By Allana Pinkerton
As Global Safety Advocate for Diono and a certified Child Passenger Safety Instructor, you can imagine I get asked a lot of questions about keeping baby safe in the car. When you register online or at a retail store for your baby shower gifts, it can be overwhelming as to which products are best for baby. Keep in mind, the only baby product required by law is a car seat. That's because car crashes are the number one cause of death and injury to children under the age of 14. And yet, most of these tragedies can be prevented. Keeping your little one safe does not have to be overwhelming. Here are just a few tips to help you get started.
1. If you're pregnant, select your car seat and have a certified Child Passenger Safety Technician (CPST) help you install it four to six weeks before your due date. Babies tend to have a mind of their own, arriving on their own schedule. You don't want to be installing the car seat at the last minute in the parking lot when you're being discharged from the hospital.
2. Read over the manual carefully, watch the manufacturer's videos, and call them with any questions. If you're lucky enough to live near a certified CPST, make an appointment and double check your installation skills. Most car seats are unknowingly installed incorrectly. It's always a good idea to have someone else check your work.
3. Be sure to snug up the baby's harness every time they are in the car seat, especially if they are in an infant-only carrier. Keeping the harness snug protects them while you're carrying the car seat or if you happen to be involved in a crash.
4. If you bring baby grocery shopping, place the car seat carrier into the large basket of the shopping cart where you put the groceries. Placing it on the cart handle can be dangerous and cause the cart to tip over, possibly injuring the baby.
5. Use only the infant cushions or pillows that come with the car seat. Manufacturers crash test with their products and know the results. They cannot verify or predict what may happen if you use another company's product with your car seat.
6. Never nurse or feed your child while the car is moving. Even if they are screaming at the top of their lungs, never take your little one out of their car seat while the car is running. You can never anticipate when a car crash will happen. Find a safe place to pull over and turn your car off.
7. If you decide to take a long car trip with a newborn, be sure to take baby out of the car seat at a rest stop every two hours. Check with your child's pediatrician to be sure they are healthy enough to take long trips or fly in an airplane.
8. Speaking of air travel, be sure to purchase a seat for your baby instead of carrying them on your lap. Infant-only car seats (carrier with or without a base) install easily in an airplane seat! Store the base in the overhead bin (or pack it in your luggage), and then simply install the carrier rear-facing with the lap belt. The car seat must go by the window so it doesn't interfere with other passengers exiting the row to the aisle. Bring a small gift or a smile to the person sitting in the seat in front of your baby's because they won't be able to recline their seat. Better yet, book a bulkhead seat so it doesn't interfere with anyone. Plus, it gives you more room to easily access the car seat and baby. Prior to your trip, verify with each airline its seat spacing and policies on using an infant or convertible car seat onboard.
9. Many parents are puzzled when I suggest using a car seat on an airplane. It's simple physics. Laws of gravity do not change on an airplane. They only increase when you are taking off and landing at roughly 250 mph. Most injuries occur on take offs, landings, and during turbulence. In addition, baby and you will be more comfortable for the duration of the flight.
Traveling with baby takes some extra planning and coordinating, and most importantly, patience. Following these "Do's and Don'ts" will help keep them safe and make the journey a little smoother. It can be exhausting, and sometimes it seems like the trip will never end, but you will make it!
Allana Pinkerton is the Global Safety Advocate for Diono. She began her career in Child Passenger Safety as a National Certified Child Passenger Safety Technician in 2001 and advanced into the position of a National Instructor in 2002. In 2004, she founded a non-profit organization, Sit Tight, which provided education and free car seats to underserved communities.