By Karen Johnson
Public Relations Specialist, Overlake Hospital Medical Center
One of the first things expectant parents learn is that there are numerous things you’ll need to prepare for your life with a little one. From baby “high heels” to diaper stackers, all manner of must-have products are marketed toward young parents.
However, there are still some items that should top your shopping list, one of them being a good car seat to safely transport your new baby home from the hospital.
Because of changing regulations and new developments in car seat design, you may find that there has been some confusion about car seat safety.
According to Denise Donaldson, a local child-passenger safety expert who is a contracted community educator at Overlake Hospital Medical Center, a key point to remember is that infants and children should remain in each car seat stage as long as possible.
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“Parents naturally like to celebrate their children’s growth and milestones, but moving up to the next stage of car seat shouldn’t be one of them,” says Donaldson. “Safety should be the top priority in car travel and because children are so much more vulnerable than adults in a crash, it’s critically important to give them as much protection as you can.”
There are three stages for child passengers.
Rear-facing car seats were initially made strong enough to hold infants up to about age 1, but current models can hold children much older. Recent research of real-world crash results indicates that up to age 2, children in rear-facing car seats are five times safer than children in forward-facing car seats. Because babies’ neck bones are soft and their heads are their center of gravity in infancy, they risk spinal cord injury in a front-impact crash. The rear-facing seat helps to distribute any crash force more evenly throughout the body. Rear-facing seats have also shown considerable protection in side-impact crashes. Because of the clear safety benefit, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children ride rear-facing as long as possible, while still following the height and weight limits of the car seat model.
Forward-facing car seats should include a five-point harness with a high-impact shell around the head and body. Most forward-facing car seats are convertible styles that can be used as rear-facing and then later converted for forward-facing use. It used to be that children outgrew forward-facing seats as early as age 3 or 4, but today many seats are available for children weighing 60 to 80 pounds and can be used through early grade school. A top tether is an extra attachment strap for forward-facing seats that can greatly improve crash performance. All forward-facing car seats since 1999 have a top tether strap, and most vehicles in the past 10 years have been equipped with tether anchors.
Boosters are designed for children age 4 and older. Some boosters have a high back with built-in head protection and others are designed simply as an elevated seat, but both styles do the job of positioning the vehicle seat belt over the proper parts of a child’s body. In Washington state, the law requires children to remain in a booster until they are at least 8 years old, unless they are 57 inches or taller. However, Donaldson cautions against moving out of a booster too soon.
“I tell parents that state laws vary, but the laws of physics don’t,” she says. “So a booster should be used until the child’s body has grown large enough for the vehicle seat belt alone to fit correctly.”
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for children ages 3 to 6 and 8 to 14. And in 2007, more than 6,500 children under 14 were involved in fatal crashes. It’s critical to ensure that you have the right car seat installed properly for your child—then buy the baby high heels.
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