Babies Archive

Are You Making These Carseat Mistakes?


MaggieMargeDriveMost parents think, “I got this,” when they look at a carseat. I mean, really, it’s just some straps that go over your kid, right? Everyone who has a kid has to use a carseat, and we all know there are some parents out there barely qualified to have kids in the first place who are able to get from point A to point B and keep their offspring alive, so it’s not rocket science, right? Wrong. Sometimes we make mistakes that we look back on and say, “I can’t believe my child survived my parenting!” It’s a saying in our house that we’re not saving for college; we’re saving for the therapists’ bills, lol. Let’s look at some very common carseat mistakes and see their simple fixes so your offspring can ride safely enough to make it to college… or therapy sessions—whichever way your family sways.

Loose Installation

Whether using the lower LATCH connectors or the seat belt for installation, your carseat moves more than 1” when you give a tug at the belt path. Make sure you tug at the belt path only; that’s the only place where the carseat is connected to the vehicle. If you check for tightness anywhere else on the carseat, it’s going to move more than 1″. There’s nothing holding it to the car there, right?

Let’s define “tug”. A tug is like a firm handshake or a shake on a shoulder that doesn’t move someone’s head back and forth (heh, you don’t want to give them whiplash). You use your non-dominant hand to give this tug so you’re not tempted to shake the rivets out of the seat.

correct incorrect

Can’t Lock the Seat Belt (Loose Installation Corollary)

Sometimes your installation is loose because you can’t figure out how to lock your seat belt to keep it tight on the carseat. Seat belts lock either at the retractor or at the latchplate. All model year 1996 and newer vehicles must have locking seat belts and some vehicles manufactured before 1996 have them as well. The retractor spools up all the length of the belt and is hidden inside the wall of the vehicle or inside the vehicle seat back. At least 90% of all modern vehicles have switchable retractors that can lock the seatbelt to hold a carseat tightly in place.

This is how you test for a switchable retractor: Pull the shoulder belt portion of the seat belt out of the retractor slowly and smoothly until you reach the end and can’t pull it out any further. Then feed a few inches of the belt back into the retractor. You may hear a ratcheting sound as the seatbelt feeds back into the retractor in the locked mode (although some retractors are very quiet most will make a noticeable clicking sound once they are switched into locked mode). Stop after feeding a few inches of the belt back in and try to pull it back out again. If it won’t come back out, it’s locked and now you know that this seat belt has a switchable retractor that you must switch to the locked mode if you are installing a carseat in this seating position.

Other seat belts lock at the latchplate (male end of the seat belt). These are mostly found on Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep vehicles. To see if your seat belt locks in these vehicles, buckle the seat belt and pull up on the lap belt. If it holds tight, your latchplate locks.

lightweight locking latchplate

If you can’t get your seat belt to lock because your car was made before 1996, you have to use either a carseat with a built-in lockoff or a locking clip. If you want to read more about locking clips, you can click here. Lockoffs that are built into certain carseats are much easier to use than a locking clip and worth the extra price. Read about which carseats have lockoffs here.

Loose Harness

Yeah, you can’t just buckle the harness, it has to be snug on the kid or they’ll go flying out of the seat. If you can take a pinch of the harness above the chest clip, the harness is too loose so pull it tighter.

Pinch Test

Chest Clip or Belly Clip?

You know those plastic pieces that clip together across the kid’s middle? That’s called a chest clip. Some carseat manufacturers’ get all uppity and call it a harness retainer clip. Call it what does and where it goes and you’ll never forget! Chest clip. The top of the chest clip is placed at the armpits. Any higher and it’s at the kid’s throat, especially for babies. Any lower and it may not be able to do its job as a pre-crash positioner.

chest clips

Trusting Your Pediatrician for Carseat Advice

Do the initials “CPST” follow your pediatrician’s MD after his name? If not, he’s not qualified to give you carseat advice. Just like I’m not qualified to give you medical advice on your child’s rash (gee, that really does look like Ichthyosis en confetti—you should have that checked out), your ped is not qualified to give you advice on vehicle safety matters. Between charting, keeping up with ever-changing youth medicine, and making hospital rounds, most peds simply don’t have the time to keep up with the dynamic field of child passenger safety unless it’s a special interest. That’s why you come to us for answers on vehicle safety.

