Awwww. 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.
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.
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!