Car accidents are one of the leading causes of accidental injury and death of Canadian children, so installing your car seat safely is critically important. Not only is the installation important, but how long should your baby stay in their car seat? What if they fall asleep there? Let’s dive into those questions and learn everything you need to know about car seat safety.
The information in the post came from a conversation I had with Katherine Hutka. Katherine is a health promotion specialist for Child Safety Link, a children's injury prevention center at the IWK Health Centre in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She's also the president of the Child Passenger Safety Association of Canada, a national nonprofit organization.
Importance Of Having A Properly Installed Car Seat
A recent roadside study in Atlantic Canada found that 73% of car seats, forward facing or rear facing, were either used or installed incorrectly in a key way. It was also found that 30% of children who were using a booster seat did not meet the 40 pound weight minimum.
An incorrectly installed car seat will not protect your baby or child from injury or death in the case of an accident. Car seats properly installed can reduce the risk of injury by 71-82%.
We all want to do everything we can to protect our kids, checking to make sure your car seat is safe takes just a little bit of your time.
How to Ensure Your Child's Seat Is Installed Correctly
Make sure the car seat is installed tightly to the vehicle - when the seat is installed, it should move less than an inch where it's attached to the car.
In a forward facing seat, make sure to use the top tether - the top tether is legally required in Canada. The tether reduces how far the child's head moves in a collision.
Make sure their harness is snug - it should not be loose or twisted. Make sure the harness straps are in the slot level with or above your child’s shoulders if forward facing; at or below for rear facing. Place the chest clip at your child’s armpit level
Don’t rush your child into a booster seat - make sure that your child weighs at least 18 kilograms or 40 pounds, and that they have the maturity to sit correctly in a booster seat.
Keep your child in a booster seat for longer - until they are at least 145 centimetres tall or four foot nine inches tall and can properly fit the adult seatbelt. A lot of kids are 10-12 years old before they can properly fit the adult seatbelt.
Buying A Car Seat
There are so many different car seats on the market, it can be hard to choose! The best seat is the one that fits your child, your vehicle, your budget, and the one that you're going to use safely on every ride, but here are a few things to look for:
Car Seats & Babies
One of the questions I get asked most often is around babies sleeping in their car seat, since it’s common for your baby to fall asleep in their car seat while out and about.
How Long Is Too Long In A Car Seat?
There are a lot of studies and information out there about how long your baby can safely be in their car seat, and you’ll see recommendations anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours.
Infants should not be in a semi-seated position for long, so car seat time should be limited to only travel - don’t leave them in the car seat when not in the car.
Try to limit travel time to 2 hours at most at a time before taking a break, this is good for adults as well!
What If Your Baby Falls Asleep In Their Car Seat?
We all know babies fall asleep in their car seats, and the last thing we want to do is wake up our napping baby by taking them out of their car seat. However the safest place for your baby to sleep is on their back in their crib or bassinet.
That being said, of course your baby will sleep in their car seat while you're traveling, and I don’t want you to feel like a bad parent if they do! Try to limit your car time as much as possible, not going over 2 hours without taking a break, and transfer them to a safe sleep surface like their crib or laying on your chest or up on your shoulder.
If your baby has to be in their car seat and they are sleeping, do not unbuckle them. They are safer with their harness on, keeping them from sliding down.
Making sure that your child’s car seat is properly installed and appropriate for their size, weight and age is the most important thing you can do to keep them safe while traveling.
To find a car seat tech, check out the Child Passenger Safety Association of Canada.
And remember, if they fall asleep in their car seat, transfer them to their safe sleeping surface at your destination, or take a break and have them sleep on your shoulder or chest. If you’re traveling longer distances, take a break out of the car seat every 2 hours.
Ashley Cooley is a birth, baby and sleep specialist living in Dartmouth, NS with her husband and their three girls.