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Deja Poop: You’ve Done It Before. Infant Seats

new siblingAwwww. You’ve already had one kid and found that you did a pretty good job the first time around so you thought you’d try again. Maybe it was around that magical 15-18 month age when those little monsters are at their cutest. Buggers! I’m convinced that’s how the human race has continued for so long. It’s certainly not because of proper carseat usage.

During those first many months of our children’s lives, they suck the life out of us quite literally. We get virtually no sleep, sometimes don’t eat, definitely don’t shower occasionally due to loud demands forced upon us, and touch things we swore when we were childless that we would never touch. During this time, parents, and moms especially, lose brain cells due to the lack of sleep, constant touching, and demands from their little offspring. I’m sure there are studies that prove this, but years after having my children, I’m still making up the sleep and too busy trying to recover my lost brain cells to find . . . oh right, the studies.

Anyway, if you were like most parents, you probably used an infant seat for your first baby because that’s what you do for your first baby, right? Not necessarily, but it is a convenience feature for sure. Depending on the infant seat, there were adjustments you made as your baby grew. If you are using this infant seat again for your second, or third child, there are a few things you need to do to “reset” the infant seat so it’s ready for a newborn again and so you don’t ring me because the infant seat that fit your first bundle of joy so perfectly doesn’t fit your second at all and you’re panicking and befuddled.

First, if the seat has been in storage, thoroughly check it for mold and mildew. It’s gross to think about, but this is very common in many environments, especially if the seat has been stored in a basement or in a bag. You probably won’t believe me if I told you we have a black mold problem here in the desert where the humidity is less than 10% with a dew point of less than 20˚? It’s everywhere. If your seat has mold or mildew, it’s probably better to say goodbye to it. The only way to clean the mold is to use harsh chemicals, exactly what *all* carseat manufacturers tell you not to use, even on the plastic shell, and especially not on the harness. If it’s only the cover or harness that has mildew, you can order a new cover and harness from the manufacturer generally (some harnesses aren’t replaceable), but by the time you add up how much that costs, sometimes it’s about the same to buy a new seat. For recommendations, see our Recommended Carseats List.

Side note: If you’re borrowing a used infant seat, make sure you trust the person you’re borrowing the seat from with your child’s life. This is a safety item that has the potential to save your child’s life, remember. Ask them if it’s been in any kind of a crash, even a parking lot fender-bender (many manufacturers want their seats replaced after *any* kind of crash and don’t specify severity). Ask how they’ve cleaned the seat—did they follow the directions in the manual or did they throw everything in the washer? Harnesses should only be wiped down  with a washcloth and NEVER washed in the washing machine.

With today’s infant seats going to such high weight limits, your first child may have been in the carseat until he was a toddler. That means the harness was last adjusted to fit him as a toddler, not as a newborn. You’ll want to change the harness slot height back so that the harness is in the lowest slots. The harness of a rear-facing carseat should always be coming from the slots below the child’s shoulders. There’s an easy way to remember this if your kids are facing different directions in the car. A rear-facing child has the harness coming from at or below the shoulders, a forward-facing child has the harness coming from at or above the shoulders—they’re opposites of each other.

*Note that the video shows changing the harness height for seats with front-pull harness adjusters only. If your model has rear adjusters, read your owner’s manual because the method will vary by seat.

Some infant seats also have different lengths for the harnesses to accommodate wide weight ranges, from noobs to toddlers. If you look at each end of the harness where it attaches on the back of the seat to the metal splitter plate, there’s a loop that hooks onto the splitter plate. Some seats have a second loop a couple of inches up on the harness that makes the harness shorter for newborns. If your carseat has that second loop, detach the harness from the splitter plate and reattach it to the second loop to make the harness shorter. You WILL need to know whether the excess strap length goes in front of the splitter plate or behind it and in which harness slots you can use those second loops, so crack open that manual or find it online at the manufacturer’s website because the placement does matter.

SnugRide harness loops  SnugRide harness loops large

I bet you’re thinking to yourself, “I have the harness taken apart, I’m gonna wash this sucker because, boy, it sure looks nastier than I remember it being the last time we used it.” And it’s true! Baby things have a way of producing their own stains over time. And their own Cheerios. It’s some kind of natural law. You can probably get away with throwing the cover in the washing machine on the handwash cycle, but don’t leave me a nasty comment if it falls apart 😉 . You know the drill: consult your manual. Roll it up tight in an absorbent towel then hang it to dry or put it in the dryer if your owner’s manual allows. If your harness is removable and you have a new-fangled phone that takes insta-photographs, pop a couple of photos of how the harness looks before you tear it off the seat so you can remember how to put it back together. Never submerge the harness in water; it’s best to clean with a damp washcloth. If it’s extra nasty, wet a toothbrush with water and go after the spitup that way, then wipe down. You might could (oh darn! there’s that 3 years of living in the South coming back to me) put a drop of mild soap, like Dreft or Ivory or Dawn, on the washcloth, but then you’d have to wipe it down a million times to get it off. What a pain.

