New parents spend nine months meticulously preparing for the arrival of their child. Along with cribs, diapers and baby-proofing the house, car seats are another essential child care item. In fact, your child’s car seat will probably be one the first purchases for your child that you use when you bring them home from the hospital. You want a car seat that has great features and will last you a long time, but all the safety features in the world aren’t going to help if you don’t know how to properly install the seat.
Whether your child is just coming home from the hospital or needs a ride to her first day of kindergarten, you have to make sure that you are using the right seat. There is a handy article on what type of seat you should be using here. One thing you should be careful about, though, is purchasing a used seat (or continuing to use a seat after you have been in an accident.) A seat that has been damaged may not be able to protect your child, and if you are unsure about the history of the seat that you are using you should try to find another one.
The first thing you should do after purchasing a seat is get out the manual for BOTH the car and the seat. In fact, you should already have read the section on child safety in your car manual to be sure that you purchased a seat that will work with your car. These two places are where you are going to get the most direct and specific information about how to use your car seat. Rather than struggle and guess with how your seat and car work together, go straight to the source and find out.
The most important factor when installing a car seat is making sure that it is held tightly. If you have installed in properly, you should not be able to rock the car seat freely.
You should use the LATCH system, if your car has it, but make sure that you are using it properly. If your car seat is convertible style, you probably will only be able to use the LATCH system on certain stages of the seat.
What is LATCH? LATCH stands for Lower Anchors and Tether for Children. It is a system that allows you hook the car seat directly into dedicated anchors that are more secure than using a seatbelt. If your car was manufactured post 2003, there is a good chance that it has LATCH capabilities: it is now mandatory for certain vehicles to be outfitted with the system. If your car seat was manufactured in the last ten years (and we hope that it was!) then it is required to have LATCH compatibility. You should not use both the LATCH system and a seatbelt to secure a car seat; it should be one or the other.
The best way to make sure that you understand car safety as it pertains to your child and that your car seat is installed correctly is to follow these instructions.