Sleepless nights are not a new parent’s only nightmare. My son was a breeze when it came to sitting in a car seat, but I still remember the day we brought my 3-day-old daughter home from Banner Thunderbird Medical Center in Glendale, Arizona.
Let’s just say I got an inkling of our future soprano. Thank goodness the drive was only 15 minutes.
Growing up in India, there was no concept of a car seat. I would either be in my mom’s lap, squished between my sister and other family members, or would lie sprawled across the seat if the drive was long, the space was empty and I was too sleepy to sit up. The sight of an infant buckled into a contraption, even now, is not common in some countries.
But car seats have an invaluable purpose. They save lives. Significantly.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), car seat use significantly reduces the risk of death among children. In 2011, the year for which the latest data is available from the CDC, more than 650 children ages 12 years and younger died in motor vehicle crashes. More than 200 of them were not buckled in.
One major misconception is that once a child turns 1 and/or weighs 20 pounds, the car seat can be front-facing. (In my case I waited until both kids were about 18 months old). Yes, that’s a milestone many parents celebrate. It means the end of many a tantrum and also eases the driver’s mind because you can more easily see what the child is up to (and hand out cheerios at the red light).
But that age and weight benchmark, which has been followed so widely in the past, is only the minimum standard, according to this updated set of car seat safety recommendations by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
The AAP recommends that parents keep their toddlers in rear-facing car seats until age 2, or until they reach the maximum height and weight for their seat. It also advises that most children will need to ride in a belt-positioning booster seat until they have reached 4 feet 9 inches in height.
A rear-facing child safety seat better supports the head, neck and spine of infants and toddlers in a crash, because it distributes the force of the collision over the entire body, according to an AAP expert.
For larger children, a forward-facing seat with a harness is safer than a booster, and a belt-positioning booster seat provides better protection than a seat belt alone, until the seat belt fits correctly.
Here are some easy-to-follow tips I found on the CDC website called ‘Know the Stages:’
Birth up to Age 2: Rear-facing car seat
Infants and children should be buckled in a rear-facing car seat, in the back seat, until age 2 or when they reach the upper weight or height limits of their particular seat.
Age 2 up to at least Age 5: Forward-facing car seat
When children outgrow their rear-facing seats, they should be buckled in a forward-facing car seat in the back, until at least age 5 or when they reach the upper weight or height limit of their particular seat.
Age 5 up until seat belts fit properly: Booster seat
Once children outgrow their forward-facing seat, they should be buckled in a belt positioning booster seat until seat belts fit properly. Seat belts fit properly when the lap belt lays across the upper thighs (not the stomach) and the shoulder belt lays across the chest (not the neck).
Once Seat Belts Fit Properly without a Booster Seat: Seat Belt
Children no longer need to use a booster seat once seat belts fit them properly. The recommended height for proper seat belt fit is 4 feet 9 inches in height (children typically reach this height when they are between 10 to 12 years of age). For the best possible protection keep children properly buckled in the back seat.
Here’s also another informative video on the topic for newbie moms and dads, featuring Tracey Fejt, injury prevention coordinator at Banner Children’s.
The good news I got out of Fejt’s video? The fancy-schmancy designer car seats are not necessarily the safest. All car seats must meet federal safety standards, says Fejt.
“You’ve got to get the one that fits your child, that fits your vehicle and you’re going to use correctly every single time,” she notes.
Arizona resident Megan Christopherson, also featured in the video, says she understands why it may not be convenient to parents to follow the car seat regulations (think again of squirming, screaming infants and toddlers), but that it’s absolutely worth it.
“There are days when, by the time I get Sophie into her car seat, I would like to go inside and take a nap, because it’s so miserable,” says Christopherson.
But she would much rather be safe than sorry, she adds.
Banner Children’s has some more car seat installation and safety tips, as well as information on some car seat safety classes.
Thankfully, both my kids now sit front-facing, and the screaming matches are over. But for those of you who still have a while to go, I’d say follow the guidelines above, keep plenty of car-friendly toys handy and turn up the volume!