Everywhere you turn, it seems like you get a different opinion on the proper way to secure your child in their car seat. Well I tracked down a local mama who can give us legitimate answers! Emily McDonald is a Child Passenger Safety Technician. Read: car seat expert. She has completed a 32-40 hour certification course and must complete yearly continuing education to keep her certification. Her job is to teach and assist caregivers with keeping children safe in vehicles.
Let’s properly buckle our kids into their seats! Ready? Here we go….
The first thing that we talked about was proper harnessing. Emily says that this is the biggest and most common mistake she sees. The harness is what keeps the child in the seat in a crash. The best way to find out if the harness is tight enough is to do the “pinch test.” To do this, move the chest clip and harness covers out of the way. With your thumb and one finger, pinch the harness at the collarbone. If you’re able to pinch any slack, tighten a bit more.
Once you know the harness is tight enough, make sure the chest clip is in the right place. The purpose of the chest clip is to hold the harness over the bony sections of the child’s body, keeping them in the seat during a crash. The chest clip should be at the nipple to armpit level, over the sternum. In infants, therefore, there’s a much smaller area for the chest clip to go.
Now lets talk about clothing and accessories in carseats. First of all, did you know that there are guidelines about using seat protectors under your carseat?? I definitely didn’t. Some carseats can be used with a towel underneath, some with specific seat covers, and some should not have anything under them. Check your manual for details. I definitely screwed that one up!
So clothing. We constantly see posts on social media about the puffer jackets and carseats, so I think everyone knows that’s not ok. But what about other winter clothing? Emily gave me an easy way to check. First, buckle your child into the harness properly using all the things we just learned. Then take them out without loosening the straps.
Put on the article of clothing in question, and put them back into the seat. If you have to loosen the harness for the child to fit, it’s too bulky.
As for other car seat accessories like inserts, toys, covers, etc. you should ALWAYS use items that came with the seat or are specifically approved by the manufacturer. By using approved items, you know that the safety of the seat won’t be compromised. Also be sure to use the provided inserts for infants and small babies per the manufacturer’s instructions. Most car seats can fit a wide range of children, especially the convertibles that go from infant to toddler. But if you don’t use the inserts properly, they will not protect your child properly.
I also asked Emily if there are any seats that she does or does not recommend. She said there are not. CPSTs will work with the seat the caregiver has. However if you need a recommendation, any CPST will base it on the child, vehicle, and budget you have.
If you would like more resources, an in-person or virtual carseat check, or information on classes offered, you can find your local CPST here. If you are local to the Memphis area, you can check out Emily’s Facebook page.