Don’t forget that carseats have a lifespan, just like you. It’s not some ploy to get you to toss money at the manufacturers. Plastics break down over time (just like your knees) and each manufacturer uses their own proprietary mix of plastics that determines the lifespan of each carseat they make. Cut back on the fancy clothes your child wears, not the safety items she uses if money is an issue. Look at the label that has the date of manufacture and the model number on it. Sometimes it will have the expiration date on it. Other times the expiration date is stamped into the plastic shell.

SnugRide DOM label SnugRide expiration label

So there you have it: how to reset your infant seat for newborn use. I have to be honest. If you’re not an infant seat user, you can apply all these techniques to a rear-facing convertible seat as well, but most people do use infant seats for their first babes at least, so that makes them pretty popular items to have around (and to borrow). Now, go forth and use that infant seat safely!

Carpool Lanes and Kids

wooden dummy screen shotI’ve long teased my kids that the only reason I had them was to be able to use the carpool lanes during rush hour. And while they’re a lifelong commitment for a minor convenience, it’s taken me a long time to feel comfortable using the carpool lanes with them as my passengers in the car. I wonder why that is, especially in our society where cops see broomsticks with fake heads and blow-up dolls as passengers.

Long before we had carpool lanes (aka high-occupancy vehicle–HOV–lanes) in my city, we used to have to travel down to Phoenix every other week while my son had his DOC band adjusted (for plagiocephaly). Phoenix, being a modern city, had carpool laneshov and I so wanted to use them but it seemed odd to declare my 8 month old as my 2nd passenger. He couldn’t be seen through the tinting in my van’s windows, so I could very easily have been pulled over wasting both my time and the police officer’s. I never used the carpool lane.

I guess I determined that my children were worthy carpool lane passengers when their heads could be seen through the back window. I have tinting, but you can still see shapes through it. It seemed too much of a risk for me until then. I’ve only received one ticket in my driving career and I don’t mind saying it was for hitting a parked car 6 weeks after I got my driver’s license (a well-deserved ticket that the police officer hesitantly wrote, as I recall). We all do stupid things when we’re 16, right? Like throw toilet paper at future husbands and their friends while driving? Yeah.

When do you feel kids become full-on carpool lane-worthy passengers? Is there a law in your state that dictates an age? Do you even use the carpool lane?

Travel Carseats: The Ultimate Guide to What You Want to Take on A Plane

Flying with Children

Airplane -rf CCOIt’s a lucky parent who hasn’t had to travel by plane with a young child. Some minimalist parents have it down, but the rest of us use up every last cubic inch of space we’re allotted, stuffing it with things we might possibly need like hair ties, mismatched infant socks, carabiners, and Ziploc bags that get thrown out eventually. Think back to your last trip on a plane alone when there was a small child—what was that child doing? Standing on the parent’s lap screaming? Waving at uncomfortable adults who waved once but then wanted to disengage from the outgoing child? Were you trying to eke out that last bit of nap before descent when that screech jolted you out of slumberland? Did that parent look happy or like she was going to cry herself?

happy flyerKids have that natural tendency to want to move and explore their environments when they’re in their parents’ arms. Parents naturally provide a safe place for a child . . . everywhere except in a moving vehicle, which is what an airplane is. Most of us who have traveled with children and carseats can attest that our kids have been better behaved in their carseats and have found their carseats to be safe pods for them. When was the last time *you* were comfortable in an airplane seat, after all? Kids in harnessed carseats are protected against turbulence and against runway incidents, such as aborted takeoffs and landings, and overshots. And think about it: coffee pots and Coke cans are required to be secured during flight. Don’t our kids deserve the same respect?

04-13-15 incident

Can I take any harnessed carseat on the plane?

Maybe. It must have a sticker on it that says the carseat is certified for use in motor vehicles and aircraft. That part will be written in red ink so it’s easy to find. Your owner’s manual will also have this wording. Be prepared to show the sticker to a gate agent and/or flight attendant because they may ask to see it as you board the plane.

Pria 85 - FAA certification

Can I use a booster seat on the plane?

