Babies Archive

Having A Baby? Here Are the Carseat Basics You Need to Know

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Carseat 101

pg hwYou’ve peed on the stick and found out you’re pregnant. Yay! (Or not. Who am I to say?) You’ve gone to Target, Buy Buy Baby, and Amazon.com and registered for every single baby item under the sun that’s plastic and can be sanitized and trust me, it all coordinates, right? Now you’ve come down to the final weeks and it’s panic time when you realize this baby is coming out one way or another and you have to get it home. You just stick Baby in the carseat and go, right? No. Nope. No way, new parent. You are now attending Carseat 101 and there will be a quiz at the end. I have no doubt you will pass with flying colors!

First, let’s go over some vocab you’ll need for the next, oh, decade or so. Yeah, baby, your precious is going to be in a seat for a loonngg time. In chronological order, please:

Rear-facing only infant seat:

This carseat is used for newborns to sometimes toddlerhood. It’s easily identified by its handle, canopy, and left-in-the-car base. The carrier portion fits onto the base.

photo  

Convertible seat:

This carseat can be used for newborns, but is often used after a child outgrows a rear-facing only seat. It rear-faces, then converts to forward-facing for older kids.

GracoSize4Me70newborn2  

Combination (harness-to-booster) seat:

This carseat is for older kids, the kind who order combo meals at fast food restaurants (and yes, you too, will succumb to buying your child a grease-loaded meal item at some point). A combo seat FORWARD-FACES ONLY. It has a harness to keep wiggly kids safe, then the harness comes off (many store on the seat itself now) and it can be a belt-positioning booster. See why it’s for older kids only? It combines a harness and a booster into one seat. You don’t always need a combo seat. Sometimes your child can go straight from a convertible seat to a belt-positioning booster, depending on which convertible she uses and how old and big she is.

Photo Oct 02, 2 20 32 PM  

Belt-positioning booster seat:

This carseat is for kids who nearly have gray hair. Just kidding. Barely. The purpose of a booster seat is to boost a kid up higher so that the vehicle’s lap and shoulder belt will fit them superbly over their bones, not their soft bellies. Kids have to have a certain amount of maturity in order to sit still in a vehicle seat belt and that comes around ages 4-6, depending on the child. Most parents find their kids transitioning out of a harness around ages 5-6, when “real” school starts, not that “pre-“ stuff. There are highback and backless varieties of boosters. Highbacks are great for the younger crowd because they provide head and torso support for sleeping. Backless boosters are harder to see from outside the car, so older, image-conscious kids like them better. Kids use booster seats until they can 5-step—fit in the belt like an adult—which is when they get to be the size of a small adult, around age 10-11.

lap and shoulder belt fit  

Let’s identify that you’ve gotten the right carseat for you. It used to be that an infant seat was an infant seat was an infant seat. Basically, all the carriers did more or less the same thing—it was the bases that distinguished them. Now we have carriers that fit small babies very well, some that don’t, some that have no-rethread harnesses, some that have canopies that disappear, and some still hanging around that fit kids up to 40 lbs. There’s quite a variety from which to choose and that can cause more confusion than ever! What’s my very first piece of advice to you in this area? Don’t insist on a travel system. Pick the very best rear-facing only seat that will work for you, then pick the very best stroller you can afford and put them together. Many strollers come with adapters and with a little bit of research on their website, you can find if the infant seat you want will fit on the stroller you want. The patterns may not match perfectly, but you will get a much better stroller this way usually unless you buy a high-end infant seat/stroller combo to begin with. I speak from experience: you don’t want to be stuck with a stroller you hate for years because you wanted to be all matchy-matchy with an infant seat you use for months. To help you in your search, we have both thorough, professional reviews and a list of our favorite seats.

Most of the time you will know if you’re going to have a small, average, or large baby by the end of your 40 weeks. If you and your partner are small folks and come from small families, genetics won’t let you down. Look for a rear-facing only seat that starts with a low birth weight of 4 lbs. It’s the same if you’re having a difficult pregnancy or if you’re having multiples. Fortunately, there are lots of rear-facing only seats that now have a minimum weight limit of 4 lbs., but they don’t always fit the preemie-sized babies well. We have a list of our favorite seats that fit preemies and multiples. If you’re having an average- or large-sized baby, any infant seat will do, though you’ll get more bang for your buck with a larger one. The size of your vehicle also has to be factored in since the larger the infant seat, the more space it takes up in the vehicle.

