Baby development

Car seat dilemmas

Car seat safety concerns change as baby grows

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First you have to choose a car seat. Then you have to install it, which is never as easy as it looks. But it doesn’t end there. As your baby grows, questions will arise about how to use the seat most safely.

Front- or rear-facing? Your baby’s seven months old and weighs 22 pounds (10 kilograms). The infant seat you’ve been using in the car says it’s good for babies weighing up to 22 pounds. You live in Ontario, where the law says that once your baby weighs 20 pounds (9.1 kilograms), he can ride in a forward-facing car seat. But you’ve heard that he’s safer rear-facing until he’s a year old.

What’s your best option? Elaine Dimitroff of Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation Road Safety Office says keeping him rear-facing is the better choice. “The law is only a minimum requirement, and it’s better to keep your child rear-facing until at least one year old and as long as possible after that. At that point, his neck muscles will be better developed and he’s less likely to be injured in a collision.” If your baby has outgrown the infant seat but is under a year old, Dimitroff recommends switching to a convertible seat (a larger seat that can be used in either rear-facing or forward-facing positions) and keeping baby rear-facing.

Too tall for one but not heavy enough for the other? What if your baby is clearly too tall for the infant seat, but hasn’t yet hit the magic 22 pounds? “You need to go by both height and weight,” says Dimitroff. “You might need to buy another car seat, probably a convertible so he can continue riding rear-facing. But there are some rear-facing infant seat brands that will hold a taller baby. Check them out in the stores, as they all have slightly different guidelines.”

Snowsuits in the car seat? It’s freezing out there, and obviously you want to keep your baby warm. Is it OK to put him in his snowsuit or jacket, carry him out to the car and buckle him into his seat? “Not recommended,” says Dimitroff. “The snowsuit is compressible, so it creates slack in the harness. If your baby is still in an infant seat, we’d recommend bringing the seat into the house, putting the baby in it with regular clothing on, then covering the baby with a blanket to go out to the car.”

If baby’s in a convertible seat, your task is more challenging. You can warm up the car, carry out baby wrapped in blankets, settle her into the seat and do up the harness, then tuck blankets around her to keep her warm. You can also buy a blanket with elasticized edges that fits around a car seat without interfering with the harness, says Dimitroff. She doesn’t, however, recommend items that go over the baby but under the harness, as they can potentially make baby less safe.

Is rear-facing safer? A 2009 study in the British Medical Journal says that children up to age four are significantly safer in rear-facing car seats than in forward-facing ones. That’s because the force of a sudden stop in a collision is spread over the child’s whole body in a rear-facing seat; in a forward-facing seat, all of the child’s body weight is thrown against the harness. However, there are challenges: It’s hard to get a car seat big enough to hold the average four-year-old comfortably in a rear-facing position, these seats can be expensive, and many parents find road trips difficult when they can’t easily see or interact with their children. Not to mention that most kids don’t like it — who wants to stare at the back of the seat? If more studies support this as the safest position, though, we may see new legislation in the future.

Still have questions? Many communities offer car seat clinics, although they tend to fill up quickly. “Call your public health department,” she says. “They may be able to help you over the phone or set up a time when you can bring the car seat in.” You can also call your local police department. For more information, check our car seat features at Todaysparent.com/carseat.