Keeping Your Baby Safe: Infant Car Seat Safety

Read some common mistakes parents often make.

By Jesse Banales, MD
The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio

Congratulations! Your baby has just finished leaving her comfortable, quiet life in the womb, endured a rude awakening through the birth process, and is finally ready to go home. But are you ready?

Many parents think they understand the basics of infant car seats but often overlook important details. Below are some common mistakes parents often make when it comes to infant car seats:

Changing the seat to forward-facing too early

In 2011, the American Academy of Pediatrics started recommending that infants and toddlers be in rear-facing car safety seats until they are two years old or until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by the car seat manufacturer. This is based on studies showing that infants in rear-facing seats were much less likely to have serious injuries following a car crash than those in forward-facing seats.

As your baby gets bigger, his feet may touch the seat in front of them and that’s OK! If you worry that your baby is uncomfortable, remember that this is your same child who has the flexibility to put his own feet in his mouth with ease.

Too loose!

You can fasten the car seat in place using either seat belts or the latch system (do not use both and refer to your car seat manual for specific instructions). What’s important, however, is that the seat does not slide side-to-side or forward-and-back more than one inch after being secured.

A photo illustration showing how tight the strap should be

Another potential spot for looseness is the harness straps that hold your baby in the seat. To avoid this, do the pinch test. If you are able to pinch any of the strap, it is too loose and needs to be tightened further.

A graphic showing how the buckle should line up with the baby's armpits

Chest clip too low

The chest clip should be placed on top of the breastbone to make sure that your baby is properly restrained. To do this, create an imaginary line connecting your baby’s armpits and place the chest clip on that line. Remember, it’s called a CHEST clip, not a stomach clip!

Harness slots used are too high

The harness straps are fed through pre-formed slots in the back of infant car seats. In the rear-facing position, the slots that are at or just below your baby’s shoulders are the correct slots to use. If harness slots above your baby’s shoulders are used, you are allowing extra space for your baby to move up and down during an accident, which can contribute to injury.

If you feel overwhelmed, you are definitely not alone. For this reason, many health care professionals and volunteers receive training to become Child Passenger Safety Technicians (CPSTs). They will teach you everything you need to know on a one-on-one basis and ensure that your car safety seat is properly installed.

To locate a CPST near you, click here. There are at least 34 technicians throughout the San Antonio area, including eight at The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio.

Dr. Jesse Banales is a second-year resident with Baylor College of Medicine Pediatric Residency Program at The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio. He obtained his undergraduate degree at Texas A&M University and his medical degree at UT Southwestern Medical School. Dr. Banales is a native Texan and lives in San Antonio with his beautiful wife, Michelle, and his sweet daughter, Luciana. His top interests including serving the Spanish-speaking community, neonatology, and forming genuine relationships with patients and their families.