Turning Forward Too Soon

You may not admit it online, but turning your wee one forward before age 2 is really dangerous. I’ve heard all the arguments in my 14½ years of tech-ing: my child’s legs hurt because they’re scrunched, my best-friend’s-mother-in-law’s-phlebotomist’s-daughter’s-pediatrician told her to turn her son forward at 9 months because of a risk of hip injury, my child has to be able to see the DVD screen we spent top-dollar for, and so on. The truth is, if you turn your kid forward before age 2, *you’re* the one who is uncomfortable with the idea of rear-facing, not your child. Studies and years of rear-facing children have shown that rear-facing is not only safe, it’s loads safer for kids.

It’s so important to rear-face your toddler that two carseat manufacturers now mandate it, at least for some of their carseat models. Britax requires a 2-year and 25 lbs. minimum on all of their forward-facing harness-2-booster seats. And Dorel, parent company of Cosco, Safety 1st, and Eddie Bauer, says that your kids must be 2 before they can be turned forward-facing in several of their new convertible seats. I’m not pulling your leg—it’s right there in the manual.

NEXT manual

Commercials on TV claim that the best way to start your baby’s life is to use the best diapers or best formula (if you can’t breastfeed, of course). We feel the very best thing you can do for your kid in the child passenger safety world is to use an appropriate carseat or booster on every single ride. After the infant seat is outgrown, continue to rear-face your child until they reach the rear-facing height or weight limit of their convertible carseat. And install the seat tightly. And tighten the harness appropriately. And make sure the chest clip is properly placed. The crazy thing about kids and carseats is that there are so many things that can go wrong with them that we need an entire profession to help parents get it right! I remember making some of these mistakes—and more. Aye yi yi. It’s amazing we’re all still here.

Kids Left in Cars: What Can We Do?




As my daughter and I dodged shredded tire treads on the freeway on the way to her oboe lesson, they reminded me that warm weather is here to stay and we should be cognizant of who is in the car at all times. As temps go up outside, they can climb even faster inside and anyone who is vulnerable—child, elderly person, or pet—can succumb to heat stroke in a short amount of time. Even moderate outside temperatures can produce deadly vehicle interior temperatures and cracking a window isn’t enough to air out the car.

When a vehicle is in the sun, it starts to heat up. We’ve all felt this when we’ve sat in a car with the engine off. What happens is the sun shines through the transparent windows and heats the surfaces in the car. The radiation from the sun touches the dashboard, steering wheel, and other solid objects, as well as floating air molecules we can’t see. Conduction works to heat the interior surfaces of the vehicle up quickly and convection moves the air molecules around faster and faster, causing them to heat at a rapid rate. Even leaving the windows down a crack doesn’t help because of the conduction heating the surfaces; the surfaces heat up, which cause the air inside to heat as well. What about a cloudy day where the sun’s rays aren’t shining through the windows? Let me tell you about the worst sunburn I ever got—on a cloudy day. The radiation from the sun still comes through the clouds and can heat that vehicle up.

The SUV in the picture below was left in the sun on a very pleasant morning for about a half hour. During that time, while the outside temperature was 66º, the inside temperature rose to 128º. The vehicle was set up for my Safe Kids coalition’s press conference and rescue demonstration kicking off our Heatstroke Awareness Campaign.

SUV in sun ready for rescue

A child left in the vehicle is at serious risk for heat stroke or death. Heat stroke is when the body’s temperature rises above 104º. A child’s body temperature rises 3-5 times faster than an adult’s and symptoms of heat stroke include red, hot, moist or dry skin, lack of sweating (their bodies have reached a point where they can’t cool down on their own anymore), headache, dizziness, confusion, and nausea. When a child’s body reaches 107º, their organs will shut down and death most likely will occur.

