The Car Seats

Even Good Parents

According to the Department of Meteorology & Climate Science at San Jose State University, since 1998, 656 children have died from hyperthermia after being left in a car. So far this year, there have been 19 such deaths.

The situation is almost always the same: a parent or grandparent or guardian is having an off day. They may be overtired or stressed or otherwise distracted, but something about their routine gets disrupted. And typically the child is so quiet and out of sight that they are forgotten when the parent arrives at their destination. Hours later, either when the parent returns to the car or when their brain finally realizes their terrible mistake, their child has perished.

It’s horrifying. There’s no other word for it.

Whenever an article with one of these tragic stories is posted, I cringe knowing what the comments will hold because it’s always the same. The overwhelming majority of parents seem to think that this could never happen to them. Here are some comments from articles last month and one last week.

“What are the chances she was yapping on the phone the whole time she was driving to work, like most people seem to do these days? They can and should check phone records and then if she was, charge her.”

“She didn’t forget to put the child into the car, how can she now expect us to believe she forgot to take her out?”

“No, no, no! This is not accidental. It took 2 hours to realize a toddler was not inside? That’s BS. Every time a child is left in a car and dies, the adults should be charged with murder. No questions asked. I’m so sick of seeing these stories. I don’t care how distracted, exhausted, busy, or whatever you are, you don’t accidentally forget your child.”

“I don’t understand how anyone can “forget” there (SIC) is a child in a car… Also, the current fad of placing a toy bear or some other stuffed animal in the front seat to “remind” you that you have a child in the back seat is to me misguided. I am certain that many of those proposing such “reminders” have 100% positive motives behind their idea. But, if a person is not going to remember there is a CHILD in the car, a stuffed toy or a diaper bag is not going to make a difference.”

Now let’s be clear- these weren’t cases where a parent or grandparent left the child in the car for convenience. They didn’t leave them so they could shop unbothered or let them keep sleeping because they didn’t want them to be undernapped. They forgot that the child was there.

This mindset that tragedies only happen to “bad” parents is exactly why this keeps happening. So many people believe, with their whole heart, that this could not happen to them. They believe that they are a “good” parent, they love their child and they could never forget them, even for a minute. But what if the parents of the 19 kids who’ve died this year were also “good” parents? What if they also loved their kids? What if they, too, thought they’d never forget them?

I think that’s exactly what happened.

I think that these parents loved their kids so much that they never imagined that they’d need a reminder. I think, like the comment above, they probably thought that they would not or could not ever forget their child and thus, why put a shoe in the backseat? Why put a teddy bear in the passenger seat? If you believe yourself to be incapable of making such a mistake, why use a safeguard? It is exactly this mentality that is why this keeps happening. The shaming and judging is keeping us from seeing the real issue- hyperthermia deaths happen to the children of good parents.

If we stopped our judging for just one second and allowed ourselves to imagine a bad day, we might better understand. A day when there’s a catastrophe at work. A day when dad can’t do daycare drop off, so you go out of routine to do it yourself. A day when the baby was up all night and fell asleep in the car rather than chatting or crying the whole way. A day where you’re driving your spouse’s car where the baby is behind the driver instead of in the middle. It’s these situations that create the perfect storm. Where good parents make a mistake.

Yes, good parents. Good parents make mistakes. And that’s what happens in so many of these hyperthermia cases. And that’s why we need to stop acting like it can’t happen to us.

This could absolutely happen to me. I am the queen of car seat safety, I never, ever leave my kids unattended in the car, even if I need to run into the gas station store. My children rear face to a minimum of 4 years in a state where they could forward face at 12 months. I will harness to the limits and friends whose kids ride in my car abide by these rules too. And yet, this could happen to me. I am a good parent, but I am also a human being. I love my kids with my whole heart, would walk to the ends of the earth for them, but this could happen to me. It could.

And it could happen to you.

And that’s why we have to do something different. We have to start putting a shoe in the backseat when our kids are back there. We have to put the diaper bag in the front seat. Or we have to put a bear in the front seat whenever a child is in the car seat. If we stop pretending that we are incapable of making a mistake, we can do something to prevent that mistake from happening. It probably seems silly, but honestly, what is the downside of doing some of these tricks? There isn’t one. And it could save your child’s life. Isn’t that worth it? Maybe you think that this couldn’t happen to you, but is that a risk you’re willing to take?

I’m begging you, consider making a change. Don’t let your child become one of these statistics because you are too proud to put a safeguard in place. Maybe it can’t happen to you, but that is more true if you do something to prevent it.

If you still don’t think that this could happen to you, then I strongly encourage you to read this piece from the Washington Post a few years ago. It’s impeccably well written (won a Pulitzer) and it is absolutely heartbreaking, but it will show you how this can happen to good parents. And why prosecuting these parents isn’t the right thing to do. Which is a different issue for a different time.

