You’ve carried your baby for nine months, gone through labor, given birth, and now it is time to start your life as a new family. For many people, that means taking your baby home from the hospital in a car.
After our son was born, I was hyper-aware of the potential for danger everywhere. For the first time in my life, the world seemed like a really risky, scary place. Leaving the hospital professionals behind to go it alone as a first-time parent was nerve-wracking enough, but exposing our little guy to possibly drunk, distracted, or just plain bad drivers felt huge. I was lucky my husband is such a great driver. That gave me confidence. But so did some other tips I’ll share with you.
- Car Seat Safety - Research. Before our baby was born, we thoroughly researched and bought the safest car seat we could find and afford. First, we researched the safest general type of car seat for infants and children under two years old. Hands down, that is a rear-facing car seat with a five-point harness. Next, we researched models of car seats. We checked safety ratings, including those from Consumer Reports, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) five-star rating system, and other sources. We also researched whether the car seats we were leaning toward fit and functioned optimally in our particular vehicle. Studies indicate that child car seats and vehicle seats don't align properly more than 40 percent of the time, so we wanted to make sure we picked the safest one for our particular car.
- Car Seat Safety – Installation. Do not wait until you are packing your kiddo out of the hospital to try to install the car seat. Have it all ready to go before you have that beautiful baby in your arms. Most Fire Departments will perform car seat installation safety checks, but there are also other organizations that will do so. Check SafeKids.org to find car seat safety check events in your area. Always make sure the seat is installed at the angle the manufacturer identifies. The car seat was designed and tested at that angle to determine best safety performance. If the angle is too upright, it can cut off a newborn’s air passages. Newborns cannot self-correct because they cannot lift their heads yet. Also, if possible, put the car seat in the middle seat, not right near the doors. This provides greater protection against side impact.
- Car Seat Safety – Use. Make sure you know how to properly secure your child in the car seat. A common mistake is to leave the harness straps too loose. Adjust the harness against the baby’s body. The straps should be tight so that you are unable to pinch them vertically. The chest clip should be positioned so that it is aligned with the top of the child’s armpits.
- Prep the baby. Feed and change your baby before the ride to maximize baby’s comfort.
- No Coats. If your baby was born during the cold months, you will be concerned about making sure he or she is warm enough. However, coats can leave the harness too loose to be effective in a crash. A better practice is to put your kid in a few thin, warm, well-fitting layers, with no extra bunching anywhere. Adjust the harness as described above, then place the coat or blankets on top of the harnessed baby to keep your little one warm and safe.
- Prep the car. Before the big event, fill up the tank and clean out the car so there is room for luggage, flowers, gifts, baby and you. Park close to the discharge area and have parking paid so you are good to go.