If you’re uneasy about leaving the house with your newest little bundle of joy, you’re not alone. Between packing up everything your infant might need, timing your trip around feedings and naps, and feeling anxious about keeping such a delicate little one safe, it can be overwhelming. However, it’s unavoidable. Whether it’s running to the store for more diapers or going to the doctor’s office for well-checks, you’re going to need to drive with the baby.
With September being Car Seat Safety Month, we figured it was the perfect opportunity to share some safety tips and advice for keeping car travel with your little one comfortable and manageable.
Car Seat Safety
When it comes to keeping your baby safe in the car, it’s important to use the right car seat for their age and size, install it correctly, and use it properly for every trip.
- Using the right car seat. There are three general types of car seats for your child to move through from infancy through when they’re big enough for a seat belt alone to protect them. These are rear-facing car seats, forward-facing car seats, and booster seats. (Some styles can be adjusted to meet multiple needs, but they should always be used as intended based on your child’s age and size.) You’ll also want to check that the car seat you select is compatible with your car.
A rear-facing car seat is the safest option for at least the first year of your child’s life, though experts recommend keeping your child rear-facing as long as possible – until he or she reaches the maximum height and weight limit for your given car seat. Infant-only car seats – the kind you can carry on your arm and insert in a stroller – can only be used rear-facing and are designed for newborns and small babies. Most children outgrow this style around their first birthday and can transition to a rear-facing convertible car seat.
Once your child outgrows his or her rear-facing car seat, you can switch to forward-facing with a full harness and tether. Most children pass the height and weight limits of forward-facing car seats sometime between the ages of four and seven, at which point they should transition to a booster seat until they are big enough for a seat belt to fit them properly without one.
Booster seats can either have a high back or be backless. Both help improve the fit of the car seat’s seatbelt over your child’s chest (rather than their neck) for a safer fit. Booster seats with high backs provide increased head and neck support, which can be especially beneficial in cars without head rests or with lower seat backs. If your car does have a head rest, a backless booster seat should be sufficient.
- Installing your car seat correctly. Once you have the correct car seat, you need to ensure it is installed securely in your car. Be sure to read the owner manuals for both your car seat and your car (not every seat with a seatbelt is ideal for a car seat). Position the car seat in a back seat, and use either the seatbelt or LATCH – lower anchors and tethers for children. Either option is safe if done securely, but be sure to only use one at a time. Use the “inch test” to check that the car seat doesn’t move more than an inch side to side or front to back.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration offers guides for how to install infant-only car seats, convertible car seats – both rear-facing and front-facing, and booster seats – both high-backed and backless. You can also take advantage of certified Child Passenger Safety Technicians to check that your car seat is installed correctly, or you can attend a car seat checkup event in your area.
- Using the car seat properly – every time. It’s important to take the time to fasten your child into his or her car seat the right way every time. Your baby should lie flat in the car seat, with their back and bottom unobstructed against the back of the car seat. The harness straps should come through the slots located at or just below your baby’s shoulders (while rear-facing) and should be buckled snugly. You should not be able to pinch the straps at your baby’s shoulders. Finally, adjust the chest clip so that it’s level with your baby’s armpits. The chest clip should protect your baby’s chest, not his or her belly.
The CDC offers visual resources for avoiding common mistakes, including where harness straps and chest clips should be positioned (as referenced above). The CDC also reminds parents that your baby’s head should be at least an inch below the top of the car seat, and a baby should not wear a thick coat while in a car seat. Instead, keep a baby warm by draping a blanket or coat over the top of the car seat straps.
Traveling with Your Little One
One of the most daunting aspects of leaving the house with a baby is making sure you have everything you need. A well-stocked diaper bag can help ease your sleep-deprived mind.
Make sure you have your diaper bag essentials:
- Diapers – it’s better to be overstocked than to run out!
- Consider water-based options that can double for wiping your baby’s face or nose as needed.
- Diaper rash cream. Bamboobies diaper spray is a great on-the-go option that doesn’t require rubbing to protect your little one’s bottom from wetness and diaper rash.
- Changing pad to protect the surface you’re changing baby on.
- Change of clothes for baby in case of spit-up or blowouts.
- Extra shirt for you and/or your partner – for spit-up or diaper change accidents!
- If you’re nursing, you may want a cover-up. The open nursing shawl and chic nursing shawl from Bamboobies both offer lightweight, comfortable, and stylish coverage and can double as car seat covers or blankets if baby falls asleep while you’re out and about.
- Nursing pads. You can use disposable nursing pads for convenience, or you can opt for washable nursing pads with the little black wet bag to store used pads.
- Burp cloths, even if your baby does not spit up often. Better to be safe than sorry!
- If you are formula feeding, pre-pack measured formula in a formula dispenser, and include a bottle and clean water. You may also want a portable bottle warmer if your baby prefers warm formula.
- Plastic bags for soiled clothing or used diapers, if you won’t have access to a garbage at all times.
- Ibuprofen or acetaminophen for mom or dad, in case of headaches.
- Sustenance for mom and dad. Small snacks or drink mixes for energy or lactation support can help keep your spirits up (and if you are nursing, you’ll want to eat and drink regularly to keep your supply up).
- A small toy to help distract your baby if he or she gets fussy.
- Hand sanitizer, for when you don’t have easy access to soap and water.
Traveling with your new baby doesn’t have to be nerve-wracking. Taking the time to properly install your car seat, and taking advantage of resources to double check your work, can offer a sense of relief. And stocking your diaper bag with everything you need can make your trips more manageable and comfortable – for both baby and you.
Safe Kids Worldwide: Child Passenger Safety Month Promotes Car Seat Safety for Parents
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: Car Seats and Booster Seats
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: Car Seat Recommendations
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: Keeping Kids Safe: A Parent’s Guide to Protecting Children in and Around Cars
Safe Kids Worldwide: Installing Your Car Seat
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: How to Install a Rear-Facing Only Infant Car Seat
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: How to Install a Convertible Car Seat Rear-Facing
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: How to Install a Convertible Car Seat Forward-Facing
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: How to Install a High-Back Booster Seat
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: How to Install a Backless Booster Seat
Safe Kids Worldwide: Get a Car Seat Checked
Safe Kids Worldwide: Car Seat Checkup Events
Safe Kids Worldwide: Passenger Safety for Babies
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Child Passenger Safety: Resources