Let's Talk About Car Seats: Graco 4Ever Review!

Before we get started on this I want to be completely transparent with this post. When I heard about this seat, I reached out to Graco and asked if I could review it. It’s one that has the potential to completely change the car seat market and I really wanted to find out for me and for you, if it was all it’s cracked up to be (spoiler alert: it is). I did receive the car seat for free to review, but am not being paid at all to write this, nor was I given suggestions about what to write. All my opinions are mine and mine alone and are not at all influenced by the free car seat. I pinkie swear and promise and all of that.

Continue Reading…

Let's Talk About Car Seats: Preventing Accidental Hyperthermia [and Giveaway!]

While in some parts of the country the warm season is winding down, here on the west coast it is still blazing hot. And with the heat comes a scary and serious problem: hyperthermia. We’ve all read the stories about parents accidentally leaving their children in the car (and sometimes not so accidentally, but that is a different story altogether) and the tragic consequences, but all to often we think it could never happen to us. I think part of that is ignorance and part of it is not wanting to imagine the possibility.

I don’t believe that accidental death due to hyperthermia is the result of someone being a bad parent, but rather the result of our lives being rushed, of lack of sleep and/or of ever changing routines. I do believe that these deaths are entirely preventable and need to be a part of every parent’s routine. While I’m sure there are many ways to do this, I thought I would share a few that I’ve heard have been successful.

The easiest way is to put your purse, briefcase or wallet in the backseat next to the car seat. By doing that, you absolutely have to get into the backseat and will (hopefully) notice that your child is there. It doesn’t take any extra time to do this and after you drop your kids off, you can move your things to the front seat. It’s easy and highly effective.

Another option is to put something in the front seat as a reminder. I’ve heard of some parents putting a stuffed animal in the front seat whenever their child is in the car seat (and then put the animal in the seat when the child’s gone) as a visual reminder that their child is there.

A third option is an alarm of some sort. You can set an alarm on your phone for the time you would drop off or arrive at work to remind you to check. You could have a plan with daycare to call if the child isn’t there by a certain time or have your spouse, significant other or a friend call you to make sure.

While this option isn’t quite as simple as the others, there is a wonderful car seat that takes this concern into account. The First Year’s True Fit with iAlert is a car seat with a sensor inside of it, which not only tells you the temperature in the car, but also shows the angle of the car seat, if the seat becomes unbuckled while the car is in motion and will call or text you if the car is turned off and the child is still in the car seat. It’s a great seat for a parent who’s extra concerned about this particular issue.

All these options are great and for the most part, quick and easy. And now Dorel, who makes Safety 1st, Maxi Cosi and Cosco products, to name a few, has come up with another way. Thirty years ago this month, they introduced the Baby on Board sign that we now see on cars all over the country. The yellow triangle serves to alert other drivers, parents, first aid workers, etc, that a child rides in that vehicle. Safety 1st says that it has helped “unite families everywhere on the journey of parenthood” and it has no doubt become a very recognizable image.

As times have changed, so that the focus of Safety 1st and starting in 2015, they will be introducing another sign aimed to reduce accidental deaths due to hyperthermia. Each Baby on Board sign will come with a “Where’s Baby? Look Before you Lock” sign, used as a reminder to parents to check their cars. It may not seem like a huge deal, but a small visual reminder like that, even on someone else’s vehicle, may be all it takes to trigger a parent’s memory and save a child’s life.

To celebrate their 30th anniversary, Safety 1st reached out to me and offered to giveaway 30 “Baby on Board” signs to readers here. The first 30 commenters will receive the signs. I will do one per vehicle- up to 2 per person, if desired, and the comments will stay open until all the signs are taken. Please make sure your email address is one I can reasonably reach you at. A big thank you to Safety 1st for continuing to put children’s safety ahead of all else. Hopefully this campaign, in addition to some of the steps above, will go a long way to making sure that we don’t lose more children to hyperthermia in cars.

Disclosure: I was not compensated in any way for this post. Safety 1st reached out to me and asked if I wanted to do a giveaway and I decided to do it. No money or products were exchanged!

Let's Talk About Car Seats: Aftermarket Products

This week is National Child Passenger Safety Week and as such I’m going to try hard to get back on the blogging train. In addition to this post there will be a small giveaway as well as a car seat review I’ve been working on. I have an unexpected out of town funeral on Friday, so depending upon how much time I have, the “week” may last more than 7 days.

So today we’re going to talk about aftermarket products. What is an aftermarket product? In this context, it’s anything you add to your car or car seat that did not come with it. And every car seat manufacturer forbids them. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t make your child more comfortable in their car seat.

