Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Only "Gear" You Trust with Your Child's Life

Many, many people have children, and many, many people muddle through Amazon reviews and product guides and read sales pitches on swings, cribs, bouncy seats, and yes, car seats.  But how many people truly go beyond that?  How many people comb through the manual once they actually buy the product?  How many people do research beyond what a company wants you to think to learn real-world facts?  Not as many as you'd think-even though the information found is invaluable.

The truth is that no matter how good your crib is, it isn't meant to preserve your child's life.  No matter how much you love your Mamaroo, it won't be going 70 mph.  Isn't it time that we all stopped acting like a car seat was a device to hold a child, and start acting like its a device to save  a child?

Most people blindly take the advice of their pediatrician, the nurse who discharges them from the hospital, their mom, next-door neighbor, or the fireman who installed their seat.  While some of these people may know all the best practices, many are untrained in car seat safety.  Because of this, many people are just not knowledgeable.  Three out of four car seats are used improperly, and most of them are misused in one of the following 8 ways:

1.  The child is in the wrong seat/position:
My daughter recently hit the 20 lb mark, and is quickly coming up on a year old.  These two criteria are the legal minimums to turn a child forward facing, but one study found that 30 percent of children under one year were forward facing, while only 13 percent of 2 year olds remained rear facing.  While my daughter is a few weeks shy of legally forward facing, we won't be making the switch for a LONG time.  In a collision, the neck and spine of a forward facing child takes 4 times more than that of a rear facing child.  While a child *might* be okay while forward facing, I've chosen to give Aisley her best shot in the worst-case scenario.  The following two images show the force between two properly restrained children in the same simulated accident.  There's no arguing who looks more "comfortable" here.

The American Association of Pediatrics now recommends rear facing to a minimum of two years, and as long as possible afterwards.  No, big kids aren't uncomfortable rear facing.  No, their legs will not break if they touch the vehicle seat.  Not a single leg break has been reported from a rear facing car seat.
Once a child is forward facing, they should remain harnessed until a minimum of 5-7 years old.  Children younger than that don't have the proper spinal ossification to use an adult seat belt.  Don't believe me? There's only a 50% chance a child's spinal axis is closed by age 7.  Scary.  Beyond that, the average child doesn't have the maturity to sit in a booster seat properly until this age or later.
If you have a child around this age--check the link here.  I haven't done as much research here yet.  Because, well, I have a one year old.

2.  Car seat is not installed tightly;
When a car seat install is complete, the seat should move no more that one inch at the belt path.  Seem excessive?  Think about what a couple inches of slack would do in a 70 mph crash.  On the other hand, too tight isn't any better.  Many parents begin their research and think "Well, if tight is the way to go, I'll use LATCH and the seat belt to secure it."  Not good either.  Every single car seat manufacturer warns against this.  Too tight can cause the vehicle belt to stretch or break, and that isn't good at all.

Most car seats have a checklist in the manual

3.  Harnesses need to FIT properly:
For rear facing that means AT or BELOW a child's shoulders.  Just because its below their shoulders doen't mean they are "too big" for that slot.  Putting the harness on a position too high allows a child to move freely through the seat in an accident, and may cause a "whiplash" effect on their head.
Conversely, for forward facing, the harness need to be AT or ABOVE their shoulders to minimize forward movement in an accident.

4.  Pinch test every time:
This is a biggie.  When you use the 5 point harness on a high chair, you trust that your child can't wiggle out; when you use a 5 point harness on a car seat, you should expect that your child cant escape even at the forces of 70+ mph.  Each time I put Aisley in any car seat, I preform a "pinch test."  If I can't grab anything, great.  If anything comes up between my fingers, its back to fight with the tightening strap.

5.  Chest Clips are for Chests:
In the even of an accident, tremendous pressure is exerted on the chest clip, and in turn, on a child's body.  I always make sure the chest clip is even with Aisley's arm pits, putting the pressure on her sternum instead of any soft organs that may be affected.

6.  Your Car Seat is PERFECT the way it is:
Anything that wasn't in the box of your car seat may not be safe to be added.  Any infant positioners or strap covers that you need....they come in the box.  Any thing else just hasn't been tested with your seat.  And while it might preform fine with aftermarket giraffe strap covers or a cute Etsy liner, you just don't know that for sure.  Beyond this, there are no regulations for "crash testing" car seat accessories.  That means that I could go sew a few car seat strap covers, open an Etsy shop, and sell them as "crash tested" as long as I preformed my own test.  I could run them over with my car.  They're still there?  Cool.  Oficially "crash-tested" and approved.  It says it right there on the sticker.
Seriously?  No.  Why gamble with a child?


7.  Understand the danger that "fluff" causes:
As mentioned before, harnesses are meant to be tight.  My kid hates it, but its true.  If you dress a child in a snowsuit or fluffy coat, the harness is deceptively tight.  Its only tight on the suit, not the child.  I could go out to my car in the rain and show pictures of Aisley for this, but she really hates going in and out of the car seat, and I can't demonstrate this any better than the following video from The Car Seat Lady (because, frankly, I'm not gonna grab my kid by the head- and mine would cry A LOT more)

8. Only use it if its safe as when you bought it-
Car seats are not meant to be rugged.  They're meant for ONE use.  They need to be replaced after accidents, after their expiration, or after they have been compromised.  Most car seats only allow the use of a damp cloth (and maybe a mild detergent) on the straps.  If the harness straps have been submerged in water, they have been weakened.  This also means that you shouldn't buy a used car seat.  I love a good deal as much as the next mommy, but the fact is you just don't know.  Did the previous owner know how to care for the seat properly?  Did they know it couldn't be used after an accident?  Even if you ask these questions, do you trust a strangers honesty and integrity?  I knew one woman who sold a car seat after washing the harness straps in the washing machine with bleach.  She insisted that it wouldn't hurt the straps-no matter what the manufacturer said, and when the other mom asked, she told her the "used" seat was as good as new.

Yeah, they're pretty insistent on doing it their way.

The misinformation is rampant.  And its causing children to be hurt, or worse.
I'm fully aware that I *may* worry too much.  I'm fully aware that I seem crazy.  But because of it, I'm part of the twenty-five percent of people who use their seats correctly.  Every time.  I'm just fine when people call me a "helicopter mom."
I truly hope that I'll never need to know if my car seats work.  I drive as carefully as I can, but I can't control other idiots people on the road.  But I know for a fact that if the worst were to happen, I'd be infinitely more likely to have a child walk away from the car unharmed.


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