Let’s get our terminology down first. A booster seat is a belt-positioning booster used by older kids. It’s used only with a lap/shoulder vehicle seat belt. Since a commercial airplane doesn’t have a lap/shoulder seat belt, no, you cannot use a booster seat on the plane. A harnessed seat isn’t called a booster seat. If your seat has a harness that also can be used as a booster later on, we call that a “combination seat.” Most combination seats are approved for use on airplanes only when used with the harness; that’s because you can install it with the plane’s seat belt. You can, however, take your booster seat on the plane with you as carry-on luggage for your child to use in the car when you get to your destination. If you have a backless booster, it fits perfectly under the seat in front or in the overhead bin. If you have a folding booster, it fits in the overhead bin. If you have a booster where the back comes off, you can pack the back in your suitcase and carry the bottom on with you.

What are my rights regarding carseat use onboard an airplane?

We have an article that explains what you need to know. Also, know where the certification sticker is on your carseat and bring a healthy dose of patience. Between oddly intimate security searches, our knees being jammed into the seats in front of us, and man spread by guys in the center seat, flying saps the last bit of patience of everyone. Flight attendants receive very little to no training on carseats on aircraft, so the best tactic is one of “you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.” If there’s confusion, it’s OK to show them the carseat owner’s manual and smile. Remember that they can (and have in the past) remove ticketed passengers from flights.

How far should I push the rear-facing issue?

If you’ve been online at all, you’ve heard of travelers who have had problems rear-facing their kiddos: the flight attendant misinterpreted the flight attendant handbook, which requires carseats to be installed on forward-facing passenger seats, and they had to turn their 3 mo. old forward-facing. At some point you pick your battle with the flight attendant (with a smile–remember, he or she is just doing their job) and the likelihood that something catastrophic will happen is slim. Turning an 18 mo old forward-facing on a plane probably isn’t going to end the world. If you’re still unsure, I suppose you could whip this regulatory requirement out.

What are the best travel carseats?

Phil&teds Alpha Infant Carseat Review: Kia Ora!

philandteds Alpha

Phil&teds Alpha Rear-Facing Only Infant Seat Review

Phil&teds, a fun company from New Zealand, enters the child restraint market with the Alpha rear-facing only infant seat as a complement to their stroller line. By bringing in the Alpha, they have a competitive rear-facing only carseat that has features parents want for ease-of-use and comfort for their child.

 

Weight and Height Limits:

  • Rear-facing 4-35 lbs. AND 32” AND child’s head is 1” below top of head rest

Alpha Overview:

  • Fantastically thick EPS foam lining the seat
  • Removable newborn liner with extra newborn supports
  • Preemie insert
  • 2 crotch strap/buckle positions (before 15 lbs./after 15 lbs.)
  • 2 recline angles on base: one for 4-20 lbs., one for 20-35 lbs.
  • Carrier can be installed Euro-style without base
  • Clip-on style lower LATCH connectors
  • Built-in lockoff
  • Currently available in only one fashion: black/charcoal with red newborn liner (its sister seat, the Mountain Buggy protect, is available in black/stone for another option)
  • FAA approved for use on aircraft
  • 6 yr lifespan before seat expires

Alpha without cover

Alpha Measurements

Harness slots: 6”, 7 ¾”, 9 ½”, 11 ¼”
External widest point: 16 ¾”
Width of base at belt path: 13 ½”
Width of base at widest point: 14 ¼”
Internal shell height: 20”
Crotch strap depth: 4”, 6”
Seat depth: 12”
Carrier weight: 8 lbs.

Borrowing LATCH Anchors

 

Can You Safely Use Those Center LATCH Anchors?

There are 3 top mistakes we child passenger safety technicians see when we work with parents who want to do latch_symbolwhat’s best and safe with their children’s carseats: a harness that’s too loose, an installation that’s too loose, and a chest clip that’s too low. Following closely in 4th place is using the lower LATCH connectors in the center seating position of the back seat where they can’t be used. Really, any of these mistakes can be put in any order—they’re almost interchangeable given how often we see them.

Hold up, now. You mean I can’t use LATCH in the center seating position?

All passenger vehicles manufactured after September 1, 2002, have lower LATCH anchors (there are exceptions, of course). There are some vehicles that do have a specific set of lower LATCH anchors designed for use in the center position of the back seat, but most vehicles do not. That’s surprising to a large number of parents who rightly feel that the center of the back seat is the safest spot. It’s furthest from side impacts and LATCH generally is the easier method to get a tighter installation. So why is it that lower anchors aren’t available to be used in the center position and why is it that some CPS techs recommend using lower anchors in the middle while some don’t?