Strap Covers
One of the most common aftermarket products that I see, and that I used before I knew better, were harness strap covers. Now, if your car seat comes with them, you’re fine, use as directed in the manual, however, if your car seat did not come with them, you shouldn’t be adding any to the seat. The fact is, we don’t know how those strap covers will impact the performance in a crash. Maybe your seat didn’t come with them because when crash tested with strap covers, something went wrong. Maybe the strap covers add so much bulk, like a thick coat, that you’re not getting the harness as snug as you think. The bottom line is that your car seat forbids them and they void the warranty.

Since I myself used them before I knew better, I empathize with the reason behind these. The harness straps can irritate sensitive skin on a child’s neck and may be uncomfortable. If your seat didn’t come with strap covers, you have 2 options. First, you can call your car seat manufacturer and ask if there are any approved strap covers. Some companies will send you some that have been crash tested with their seat and are safe for use. This won’t work for every seat/company, but it’s worth trying. If that doesn’t work, pulling a child’s shirt up will help somewhat. If you pull the shirt collar up so that it goes between the harness and the neck, the skin won’t get as irritated. Bonus points if the shirt has ears on it. Obviously.


Head Supports
Another very common aftermarket product, particularly found in infant bucket seats, are head supports. Some car seats come with these (and even then, I personally don’t love all of them), but adding an aftermarket support to a seat can present a very serious and real risk. Very commonly, these head supports cause the head to be pushed forward in the seat, which can cause the airway to be obstructed. This is obviously a very serious issue and I can’t overstate how important it is not to use these.

If your newborn has a hard time maintaining an upright head in their car seat (my boys practically look decapitated at times), there is a safe option to keep the head upright and keep them centered in the seat. Take 2 thin receiving blankets or small towels, roll them up and tuck them on the sides of the seat next to baby. This will keep their body centered in the seat and support the head without pushing it forward. It works like a charm. Will sleeps so much better in his seat when I do this.


Car Seat Covers
If you look online, there are a number of very cute handmade car seat covers. I know it happens where a seat cover gets destroyed by a child or you have a baby of a different sex and want a new cover. But, purchasing a handmade cover, especially one that goes over an existing cover, is not a safe option. Car seats in the US are required to have fire retardants present on the seat covers which may prevent a child from being injured in a car fire. In addition, the car seat covers that go over the cover that came with the seat add an extra layer between the child and the harness, which could be dangerous in a crash and may mask an improperly tightened harness.

So, what do you do if your cover gets ruined or if you need to change a pink seat to blue? Call the company. They can very, very frequently help you with this. You can use another cover from the same make/model car seat if you have one or have access to it, but be sure it’s the same and fits the seat properly.

Clip on Fans
One common reason for turning a child around to forward face is that they don’t get adequate air flow. As it is going to be over 100 degrees all this week and I have two rear facing boys, I totally get this. I’ve seen a lot of people recommend a clip on fan to provide airflow to rear facers and the idea is good, but the reality is dangerous. In a crash, that fan would very easily come unclipped and hit a child in the face, hard. Imagine having one of those fans thrown at your face and that’s what your child would experience in a crash.

So, how can you keep your kids cool? You can cool the car before you get in or use a cover or towel to keep the seat cool. We purchased something called a Noggle earlier this year and it is the best. It attaches to your a/c vents and funnels the air to wherever you point it. It works very well and is easy to use. They post discounts on their FB page occasionally, but for us it was worth the full price.



So this one is tricky. There are a few mirrors I will absolutely recommend against. The ones with lights and speakers and all that should not be used for the same reason as the clip on fans. They’re heavy and in a crash they can become a heavy and dangerous projectile pointed at your child’s head.

That said, I have mirrors in my car. I will not tell you to use them (in fact, if you ask I’ll tell you not to) or guarantee their safety, but I’ll share my personal rationale. I use the lightest weight plastic mirrors on the market. Ones that I would totally be okay throwing at my kids (which is to say they’re light and wouldn’t do any damage). I use them because I’m not comfortable not being able to see my kids. I drive less distractedly when I can see the boys than when I have to call back to Eli or hope Will’s head isn’t falling off his neck.


Seat Protectors
This is a common aftermarket product in newer cars and cars with leather. Parents are worried, reasonably, about the car seat damaging their seats, so they purchase “seat protectors” which are typically thick mats that go under the car seat. Unfortunately, these are known far and wide to mask a poor installation. That is, they make the car seat seem like it moves less than it really does by adding friction under the base.

If you are super concerned about your seats you have a few choices. One, you can take your car seats out occasionally and oil your seats (if they’re leather. I can’t say I would recommend oiling fabric seats…), which will help protect the vehicle seats. The other option is a very lightweight receiving blanket under the car seat. Check with your manual as some will strictly forbid ANYTHING from going under the seat, but most companies are okay with this. There are a few companies who have made seat protectors for their car seats. You can always call your car seat manufacturer and ask if there are any and where to buy them.

