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November 14, 2007 > Parenting Tip of the Month

Parenting Tip of the Month

Choose Your Baby's Car Seat Wisely; Learn How to Install it Properly

Inevitably, the first place your baby will see before he or she arrives home to beaming relatives is the family vehicle. And while you may be able to simply strap on your seatbelt for added safety for the ride home, your infant needs to be restrained by a properly installed car safety seat, according to Karen Smith, Washington Hospital's Maternal/Child Education Coordinator.
"In my experience, parents many times don't know how to install or use car seats properly," according to Smith. "They have to read the instruction manual, which can seem like a pain at the time, but if they're not sure, it's better to be safe than sorry."
The ideal time to learn how to properly install a car seat in your vehicle, Smith says, is long before you even think about bringing your baby home from the hospital - even if the drive is a relatively short one.
"Most people still remember those public service announcements by the CHP several years back about how commonly accidents happen within only a few miles of home," Smith says. "The reality is that accidents do happen, and it doesn't matter how good a driver you are. Infants and young children must be properly restrained at all times when riding in a vehicle."
Unlike adults, infants do not have the muscle tone to hold themselves up in the case of an accident, Smith explains. Additionally, because their heads are so heavy in relation to their bodies, the head is much more likely to fall forward during an accident, leading to injury.
"What people forget is that if children are not restrained, they don't have the strength to prevent themselves from falling forward in the case of an accident," she says. "An infant or young child becomes a flying object if they are not properly restrained. Letting your kids go unrestrained can lead to all kinds of injuries. Likewise, if you use a seatbelt on children who are too small, this isn't good either, because the seatbelt doesn't restrain them properly and may cause internal injury because of the way it lies across their body."
Smith goes a step further, advising that safety begins when expecting parents go to the store to buy items for their baby's impending birth. Oftentimes, parents can get caught up in the style or color of important safety devices for their children rather than focusing on the overall quality of the products, she adds. When looking for items such as car seats and high chairs she recommends reviewing their safety features carefully.
"Parents should be aware of safety issues regarding the products they're purchasing for their infant," Smith says. "There are so many different types of car seats - not to mention baby bottles. The amount of baby equipment out there is dizzying. I suggest that new parents research consumer reports, as these organizations are the ones that monitor product safety issues really carefully."
Checking to see if the car seat you purchased has been subject to a product recall is a good place to start, according to Smith.
The purchase of a good car seat can potentially last through several children, Smith points out, which can make the investment a little less daunting. In fact, the most expensive car seat does not always mean it is the best or the safest seat, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
It is also important to remember that if your vehicle is ever in an accident, it's possible that the car seat has been rendered structurally unsound - even if you cannot see any visible damages, Smith adds. Therefore, in the event of an accident, Smith urges parents to replace the car seat or at the very least visit a qualified technician capable of identifying damages that may affect the car seat's ability to protect your child in the future.
In addition to choosing a safe car seat, parents must also pay attention to the type of seat they purchase, as well as guidelines for where in the car the seat may be installed. Car seats, Smith says, are by no means one size fits all. Parents must take their child's age and weight into account. For instance, a car seat that may work perfectly well for a full-term infant may not be appropriate for a baby born prematurely.
In the end, if there are doubts about how to choose a proper car seat or how to install it, Smith urges parents to seek professional advice. She adds that some local children's retailers often offer clinics or classes to discuss the features of particular products such as car seats.
Get the information you need
Smith highly recommends parents visit the AAP's Web site at for a complete list of guidelines and tips about car seat safety.
For additional information about child-related products, visit the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association's Web site at To search for product recalls and other consumer products news, visit the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission's Web site at
For a complete list of childbirth and parenting classes available at Washington Hospital, call (800) 963-7070 for a free copy of the hospital's Health & Wellness Catalog or visit, click on "The Community" link, select "Community Seminars & Health Classes," and choose "Childbirth and Parenting Classes" from the drop-down menu.

Tips for Safe Travel with Your Baby

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) offers detailed tips about how to keep young children safe while riding in a vehicle. To learn more, visit Here are a few general tips to consider:

* All infants should ride in a rear-facing car seat until they are one year of age or weigh 20 pounds.
* Seat belts are made for adults. If the seat belt does not fit your child correctly, he or she should stay in a booster seat until the adult seat belts fit him or her correctly. This is usually when the child reaches approximately 4' 9'' in height and is between 8 and 12 years of age.
* Always read instructions regarding placement of car seats and appropriate age and weight requirements.
* Never share a seatbelt between children.
* As an adult, be a good role model and always wear your seat belt.
* Never wrap your infant in a blanket before securing them in the car seat. Always tighten the straps on the seat snugly according to the directions rather than using blankets to keep the straps tight. Place blankets over your child only after he or she has been properly restrained.
* Never hold your child in your lap when riding in a moving vehicle.

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