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Saturday, August 1, 2015

Car Seats 101 - by Hiedi Earwood- PART ONE: types of seats, facing forward/backward

Many wonderful, helpful, informative things have happened by starting this blog and the Facebook discussion group for the Mommy Stories, but there is one thing I find the MOST helpful and that is having Hiedi Earwood in our group to offer car seat advice! She is our resident go-to Professional Car Seat Technician Extraordinaire. We are so fortunate to have her in the group to guide us, offer suggestions and tips for making sure our children are safely in their car seats. She constantly offers advice to parents in the group.

I am so grateful Hiedi took the time to answer your most prevalent car seat questions. This is a several-part series on the blog this month. We're hoping that you will take the time to not only read this information and apply it to your own life, but SHARE this post with your family, partners, friends, care providers, etc. to ensure they are given proper safety information about car seats.

Thank you, Hiedi. We are all safer because of you!



Images shared from Hiedi Earwood

STEPS OF CAR SEATING
1. Rear Facing - Birth - 2+ yrs The AAP and NHTSA recommend rear facing until AT LEAST age 2, but as close to age 4 as possible - or until they outgrow the rear facing limits of their (convertible) car seat. There are several states currently introducing legislature to make the legal minimum for forward facing 2yrs. LAST MONTH - New Jersey became the first state in the U.S. to sign a bill into LAW that will require rear facing until a minimum of 2 yrs of age!!! It will take effect in September of this year. I’m certain other states will follow suit in the near future.

Aside from the law, rear facing until at least 2 yrs of age is 532% safer than forward facing. This is due to the strength on the toddlers bones/spine as well as the large proportion of their head to body and the weight that places on the neck.

2. Forward Facing in a 5pt Harness - 2yrs+ - 5yrs+ After your kiddo outgrows their seat rear facing, you can turn them forward facing. They will need to remain in a 5pt harness seat until they are mature enough to sit properly (upright, shoulders back against the seat - no leaning over to grab things, no putting the seatbelt behind them, no falling asleep and falling over, etc) 100% of the time while the vehicle is in motion.

We can’t plan when an accident will happen, so you need to be certain that your child is old enough to have the impulse control to avoid distractions and temptations that would have them out of position in the event of a crash. TYPICALLY this level of maturity comes at age 5-6, but some especially squirmy kiddos might need to be harnessed even longer.

Remember, removing the harness takes the responsibility for their safety off of you (the one to buckle them and make sure their harness is correct) and the 5pt harness system (once properly adjusted to the child, the harness makes sure your kid is in optimum position for protection during a crash) and places that responsibility on your child. That’s a hefty weight of responsibility, so make sure they are mature enough to handle it!

3. Booster seat - 5yrs+ - 10yrs+ Your child will need a belt positioning booster until at least age 10. The reason for this is that the vehicle seat belt was designed for an adult body. On a child, the lap belt portion sits up too high on their abdomen and the shoulder portion will either be on their neck or off of their shoulder. In a crash, that would lead to possible ejection or severe internal injuries or death.

The booster should help get a proper belt fit (lap portion low and snug on the hips/top of thighs and shoulder portion resting snugly against the shoulder and off of the neck). It ALSO serves as a sort of…artificial hips. Until the child enters puberty their hip bones aren’t as strong as an adult and won’t hold up as well in an accident. The lap belt guides of the booster help absorb the crash forces instead of the child’s hips. Also, until puberty the ileac crest hasn’t begun ossification and this is a vital step in the durability of the child’s hips as well as the shape of their hips and the ability to keep the lap belt low on the hips instead of up on the abdomen.

In order for your child to safely move out of the booster, they must meet 5 criteria: 1. Shoulder belt rests against the shoulder - not in front of the body or off to the side. 2. Lap belt rest against top of thighs or hips, NOT the abdomen. 3. Bum all the way back against the seat back. 4. Knees bent naturally past the vehicle seat edge and feet rest naturally on floor. 5. Remain in position for the entire trip.

4. Vehicle seatbelt in the back seat of vehicle - 10yrs+ = 13yrs.+ After your child has passed the 5 step test (usually at least age 10+ and 4’9” minimum), they should remain in the back seat of the vehicle until at least age 13.

The back seat is 30-40% safer in a collision than the front seat.


FIT
Rear facing: Many people begin with an infant car seat, but there are many convertible car seats that will correctly fit a newborn also. While rear facing, the harness straps MUST come from below or right AT your kiddo’s shoulders - never above. To make sure a seat will fit your newborn correctly (even some infant seats don’t fit correctly!), you want to look for a seat with bottom harness slots (where the straps come through at the shoulders) no more than 7” from the “butt” of the seat. Lower harness slots are even better if you’re expecting a preemie or a very petite baby (based on Mom and Dad’s height).
Forward Facing 5 pt Harness: When forward facing, the straps MUST come from above the shoulders or right AT the shoulders - never below. This is why many seats are outgrown by torso height long before the kiddo ever reaches the height or weight limits of the seat!

When choosing a forward facing seat, look for one with top harness slots at least 17” from the “butt” of the seat - that should ensure that most kiddos will get to age 5 in the harness. If your child is very tall, has a long torso, or you want to harness them as long as possible, look for a seat with at least 19” top harness slots. You can expect around 1-1.5" of torso growth per year, so if your child is 3 and has a 16” torso (measured when sitting - bum to top of shoulder) you’re going to need a seat with at least 19” top harness slots!
Forward Facing Booster: When using a booster - either highback or backless style - it is imperative that the seatbelt fit with the booster is safe. The booster must position the lap portion of the seatbelt across the hips/upper thighs - NEVER on the abdomen! This can cause catastrophic injuries in a crash. The shoulder portion of the seatbelt needs to rest comfortably against the shoulder, in between the neck and the end of the shoulder - not on the neck and not sliding off the shoulder, and not in front of the child. It needs to rest against the child in order to function properly and prevent injury.

To get a proper shoulder belt fit, it may be necessary to use a highback booster, or to use the belt adjuster clip that comes with most backless boosters. When using a booster, it is still imperative that the shoulder portion of the seatbelt come from ABOVE the child’s shoulder, not below.



HOW DO I KNOW WHEN MY SEAT IS OUTGROWN?
All seats, even backless booster seats, have minimum and maximum weight and height limits. Many also have minimum age limits. HOWEVER, due to the manufacture rules regarding the fit of the child in the seat as well, those limits are usually grossly overstated.

The vast majority of children will outgrow their seats by height before they reach the weight limit. 

Keeping in mind the fit requirements discussed earlier, you will know your seat is outgrown in one of 4 ways:
when rear facing: 1. weight limit is reached 2. height limit is reached 3. less than 1” of seat above the head (some seats allow the adjustable headrest to count in this limit and some do not - read your manual!) OR head even with the top of the seat (most require 1” clearance, but a few allow even with seat) 4. strap/headrest placement restrictions (some seats allow only certain strap/headrest settings for rear facing use - i.e. The Evenflo Symphony only allows the bottom two headrest positions to be used when rear facing. READ YOUR MANUAL!
when forward facing: 1. weight limit is reached 2. height limit is reached 3. shoulders go above the top harness position (some seats -like certain models of the Safety 1st Alpha Omega/Alpha Omega Elite/Alpha Elite, and Eddie Bauer all in one/deluxe booster, etc- do not allow the top harness position to be used - it is only for booster mode. I realize that makes no sense, but for whatever reason it did not ass testing that way. READ YOUR MANUAL to make sure yours allows it!) 4. top of ears go above the top of the seat (some seats allow the headrest to be taken into account and some do not. READ YOUR MANUAL!)



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