That doesn’t cover every aftermarket product, but it’s the most common ones I’ve seen and even a few I’ve used. If you have questions about specific products, feel free to leave a comment and I’ll respond as soon as I have a free moment/hand.

Trolling for Safety

Earlier this week, a post popped up on a Facebook group I belong to for child passenger safety technicians. The tech who shared the link was concerned because the post was a review of a car seat, which showed a car seat being used entirely incorrectly. The straps were positioned wrong, the chest clip was too low and worst of all, a child who could not be more than 6 months old was pictured forward facing in the seat. The review itself mostly skirted by discussing anything of substance and instead was largely focused on how pretty the colors were.

I was alarmed on a few levels. I knew that if that child was in that seat, as pictured, and in a crash, she would likely be severely injured, if not killed. It doesn’t matter how many safety features are built into a car seat, if you use it against the manual and against the law and all safety recommendations, it’s useless. I was also frustrated because I think that reviews like that make parents look stupid. I may be a car safety nut, but every parent I know cares more about how long their child will fit in a seat, how it will fit in their car, if it’s relatively straightforward to use, etc., rather than what colors it comes in. But this second issue is beside the point.

After several of us (politely) expressed our concerns to the car seat company, the review was pulled and pictures were retaken with the child rear facing. The straps were still wrong and the review at no point acknowledged that the previous picture were misleading. In fact, in the comments, the poster was endorsing forward facing children at 1 and 20 pounds, which absolutely everyone in the car seat world agrees is entirely unsafe.

Once again, some CPSTs reached out to the poster in the comments of the post. I was one of them and I can tell you that my comment was 100% polite and simply trying to explain why recommending 1 and 20 pounds was not a good idea. As she had told another CPST to “do some research” I included a few links that would be useful for her and other parents interested in the seat and in car seat safety. Not only did my comment not get published, but I’ve been blocked from the website. This blogger wants parents to do research but doesn’t want any research to be shared?

Honestly, this is part of a bigger issue I’m personally struggling with. This person is calling me a “troll” because I want to help keep children safe by providing research. My only goal in sharing what I’ve learned about car seats is to keep children safe. I have no ulterior motive. I don’t think I’m a better parent. I really just want to help change the fact that car collisions are the #1 killer of children and that 75% of car seats are being used incorrectly. I’m not afraid to be blocked by people over this, I just wish there was a better way.

How do we incite change without being blocked and being called trolls? How can we teach parents what’s best if any attempt to do so is seen as a personal affront? I’m genuinely asking because I don’t even know anymore. We have a major issue with car seat safety in this country and it seems to be more difficult than ever to help parents learn how to keep their children safe in the car.

Let's Talk About Car Seats: Why Extended Rear Facing is Safest

Child and adult passenger safety has evolved tremendously in the past few decades. We went from no seat belts in cars, no car seats, to car seats that sat in the front seat or didn’t buckle in, to children in the backseat and so on. And today, we have highly complicated and specialized car seats and a lot of research telling us what does and does not work in the car.

The trouble is, not everyone has evolved with the times. Just this week I saw on FB a picture of a child who was much too young to forward face and someone politely commented that the child should still be rear facing (which, we can argue the appropriateness of this another time). And then the wrath of the uneducated masses fell upon the commenter. People repeated an unbelievably large number of falsehoods about rear facing and about why it’s not safe or best and why it’s dangerous and I just felt so very disheartened. I know that as parents we want the very best for our kids, but how can we provide that when we refuse to open our minds to the latest research?

Most states have 1 of 2 laws on the books about rear facing. Either 1) children need to rear face until age 1 and (sometimes or) 20 pounds, or 2) children must be seated in properly used car seats and there is not a single car seat on the market that allows forward facing before age 1, so basically, it means no forward facing until 1. And for a long time, the best practice was at age 1 it was time to flip the seat around to face front. But we know now, without hesitation, that that is simply not what is best for kids.

To break down why this is the case, I want to start with the science behind it. The major issue with forward facing a child before at least age 2, but really before age 4, is head size. Look, my kid has a giant head, but this isn’t about that. Up until age 2, children have significantly disproportionately large heads. Even those that don’t have the percentiles of Charlie Brown.

(Image from: American Genetic Association – Journal of Heredity (1921) Volume 12, pg 421)

The muscles that control the head are very, very, very small, especially in comparison to the size of the head. So when forward facing in a collision, those tiny muscles are trying to control a very, very large head and they basically do a really crappy job at it. When rear facing, the child’s head and neck are supported by the seat and there is very little excursion of the neck at all. The consequence of a collision for forward facing young child is a phenomenon known as internal decapitation, where the spinal cord is severed internally and it virtually always results in death.