As much as we try to educate parents not to leave their children in vehicles, last year there were 30 children who died left in vehicles. Some of these deaths were accidental and some were intentional. It’s the accidental deaths where we can make an impact by making a few changes in our habits. But habits are hard to change and we have to be intentional in changing them. Can you imagine being this guy, who accidentally left his sleeping child in his SUV at the train station parking lot and remembered her when he got into the city? That had to have been the longest train ride back out to get her.

Time and again, a break in routine has been the reason a child has been left behind in a vehicle. The parent with the child is doing something out of the ordinary and forgets that the child is in the car or a daycare provider is overwhelmed with the number of children in the van and forgets the quiet one. From 1998-2014, 53% of children who died from heatstroke in vehicles were forgotten about by their caregivers. During that same time period, 29% were children who accidentally locked themselves in a vehicle while playing, and adults intentionally left 17% in the vehicle.

How can we address this problem and prevent it from happening again? First, we can stop blaming the victims and recognize everyone has the potential to forget their child. Sleep deprivation is a serious problem at some point for everyone who has a child and it can make your brain act in ways it normally wouldn’t. Laws may help dissuade caregivers who casually leave their children in vehicles as they run errands or get manicures, but they aren’t going to make a difference for those who forget their children. If you forget a child, you’re not going to remember them because of the threat of going to jail. Nineteen states have laws regarding unattended children in vehicles. Second, let’s be proactive, both as parents driving our children and as community members. Look in the car next to you as you get out to make sure a child, pet, or elderly person wasn’t left behind. Look in your business parking lots on broiling hot days AND teeth-chattering cold days. Safe Kids Worldwide gives us this handy acronym to help us remember to ACT to save lives:

A: Avoid heatstroke by never leaving a child alone in a car and by locking your vehicle so a child can’t get trapped inside accidentally.

C: Create reminders for yourself by putting your cellphone or wallet in the back seat next to the carseat. Also have your daycare provider call you and your significant other when the child is late or absent from daycare.

T: Take action if you see a child alone in a vehicle. This is an emergency and emergency personnel want you to call 911. Be cautious about breaking a vehicle window because you or someone else could be injured.



Thanks to Jan Null, CCM, San Jose State University for providing data and studying this topic for so many years!

Clek Infant-thingy Review: Clek for Noobs!


infant thingy green

Clek Infant-thingy Infant Insert

The Clek Foonf and Fllo convertible carseats both have minimum starting weight limits of 14 lbs. with the addition that the child must be able to sit upright alone. Right off the bat, this eliminates both seats from parents who want to use a convertible from birth since most babies don’t reach this “advanced” stage until 6+ months of age. Enter the Infant-thingy, Clek’s new hotly anticipated insert that allows the Foonf and Fllo to fit noobs from 5 lbs. It’s available in Shadow black Crypton fabric, so it’s easily cleanable for those baby blow-outs you’ll inevitably have.


  • Rated from 5-22 lbs., 19-33” rear-facing use only
  • Body support cushion is required until 11 lbs.
  • Crotch strap adjusted to the rear slot position
  • Energy-absorbing material in head support
  • Infant-thingy manual supersedes Foonf and Fllo manuals


  • Bottom harness slot with body support: 9”
  • Crotch strap position: 3”

Before using the Infant-thingy, the carseat’s headrest must be removed. Raise the headrest to its uppermost position, then use the troubleshooting tool on the back of the carseat to release it. There’s a small hole on the front of the right headrest guide where the tool fits in (that’s the one that doesn’t have the push button release). If you’ve lost the tool, you can use a paperclip. Don’t worry, there are directions for this maneuver in the Infant-thingy instruction manual. Be sure not to lose the headrest because you’ll definitely need it later on when your child is taller.

Clek troubleshooting tool with circle removing Clek headrest

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!