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How to Properly Secure Your Baby in an Infant Car Seat
You've probably heard that four out of five car seats are used incorrectly in some way. Lots of parents don't read the car seat instructions or look at the labels, so it's easy to make mistakes. These simple tips, illustrated with photos, will help you make sure you're buckling your baby up safely in an infant car seat.
The current best practice is to keep your baby rear-facing for as long as possible. You should keep your baby rear-facing at least until age two at a minimum, though. That means... you'll be using these buckling up skills for quite a while, so it's good to practice a bit to be sure you get it right.
Of course, not all infant car seats are the same, so some features may look a little different on your own seat. It's a good idea to read through your car seat's instruction manual before you use it, so you can familiarize yourself with the seat's features and requirements.Continue to 2 of 10 below.
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Make Sure The Car Seat Fits Your Baby
Infant car seats are made for, well, infants, right? That doesn't mean that every baby will fit perfectly in every infant car seat, though. You can find the height and weight requirements for your car seat on the required labels on the side.
For an infant car seat, if you're buckling up a newborn, it's unlikely that your baby will exceed the height or weight limits. If your baby is very small, though, he or she may not meet the minimum weight for some car seats.Continue to 3 of 10 below.
03 of 10
Set Up the Harness Straps
Most infant car seats have more than one harness height position. Typically you adjust the harness height by removing the shoulder strap portions of the harness from the splitter plate on the back of the car seat, then re-threading the straps to a different harness slot.
In a rear-facing car seat, the harness straps should be at or below baby's shoulders. To set up a car seat for a baby who hasn't arrived yet, you can usually choose the lowest set of harness slots. Once your baby is born,... it's better to actually sit the baby in the car seat and check to see which harness slots work best. Choose the slots that are closest to baby's shoulders without being above the shoulders.
If you're afraid you'll get the harness wrong when you un-thread the straps to reposition them, take a picture of the car seat, front and back, before you take anything apart. That way you can refer back to the photos if you're not sure how it should look after adjusting. I also find it helpful to remove only one harness strap at a time from the splitter plate. Once you have the first strap properly replaced, you can undo the second one.
Many car seat manufacturers use a no-rethread harness system to make this job easier on parents. You'll need to check your instruction manual to see how the no-rethread harness is adjusted. Some have a knob or lever that allows you to move the harness up and down. You'll still need to get the harness height as close to baby's shoulders as possible without being above the shoulder.Continue to 4 of 10 below.
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Check the Buckle Position
Some infant car seats only have one crotch strap and buckle position. The crotch strap is the portion of the harness that comes up between baby's legs. The buckle itself is on the end of the crotch strap.
There are many car seats that have more than one buckle position, though, particularly infant car seats with high weight limits. The various buckle positions allow you to move the crotch strap in close to a tiny newborn, and then to move it out later to accommodate a larger infant.
This car seat... has two buckle positions. To move the crotch strap, you turn the metal piece under the car seat so that it slides through the slot. Then you slide the metal piece back through the second slot to change positions.
Some car seats have a sliding mechanism or push-button system to adjust the buckle position. Check your car seat instruction manual for specifics on how to adjust the crotch strap, and when you should move it to the next position.Continue to 5 of 10 below.
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Loosen the Car Seat Harness Straps
Before you place your baby in the car seat, loosen the harness straps. This will give you some room to work as you adjust the harness around your baby. The most common way to loosen the harness is via a lever or button between baby's feet. Sometimes the release mechanism is hidden beneath a flap.
On this car seat, you loosen the harness by lifting a flap, pushing on the lever beneath, and pulling out on the harness straps.
If your car seat doesn't have a front adjuster, you'll need to... check the instruction manual to find out where you loosen and tighten the harness. Some budget infant car seats have a rear-adjust system.Continue to 6 of 10 below.
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Place Your Baby in the Car Seat
Move the harness straps to the side and pull the crotch strap and buckle forward before sitting your baby in the car seat. Baby's bottom and back should be against the seat, and not scooted forward in a way that will allow slouching.
For newborns, you may find that there's still a little bit of space between the baby and the crotch strap. You can place a tightly rolled wash cloth there to help fill the space. If there's a lot of space, double check that there isn't a closer buckle... position that you missed in a previous step.
Placing the rolled wash cloth in an upside-down U shape around the crotch strap will help keep a newborn's legs properly positioned on either side of the buckle, too. Newborns tend to try to curl up whenever possible, and could curl a leg out of position if there's much space around the buckle.
The rolled wash cloth trick is widely accepted by car seat safety experts as an appropriate solution to a temporary problem. You should still read through the instructions that came with your car seat to make sure the practice is OK with the manufacturer. You might also find that your car seat has an extra infant insert or some other way to help tiny babies fit properly.Continue to 7 of 10 below.
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Buckle Your Baby Into The Car SeatBring the harness straps around baby's shoulders and make sure the webbing doesn't have any twists in it. You will need to smooth out the harness webbing each time you buckle your baby in, because twisted straps are not as effective when it comes to protecting your baby in a crash.
Place the buckle tongues into the buckle housing until they click. Some buckle tongues must be puzzled together in a specific way before you can snap them into the bottom piece of the buckle. Your car seat instruction... manual will show you exactly how to work the buckle.Continue to 8 of 10 below.
08 of 10
Buckle the Harness Retainer Clip
The harness retainer clip, which is often called the chest clip, is a key part of making sure your baby is properly buckled up in the car. Retainer clips snap together in various ways, so you'll need to check those instructions again to be sure you're securing it the right way.
Once you have the clip fastened, you should slide it into position at baby's armpit level. With a newborn, it can be hard to get the chest clip into position when you don't have much space between the buckle and... shoulder pads. It's important to make sure you get the clip up there, though, because it holds the harness straps in the right position to work best in the event of a crash.
You may need to re-adjust the height of the chest clip after you tighten the harness in the next step.Continue to 9 of 10 below.
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Tighten the Car Seat HarnessJust because the buckles are fastened doesn't mean you're done! Tightening the car seat harness is a very important step in making sure your baby is buckled up properly.
Most car seats have a tail of webbing that comes out of the seat between baby's feet. To tighten the harness, you just pull on that webbing tail. It's easiest to do several short, gentle pulls to achieve the snug fit you want.
When the harness is tight enough, you shouldn't be able to pinch any excess webbing on the harness... straps. The harness should be snug against the baby, with no gaps.
If your car seat doesn't have a front adjuster, check the instructions to see how to tighten the harness. Some car seats have buckles on the back of the car seat or knobs on the side that tighten the harness.Continue to 10 of 10 below.
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Keep Baby Warm Safely
New parents want to shield their babies from rain, cold, and other unpleasant weather. It's OK to add a light blanket to cover your baby, but you must put the blanket over the top of the harness. Never place blankets or thick clothing or winter coats underneath the car seat harness. Thick padding and blankets don't allow the harness to fit tight enough to be safe.
A light blanket over the top of the buckled harness, then tucked in around your baby, is usually enough warmth for most situations.... You might also consider a winter car seat cover if you need to be out and about with baby in severe weather.
Don't add any other accessories to your baby's car seat unless they're approved by the manufacturer or they came with the car seat. The infant head support, the harness strap covers, and the toy on the carry handle all came with the car seat used in these photos.
Heather Corley is a certified Child Passenger Safety Technician-Instructor.