The other major reason that rear facing is safer, especially for younger children, is spinal maturity. The spine of a young child is made in large part of cartilage. This is why kids are so crazy flexible (okay, part of why) and it serves them well. Except in a car accident. The fact that the spine is made of cartilage and does not begin to ossify until age 4 means it’s not as solid or protective of the spinal cord as it is in older children. This image shows the difference between the vertebrae of a 1 year old and a 6 year old. The seemingly missing pieces of the 1 year old’s spine are filled in by cartilage, which is significantly more flexible and allows much more pressure and damage to occur to the spinal cord in a collision.

(Image from Human Osteology, T. White, 2000.)

So there’s the science. What the research shows is that between the ages of 1 and 2, toddlers who are forward facing have a 532% greater risk of suffering a catastrophic neck injury than their rear facing peers. Five hundred and thirty two percent greater risk. This isn’t theoretical, it’s a real scientific evidence and it’s not something we can argue with. The AAP recommends that children stay rear facing until age 2 or until they reach the maximum height or weight of their rear facing seat (they mean convertible, not infant carriers). The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration says to rear face as close to age 4 as possible. It’s a far cry from 1 and 20 pounds. The science unquestionably supports it, but why aren’t more parents doing it?

The most common concern parents state is leg injuries. Now, let me be clear: there is absolutely zero evidence of an increased risk of leg injuries from rear facing. Zero. In fact, leg injuries are the 3rd most common injury in forward facing children, but they are virtually unheard of in rear facing, even for extended rear facers with longer legs. Why? Because when forward facing, children strike the seat in front of them or the sides of the vehicle. There is much better containment when rear facing and in most crashes, the child moves towards the back of the car seat and away from vehicle seat, thus not injuring the legs (or the spine! woo!)

rear facing2

Other parents are concerned that an extended period of time with the legs in the frogged position is dangerous. Actually, the opposite of that is true. A frogged leg position is one of the best, most stable positions for the hip. When children have developmental hip dysplasia and need to have the hips stabilized that is the position they’re braced in because it helps deepen the hip socket. From a anatomical/physiological standpoint, the dangling legs that occur with forward facing are significantly worse for a child’s hips than sitting criss crossed or frogged.

The next concern is that it’s uncomfortable. I can’t speak for all children, but as the mother of an extended rear facer and the friend of many children who rear face until age 4 and sometimes beyond, it really isn’t the case. Parents want children to forward face, but most kids, especially before age 2, they have zero idea that there are any other options besides what they’re used to.

rear facing1

Eli is 26 months, his feet touch the seat in all his car seats and he’s never expressed any discomfort (and trust me, he can express it). He’s able to sleep very, very well in his car seats, which I’d argue is pretty challenging if you’re uncomfortable. Many kids who forward face have issues with the legs falling asleep and the head slumping, neither of which are an issue with rear facing.

rear facing 3
(He looks just miserable, huh?)

Another major concern is about what happens in rear ending collisions. I can see why this is a concern, unquestionably, since the back of the car will move toward the child. Rear end collisions comprise less than 20 percent of serious car accidents, so even if there was a risk to a rear facing child, it would be a rarity for it to even be an issue. Most rear ending collisions are at low speed and do not result in injuries and do not result in enough intrusion to even be a concern. However, even in higher speed rear ending collisions, a rear facing rider will be no more at risk than a forward facing back seat passenger. Their seat will move forward and they will ride into it, which moves them away from the intrusion.

The only reason for forward facing over rear facing that I have no response to is car sickness. Studies show that there’s no significant difference in car sickness in rear v. forward facing as long as the child has a clear view out a front or back window, but I know that it’s not been the case for many people. I do not recommend this, but I can absolutely understand how a child vomiting in their car seat would present a significant safety hazard (as a distraction) and may outweigh the benefits of rear facing. It’s a decision that needs to be very carefully weighed and not taken lightly.

No one here is advocating rear facing beyond the limits of a car seat, but if a child still fits within the height and weight maximum of a seat, there is no reason to turn them around and doing so immediately reduces their safety in the car. Yes, decades ago we survived without car seats and forward facing from birth, but a lot of other children haven’t. If we want to reduce the number of fatalities and catastrophic injuries from car accidents, we have to educate ourselves and educate others. We have to move forward and not take new research and recommendations as a criticism of our parenting or the choices we made before we knew better.

It is critical that we listen to the science and that once we know better, we do better. Our children look to us to keep them safe. There is no question that rear facing, until at least age 2, or if possible, age 4, is the best way to do that in the car.