The Basics

Lower LATCH anchors consist of 2 U-shaped metal bars welded to a sturdy bar. The anchors are spaced 280 mm apart, which to those of us not used to the metric system measures out to 11” center to center. The lower anchors are a system, designed to be used together because they are all welded together as one big piece. LATCH altogether is a system as well: Lower Anchors and Tethers for CHildren. The Tether referred to in the acronym is on a convertible or combination carseat and is generally used only for forward-facing carseats to hold the top of the carseat in place (some carseats can be tethered rear-facing—that’s a different topic). We never call lower LATCH straps “tethers” but sometimes you’ll see them referred to as “lower connector straps.”

MDX LATCH assembly LATCH_sketch

First let’s discuss the concept of “borrowing.” Just as there are a variety of vehicles with back seats, so are there a variety of configurations for lower LATCH anchors. In all 4-door sedans, there will be 2 sets of lower anchors in the outboard (outside) positions, for a total of 4 lower anchors. You can safely install 2 carseats with those lower anchors. In sedans, trucks, and SUVs with big enough back seats, there will be a third set in the middle. Aha! That’s the key—space. Even though you may have 6 total lower LATCH anchors, you may not be able to install 3 carseats using those anchors. Think about it: the LATCH anchors are spaced 11” across and the narrowest carseats are 17” across. The math simply doesn’t add up. Again, in the widest back seats, you can do it, but you have to remember that LATCH was designed to be a convenience feature; it’s not going to work in all situations. In some vehicles, there may be 5 lower anchors: 2 on each outboard side with 1 randomly stuck somewhere in the middle. What engineer was smoking what when they came up with that design? Well, in this case, you can use lower anchors in the center by using the inside lower anchor from one outboard side with that randomly placed center anchor. The carseat will have an offset installation; that is, it won’t be perfectly in the center. Here’s an example:

2010 Honda CR-V has one dedicated center lower anchor

2010 Honda CR-V has one dedicated center lower anchor that is used with the inboard passenger side lower anchor

2014 Ford Focus has a set of lower anchors for each outboard position

2014 Ford Focus has a set of lower anchors to be used in each outboard position

2011 Acura MDX

2011 Acura MDX has 3 full sets of lower anchors

Can you use lower LATCH anchors to install your carseat in the center of the back seat if there aren’t any dedicated lower anchors in that position? Perhaps. This practice is known as LATCH anchor “borrowing” and you have to consult both your vehicle AND your carseat manual to see if they allow it. If one doesn’t, you can’t. It’s like asking mom if you can eat a piece of candy and she says no, so you ask dad. They both have to say yes. Why? Remember back to that lower anchor spacing of 11”. In a crash, forces are put on both the metal anchors (vehicle) and the plastic belt path (carseat). Because you are now using a spacing that is different than 11” (most likely more, and sometimes over 20”), the crash forces are coming at angles that either haven’t been tested for or have been tested but have failed.

Graco LATCH anchor wording

Graco LATCH anchor wording

Britax LATCH anchor wording

Britax LATCH anchor wording

Some manufacturers have tested for these contingencies and if you’re lucky enough to have a match, you can borrow those LATCH anchors.

2014 Ford Focus Borrowing

What’s a parent to do?

If you want to install your carseat in the center seating position with LATCH and your vehicle manual specifies that you have a set of dedicated lower anchors, go for it! It’ll likely be an easier installation for you. Don’t forget to check the label on the side of the carseat or the carseat manual for any LATCH weight limits, both rear- and forward-facing.

If you don’t have a set of dedicated lower anchors and want to borrow the inside anchors from the outboard positions, check both the vehicle AND carseat manuals to see if both allow it. The verbiage may be subtle (see the Graco manual excerpt), so if you’re unsure, don’t hesitate to call customer service.

If you don’t have specific lower LATCH anchors for the middle seating position, have no worries. A seat belt installation is perfectly acceptable since LATCH is a convenience feature. If, however, you find that you can’t get a tight installation using the seat belt and you can get a better installation with the lower anchors, it’s preferable to move the carseat to the outboard position and use LATCH. An installation where the carseat moves less than 1” trumps the center location of the back seat if you can’t get a tight install there.

Now that you know not to make the #4 mistake of borrowing lower LATCH anchors when you shouldn’t, it’s time to make sure that your child’s harness is snug enough, the chest clip is in the correct location, and the carseat is installed tightly enough. I’ve covered 2 of those mistakes in this article, so if you need a refresher on the others, take a glance at this blog: http://carseatblog.com/26763/carseatblog-quick-tip-proper-harness-tightness.