Car seating for your second child (or third, or fourth 😉)
As a parent of two- I can tell you, I made a lot of mistakes with my first that I don't intend to repeat with my second. I let my eldest keep her pacifier too long, expected too much from her too soon and worried over every milestone. I also turned her car seat forward facing at 13 months. When she was three- we were rear ended waiting to turn left into our driveway. It was this event that caused me to read more about child passenger safety and I was horrified to learn how much I had done wrong. I became a car seat safety advocate and began to follow best practice as much as possible.
As a species, human beings struggle with change. We assume that because nothing bad has happened what we are doing is correct. We aren't good at recognizing the flaws in our logic. It generally takes a big event to spur us to change. However, when we know better, we DO better. No parent wants their child to be hurt. It is my hope that if you are reading this today, this can be your wake up call. Even if you've done everything wrong until now, it's not too late to do better with your next child.
First, let's review the current best practice recommendations for transporting children:
- All children under two years old should ride rear facing. Age 2 is the minimum age to turn forward.
- Children should continue to ride rear facing as long as possible, until they reach the weight or height maximum of the rear facing mode of a convertible car seat (usually around 40lb/ 40", an average 4 year old)
- Once they have outgrown a rear facing convertible seat, they should be seated in a forward facing seat with a harness (convertible or combination) until they have the maturity to sit still in a belt positioning booster 100% of the time. This age varies, some children are ready when they are 5 but most are not ready until 6, 7 or even later.
- Children should remain in a booster seat until they are at least 57" (4'9") tall and can pass the "5 Step Test"
- The "5 Step Test" to ride in just the seat belt:
- Back flat against seat
- Knees bent at the edge or beyond the edge of the vehicle seat
- Lap belt low on the hips, touching the top of the thighs
- Shoulder belt crosses midway between the neck and the shoulder
- Child is mature enough to stay in this position the entire trip
- Children under 13 should always ride in the back seat
Now, let's focus on some things that may affect you as a seasoned parent.
Car seats expire! If you have a gap of 4 or more years between your children, you will very likely need a new infant seat. Car seats have expiration dates that vary by manufacturer and seat- anywhere from 4-12 years. Generally, rear facing only seats (infant carriers with a handle) will have an expiration between 5-7 years. This information is in the manual and on manufacturers websites if you have misplaced your manual. The reasons for car seat expiration dates is the degradation of the materials (plastics, webbing, etc) and the improvements in technology over time.
If you don't have a large gap between your children and you want to reuse your infant seat from your first child there are a few things to check after getting it out of storage.
- Check for mold or mildew that may have grown on the straps or cover. Bleach is never acceptable to use on car seats and it's impossible to get rid of mold without it.
- Look for any insect or rodent damage to the straps or shell.
- Check the expiration date
- Mentally review the history of the seat. Have you ever washed the cover or straps? Car seats have explicit cleaning instructions that you may not have followed the first time. Have you ever been in any kind of accident with it? Car seats are generally a one time use item, like a bike helmet.
You may not have been aware of the "No Fluff" rules with your first child. Car seats should not have any aftermarket accessories added to them. This applies to strap covers, infant positioners, BundleMe sleeping bag style covers, and puffy coats. If it didn't come with the seat, don't use it in the seat. Take a look at my Winter Is Coming article for more information on how to keep your kids warm and safe in the colder months.
Don't put an infant carrier on top of a shopping cart. This used to be allowed by many manufacturers but it has been found to make carts top heavy and prone to tipping. Seats also may not securely attach to a shopping cart and fall out, injuring your baby in the fall. It's a better idea to place the car seat in the main basket of the cart or baby wear.
Don't use your car seat as a "baby holder" or a place for naps. If the car seat is not installed, it will not be at a 45 degree angle. Babies have died from positional asphyxia after being left in a too upright car seat for too long. When you are transporting your baby, always make sure that the harness is done and the straps are tight, even outside the car, on the stroller, etc. It prevents falls and strangulation from entrapment.
Congratulations on your growing family! Second (or third, or fourth) kids can be a fresh start to improve our parenting skills from the first. Don't make the same mistakes!