Let's Talk About Car Seats: How to Install your Seat Correctly

I probably should’ve started with this post since proper harnessing is pretty much irrelevant if your seat isn’t installed correctly, but we’ll just live and learn here. This is long, but it’s not tough to read. I don’t think.

Installation can be one of the more daunting challenges to parents, especially new parents, because there is a lot to manage. The terms are unfamiliar, the rules are changing and all you really want is to keep your child safe. Every parent and caregiver should know how to install the car seats that are or could be in their car. You never know when someone will accidentally unbuckle the seatbelt holding your seat in place or when you’ll need to move it around. Having only one designated installer is a recipe for disaster.

So, how do you install a car seat? I’m going to break it down into two categories- rear facing and forward facing seats. Boosters are a class of their own (most of the time you just set it in the seat and buckle your child in), so we aren’t going to touch on those today.

For either rear or forward facing, the same first 3 steps apply:
1. Read the manual. Seriously, before you touch the seat or set it anywhere near the car, read the manual.

2. Figure out what installation method you’re going to use. There are 2 basic methods- a seatbelt installation and a LATCH (lower anchors and tethers for children) installation. The seatbelt installation requires that your seatbelt is “locked” in some fashion, the LATCH installation requires that your car has lower anchors (all vehicles since 2002 have lower anchors). LATCH and seatbelt are EQUALLY SAFE when used properly and neither are tough to do once you’ve practiced a few times. There is also a new law that states that LATCH can only be used until a combined weight of 65 pounds, so find out your child’s weight and your car seat’s weight (should be available online if not in your manual) and see if LATCH is an option.

3. Pick your seat location. Statistically speaking, the middle seat is the safest position in the car. The chance of injury is 40% less in the middle, as it is farthest from any impact point. If you are choosing to do a LATCH installation, you must check your car manual to find out if you have anchors in the middle seat. Few cars have dedicated middle anchors and most cars and car seats forbid you from borrowing, or using one outside anchor from either side, to install the seat in the middle. Many car seats also forbid this, or require a very specific distance between anchors.

1. Find the angle indicator on your seat. Most infant seats have a level bubble or color zone that indicates the right angle for the seat. Many convertibles have lines that should be level to the ground. If using a convertible, your seat may need to be reclined to a certain level (specified in your manual). If using an infant seat base, you may need to rotate a dial to make the recline foot higher or lower to get the right angle. If your seat isn’t adjustable and isn’t within the proper angle range, check your manual, but most car seats allow a tightly rolled towel or a pool noodle (or a pyramid of 3 noodles) to be put under the seat at the bite (where the back and butt portion of the vehicle seat meet) to help recline it further.

This is the angle indicator on Eli’s seat in my husband’s car. It offers two zones- one for infants younger than age 1, one for older kids. Ground level should fall somewhere within those two zones (we actually have it pretty well reclined- this seat sits very upright and cause Eli’s head to fall forward when he sleeps)
angle indicator

2. Install the seat using the method chosen in step 2.

2a. Install using a locking seatbelt. Figure out how your seatbelt locks- there are a few options (all of which will be described in your car’s manual), most reasonably recently produced cars have a switchable retractor, meaning they’re not locked during normal use, but if you pull the seatbelt all the way out gently, you can feed the belt back and it will be locked. For this type of belt, thread the belt through the appropriate belt path (it will be labeled and specified in your manual, this is important) and buckle it. Then pull the belt all the way out, and feed the slack in. Put pressure on the seat and pull the belt as tight as you can, feeding the belt back into the retractor as you go. Sometimes seatbelt installations result in a slight tilt on the side opposite the buckle so you may need to put more pressure on that side of the seat to keep it straight (though a slight tilt is not a safety issue as long as the install is tight).

This is our carseat installed with the seatbelt. Our cars do not have center LATCH, so to keep Eli in the middle, we use the seatbelt. If we’re being honest, I prefer seatbelt installs almost 100% of the time.

2b. Install using seatbelt lockoffs built into the car seat. Some car seats have seatbelt lock offs built in. These work to lock the seatbelt without locking at the retractor. They’re no safer, but are sometimes easier. To install with this, thread your seatbelt through the belt path and into the lock off as described by your manual. Put pressure into the seat, tighten the seatbelt as much as possible, then close the lock off.

This is an example of a lock off (the blue thing). The seatbelt gets threaded through, then without actually locking the belt, you pull all the slack off and close it. The seatbelt is held tight and for the most part they’re pretty easy. I have lost many a finger nail on these, however.

2c. Install using LATCH. Hook your LATCH connectors onto the anchors. Put pressure into the seat, then tighten the strap until the seat is secure.

These are LATCH connectors. Some will be more like top tether hooks (pictured below), but these are the newer, easier to use style.

