Top Tips for the First Ride Home with Sarah Tilton
Bringing your baby home from the hospital for the first time can be overwhelming and scary. We want to put your mind at ease by preparing you with everything you need to know to make that first journey (and every car ride after that) safely. We interviewed Britax Child Passenger Safety Advocate and active Certified Passenger Safety Technician Sarah Tilton to bring you her top tips and recommendations for bringing your baby with you in the car.
Q: What is the “best” car seat for the first ride home?
A: This is a big question for new parents and caregivers, and you’ve probably heard a LOT of opinions on this topic. It boils down to whichever car seat fits your vehicle, is appropriate for your child, and has features that the caregiver can use every time. This Includes any elderly caregivers who may have physical restrictions like reduced grip strength. Sometimes the best option is to have different car seats for different caregivers in these cases.
When choosing between an infant car seat and convertible car seat, your lifestyle needs to be taken into account. Consider your babywearing plans and daily routine. City dwellers may prefer to wear baby more often than use a car seat during the first year and may choose to invest in a convertible car seat instead of an infant car seat, whereas a family in the suburbs may use a vehicle far more often and choose to use an infant car seat they can click onto a stroller instead. Financial investment may play a part in this decision as well, as convertible car seats are more expensive up front but last longer than infant car seats.
When choosing between installation with or without a base, it’s important to understand that they are equally safe as long as they are installed correctly. It is always encouraged to consult a child passenger safety technician to ensure proper installation.
Q: Why do babies and children face different directions in car seats?
A: Starting from birth and the first ride home, littles will ride rear facing, opposite from the way adults sit in the vehicle. This is because the most common type of crash is a frontal impact to the vehicle. When your kids ride rear facing, the car seat shell acts as a cradle to provide head, neck, and spinal support during the crash. There will be a rebound toward the seat back after the initial impact, but by that time the impact forces are significantly lessened.
You should keep them rear facing as long as possible so that you continue to protect their head, neck, and spine as they develop since you can’t live without them. High rear facing weight capacities allow for extended rear facing before the manufacturer’s guidelines are overcome. You want to make sure that you keep your children rear facing until they reach the maximum rear facing weight and height limits, because when you turn them forward facing they become susceptible to whiplash which is detrimental and can be fatal to developing bodies.
Q: Where is the “best” position in the vehicle?
A: Families often want to put their first child’s car seat in the rear center seat position. While this is an acceptable position, it is important to note that proper installation may not be possible in this position due to a humped center seat, arched back, or narrow seat. If other people will be using the outer seats in the backseat, an infant car seat in the middle may make it impossible for them to buckle their seat belts. The center seat also may not have anchors for infant car seats so you may need to install with a seat belt (which is just as safe) if you choose to use this position. Additionally, the center seat may be difficult to reach especially for shorter parents and caregivers.
If you choose not to install the car seat in the center, the decision to put it behind the driver or passenger boils down to your lifestyle. Think about which side is most accessible if you park in a garage, and if you will be parallel parking often you should consider installing the car seat behind the passenger so that you are taking your baby in and out of the car on the sidewalk instead of on the street. If your car has inflatable seat belts, make sure not to buckle the belt behind the car seat or it will inflate in a crash and need to be replaced. Be sure to check with your car seat’s manufacturer if it can be installed using inflatable seat belts.
Q: How should babies be positioned and secured for their first ride home and beyond?
A: When securing your baby in the car seat, position the chest clip at the nipple or collarbone level. The harness should be at or slightly below your baby’s shoulders and there should be at least one inch of space from the top of their head to the top of the car seat shell or moveable head restraint. Your child’s feet do not affect the safety of the car seat, even if they are touching the vehicle seat back or crossed. The top priority of the car seat is to protect the head, neck, and spinal column and while we aren’t aware of any leg injury from extended rear facing, even if there were an injury to your child’s extremity it would be more easily repaired than a spinal injury.
Once your little one is positioned correctly in the seat, pull the harness tight. You can test whether the harness is tight enough by pinching the harness between your pointer finger and thumb at the chest. If you can hold any of the harness between your fingers, it needs to be tightened more. Keep doing this test until you can’t pinch the harness any more.
When your child has grown and overcome the rear facing limits of the car seat the same rules apply as when they were rear facing. The only difference is that instead of the harness being at or slightly below your child’s shoulders, it should be at or slightly above their shoulders.
During cold weather, it may be tempting to bundle your little one up in thick coats but wearing thick or fluffy layers can be hazardous in a car seat. You should secure your child in their indoor clothes and then either put a blanket over them or they can wear their winter coat backwards so it covers their arms and chest without getting between them and the seat or harness. This also prevents them from overheating in the car. To tell if a jacket is too heavy to wear in the car seat, secure your child in the car seat wearing the jacket, then without loosening the harness take them out and remove the jacket. Clip them back in and perform the pinch test. If the harness still passes the pinch test the jacket can be worn under the harness.
Q: How should the car seat be positioned and installed for the first ride home and beyond?
A: When installing your car seat, follow the manufacturer’s guidelines and ensure that the recline is acceptable. Infant car seats don’t typically have a wide array of recline positions and ones that are adjustable typically have a bubble level or some other type of indicator to tell you when the recline is correct. Convertible car seats have more recline options but are also usually well-labeled so you know what positions are intended for what stages. When in doubt, you can always check with a Child Passenger Safety Technician.
Q: What accessories can be used with a car seat in the car?
A: Currently, many accessories are made by car seat manufacturers for their own products, and some allow third party seat protectors. At the end of the day it boils down to whether or not your car seat’s manufacturer approves the accessory for use with their seat. As a rule of thumb, if it doesn’t come with your car seat you should double check with the car seat manufacturer.Need help choosing the perfect infant or convertible car seat for your family? Reach out to us anytime via email at email@example.com. We’re always happy to talk shop! You can also contact our Baby Gear Gurus via phone (866-600-BEAN) during business hours (M-F, 9 am-5 pm EST), by utilizing the Product Expert Chat on our website, or by scheduling a virtual consultation. Finally, get all the advice you need by visiting our YouTube channel!