the weight limit, so know the height and weight limits of your seat.


See how the strap can be pinched?
That means it's too loose.Rule #6: Straps Need to Pass "The Pinch Test"
The old rule of "two fingers under the chest clip" is outdated and resulted in straps that were way too loose. When straps are too loose, the child can fly out of the seat, or get stuck halfway and break heaven-knows-what.

The new rule is to first pull any slack tight from the lap-portion, and then pinch the straps at the collar bone (your fingers are pinching top-to-bottom). If you're able to pinch the strap, it's too loose.


Rule #7: Coats Are Not Allowed
A cop reports seeing a coat strapped into a seat, even after the child who had been wearing it flew out of it. Coats are not safe in car seats and almost all manufacturers have this rule in their manual as well. To understand why, place your child in a coat and put them in their seat and tighten the straps properly. Without loosening the straps, remove your child and remove their coat. Now place them back in the seat. That is how much room your child would have once the coat compressed under pressure, much like how you can squish a pillow if you sit on it. If there is more than a tiny bit of extra slack (like the difference between sweatpants and stretch pants), the coat is too bulky. Instead, try taking your child's coat off right before putting them in the seat, buckling them in quickly, and then putting their coat back on them backward.

Rule #8: RTFM (Read the Freaking Manual)
Most car seats have a specific location for the manual on the seat so that it's kept with it at all times. That's because almost every single question you could have is listed in that little booklet, and the manufacturer's number is there for anything else. Use it. Even car seat pros utilize this booklet. Every single car seat is different with different rules, and this booklet (or the PDF of it online if you lost yours) is your golden ticket to proper car seat usage.


Rule #9: When in Doubt, Get Help
Skip the fire stations and police department -- they mean well, but often are no more trained than you are. Contact SafeKids at their website or at 1-866-SEAT-CHECK.

There is no shame in asking for help, but there is shame in letting your ego or embarrassment stop you from making your baby as safe as they possibly can be. I had read all the manuals and paid attention to details, yet when I had my car seat checked by Safekids, I found out my latch straps were installed backwards (as were my friends). Asking for help, is a good thing.


Rule #10: Always Buy New
I am a huge fan of recycling and consignment shops, but when it comes to my car seats, I always buy new and I always buy the best I can afford. And the "best" does not mean the cutest colors or the most popular buys; it means the safest. Before I buy a car seat, I read the safety ratings and determine which seat to buy on safety ratings and use of ease features (the harder the seat is to install, that harder it will be to install it safely).


These are our babies and we've worked so hard to teach them make good choices and be happy, so let's make these good choices for them, and help keep them safe.

For more information, you can read:

AAPs improved guidelines

7 rules for buying and installing

7 Car seat safety rules, you may have missed

Whaddya think?

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