3. Check your installation. Double check that your angle is still within the normal range. Then check for movement. Using your non-dominant hand at the belt path, move the seat side to side and front to back using about the pressure you’d use for a firm handshake. It should move less than an inch in all directions.

4. Hook your top tether- IF APPLICABLE There are only a small handful of car seats that allow top tethering in rear facing mode (Britax, Combi, Peg Perego, Diono, that I know of) and you must check your manual. If it doesn’t specify that you can do this, then you cannot and should not do so. If your seat allows it, it will come with a D-ring that you will loop around a stationary part of your car, likely the seat track. Clip the top tether to the hole on the d-ring, then tighten just until the slack is out. Store any extra harnessing from the tether.

Here is the top tether, it’s currently not in use, but this is what they typically look like.
top tether


HOW TO INSTALL A FORWARD FACING CAR SEAT I highly, highly recommend you check the strap height on your seat before installing it. If your seat has a manual rethread harness (that is, you can’t pull a lever and raise the straps) it’s virtually impossible to do this once it’s been installed forward facing.
1. Make sure your seat is set for forward facing. Some convertible seats have a rear facing boot/recline setting, so make sure you’ve stored that or set the seat to the appropriate setting. Your manual will specify.

2. Install the seat using the method chosen in step 2 from above. The steps for this are exactly the same as above in 2a, 2b, 2c.

3. Check your installation. Using your non-dominant hand at the belt path, move the seat side to side and front to back using about the pressure you’d use for a firm handshake. It should move less than an inch in all directions.

4. Attach the top tether All convertibles and combination seats should have a top tether for forward facing. This tether was created to help reduce head excursion in the event of an accident by holding the top of the car seat secure to the vehicle seat. You’ll need to check your manual for top tether locations, but as long as you have a top tether anchor, you should absolutely use it when installing forward facing. Hook the top tether to the anchor, then tighten just until the slack is out.


Later this week I’ll go over some common installation errors that I grazed over quickly here. Please know that I never judge parents for things like this. I have installed just about every one of Eli’s seats incorrectly at some point. It’s a learning experience, it’s just one where we want to eliminate as many errors as quickly as possible.

Please feel free to ask questions in the comments.

Let's Talk About Car Seats: Proper Buckling Edition

I realized this week that it’s been 2 months since I completed my courses and became a child passenger safety technician (CPST) and I really haven’t done much with what I learned. Mostly this is because I am bohemethly pregnant, which makes it tougher than you’d think to install car seats. But I realized that being giant shouldn’t stop me from sharing the things I’ve learned that can help keep kids safe.

I frequently see pictures of kids on Facebook, twitter and Instagram who are in their car seats, smiling their hearts out, and all I can think is how terribly injured they would be in an accident. I know this isn’t because their parents don’t care about them, quite the opposite, they’re in a car seat in the back seat because their parents care, but somewhere along the line, the proper buckling/safety got lost or missed. And those kids, and thousands of others, are at risk for serious injury in an otherwise survivable car collision.

So today I want to talk about how to properly buckle a child into a 5 point harness, including some common mistakes and why we need to be careful about not making those.

This is Eli, he’s 2 years and 1 month old and he rides rear facing 100% of the time and will until he outgrows the limits of his car seat. We can talk about that another time, but he’s clearly not unhappy about it. In fact, he cried when I took him out of the car. I’m not even kidding. It might have been more because he had to put his pacifiers away, but still. He loves his seat and rides happily in it.

properly restrained 1

Here he is properly restrained. His harness is snug enough, the chest clip is positioned properly, the straps are on the right setting and his seat is properly installed (another post for another day). This is how he rides 100% of the time, regardless of whether he’s put in the car by mom or dad. We take the time to do this every single time. Even when we’re running late, which is 100% of the time.

properly restrained 2

Now, let’s look at some common errors and how to correct them.


1. Chest clip placement. This is probably the most frequent error and is a big one. I know it probably doesn’t seem that critical, but the chest clip plays a huge role in keeping your child safe in a collision. The chest clip keeps the straps properly positioned on the shoulders. In the event of a collision, if the chest clip is too low, the straps can slide off the child’s shoulders and the child can be ejected from the vehicle. Also, if it’s positioned over the belly, it may cause abdominal injuries in a crash.

chest clip

How do you know it’s in the right place? The chest clip belongs at armpit level (or nipple level, same difference). It should not be anywhere near the belly at any time.


2. Loose straps. I get how this one happens. We don’t want our kids to be uncomfortable, so we make sure the harness isn’t too tight. But in doing so, we are putting our kids at serious risk. If the harness is too loose in a rear facing seat, the child will “ride up” the seat and can be ejected. If the harness is too loose in a forward facing seat, the child will have significantly more movement forward, which could cause them to collide with the front seat, injuring arms, legs, brains and spines.

loose straps

So how do you know if the straps are tight enough? The pinch test. The pinch test is the best measure to make sure the straps are tight enough. Once you’ve tightened the harness, attempt to pinch the webbing (horizontally) at the collar bone. You may need to remove or unvelcro shoulder pads to do this, but doing it at the belly is not valid. If you cannot pinch any of the harness, it is properly tightened. If you can pinch the harness, it needs to be tighter.

Here, I can pinch the harness, so the harness is too loose.
pinch test 2

Here, when I try to pinch, I can’t grasp any of the harness webbing between my fingers, so the harness is tight enough.
pinch test 1


3. Aftermarket products on the seat. As you can see, I did this. I did it for a full year before I knew better (we can also discuss how the straps are too loose, I too made almost all these mistakes before I knew better). I thought that Eli would be more comfortable with these strap covers on and I clipped his pacifier to his harness. Why are these things wrong? Well, for starters, any object that isn’t crash tested with your car seat shouldn’t be used. Your seat was intended to work a specific way and there’s no way to know if adding something is going to be dangerous. For strap covers, the issues are that they can make the straps slippery and cause them to slide off your child’s shoulders, or, in a crash the fabric can compress (much like if you put your child in a puffy coat) and cause the harness to be too loose in the moment you need it to be tight. The pacifier should never have been clipped there because it could damage the harness and reduce it’s ability to perform correctly in a crash.


So, how can you protect the neck from strap marks? You can call your car seat manufacturer and see if there are any strap covers that they can send that have been crash tested with their seat, and many companies have these available. If that doesn’t work, you can put your child in polo shirts, you can pull their shirts up under the straps, or you can just live with it. It’s not a perfect answer, but when used properly, the harness shouldn’t damage the skin.


4. Combination loose straps and low chest clip. This is the worst. I don’t mean for this to come across meanly, but if this is how your child is buckled into a car seat, you really shouldn’t even bother putting them in a car seat. This will provide absolutely zero protection in even a mild crash. The child will be ejected at least from the seat, if not from the car, and very likely severely injured.

loose and clip

This actually happened to an infant in my area recently. The car accident was entirely survivable, but the child was ejected because she was in a seat with the chest clip at belly level and the straps too loose. It is an absolute tragedy and that’s why I’m telling you this. We all get told repeatedly by doctors and family members how to feed our kids, what the safest products are, but no one takes the time to teach parents about car seats. Car crashes kill thousands of kids each year and studies have found that more than two-thirds of car seats are used incorrectly. We need to take the time to correct our mistakes and change our ways so that we can keep our kids safe.


It takes less than a minute for me to get Eli properly strapped into his seat. I know when we’re in a rush it feels like every second counts, but safety should never be rushed. Taking those extra 30 seconds to adjust the chest clip and check the tightness are absolutely critical. I am not exaggerating at all when I say that it can literally be the difference between life and death for a child. Please take the time, pay attention and now that you know better, make the conscious decision to do better.

Safety Dance

I picked Eli’s first car seat out the exact same way I picked out almost all the baby stuff- I used a book someone gave me and found a car seat with an A rating. I remember clearly installing the bases into our cars in a rush at 36 weeks when we thought I was leaking fluid. I remember reinstalling them a few days later when we realized that we installed them just totally wrong (Honda does not allow center LATCH borrowing, in case you wondered). And on that day, an obsession was born.

Yes, I am obsessed with car seat safety. I love car seats. I love helping people pick the right one. I love helping people install and use them correctly. I love the way new carseats feel, I love reading through the manuals. I love car seats. Don’t worry, I judge myself, too.

And so Monday, I’m taking my obsession to the next level. I’ll be taking a 4 day course to get my Child Passenger Safety Technician (CPST) certification. It basically will allow me to register with SafeKids as a person who can help others install car seats and will certify me as an official car seat/safety nerd. I am just unbelievably excited.

I am beyond hopeful that my obsession and subsequent piles of knowledge about car safety will never be necessary (side note: the car behind me got rear ended on the freeway today. That was good times), but I also really like the comfort of knowing that I’ve removed all the variables I can and have given my child the best possible shot at being safe in the car. And the idea of being able to help others do the same for their kids is something I’m so excited for. Down the road I hope to take an additional course to expand my knowledge to include special needs car seat situations, but in the meantime, just being able to help families is exciting enough.

So, that’s what I’m doing next week. I can’t wait to share all that I learn there. I feel like I’ve already learned so much just having a toddler in a car seat, so I’m excited to fill the gaps about future car seat situations (forward facing, booster, no booster). As far as hobbies go, it’s a little dorky, but I’m pretty at peace with that.