Now for some answers to common questions:

Rear-facing is no longer 5x safer. Really?

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You may have heard that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently updated their recommendations on rear-facing. As usual, there’s some good news and some bad news. As with our carseat reviews, we will discuss both the good and the not-so-good and try to offer some perspective lacking in national news coverage of this update.

The Good News: The basic recommendation for rear-facing has NOT changed. “The Academy continues to recommend that all children ride in a rear-facing car safety seat as long as possible, up to the manufacturer’s stated weight and length limits.” This updated guidance from the AAP now better matches NHTSA’s policy for consistency in messaging. The authors of CarseatBlog have strongly supported Extended Rear-Facing (ERF) for over 15 years and continue to support this practice.

ERF in 2003 – now off to college!

The Bad News: As we reported a year ago, a major study from 2007 was found to be flawed. This study was the main source of injury data to compare rear-facing child restraint systems (RFCRS) to forward-facing child restraints (FFCRS) in the USA, for children up to 23 months old. It was also the basis for the erroneous ‘Rear-facing is 5x safer’ statistic. Newer research found some contradictory data, causing the original study to be retracted. A revised study, by some of the authors of the original 2007 study, concluded, “Non-US field data and laboratory tests support the recommendation that children be kept in RFCRS for as long as possible, but the US NASS-CDS field data are too limited to serve as a strong statistical basis for these recommendations.” This led to the evolving AAP advice that, “…while the trend was for rear-facing to be superior to forward-facing for children under 2 years, the numbers were too low to reach statistical significance.” Definitely not as compelling as 5x safer.

More Good News:  The reason there is no significant real-world information is because the sample size of injuries to children in car seats is so low during the 22 year study period that there simply isn’t enough data to compare rear-facing to forward-facing conclusively. In fact, all these studies included less than severe injuries just to do an analysis, because there are so few data points for severe/fatal injuries to kids in child restraints. According to the revised study, “NASS-CDS data indicate an extremely low injury rate in children up to 2 years of age in both RFCRS and FFCRS. It turns out that both rear-facing and forward-facing car seats do a very good job of protecting children within the relevant age/weight/height limits!

Because the real-world injury data in the USA no longer supports that rear-facing is significantly safer for kids up to 23 months old, the AAP removed the portion of their policy statement recommending that kids remain rear-facing until at least 2 years old. Also, since the original study is retracted, we have to pretend that it never existed. Therefore, we can no longer claim that rear-facing is proven to be five times safer than forward-facing. We can’t even say that statistics prove that rear-facing reduces the real-world risk of serious injury for kids up to 2 years old [or to any age] in the USA.  On the plus side, the 2011 AAP policy on rear-facing to at least age 2 led to a lot of awareness about the safety advantages of rear-facing.

Let’s take a step back and examine the most recent AAP policy statements to put these minimum age recommendations in perspective. Fundamentally, the policies on rear-facing haven’t changed, except for the inclusion of minimums. For over 15 years, the AAP has continued to recommend that kids remain rear-facing to the limits of their car safety seat. In essence, “as long as possible.”

AAP 2018: All infants and toddlers should ride in a rear-facing car safety seat (CSS) as long as possible, until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by their CSS’s manufacturer. Most convertible seats have limits that will permit children to ride rear-facing for 2 years or more.

AAP 2011: All infants and toddlers should ride in a rear-facing car safety seat (CSS) until they are 2 years of age or until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by the manufacturer of their CSS.

AAP 2002: Children should face the rear of the vehicle until they are at least one year of age and weigh at least 20 lb. Infants younger than one year who weigh 20 lb should still face the back of the car in a convertible seat or one that is approved for higher weights. For optimal protection, the child should remain facing the rear of the car until reaching the maximum weight for the car safety seat, as long as the top of the child’s head is below the top of the seat back.

Clearly, this is not the end for extended rear-facing. The retraction of the main study supporting ERF in the USA is indeed a big loss, but not a total surprise because this study had known flaws long before this retraction. Again, the fundamental guidance HAS NOT CHANGED. We still recommend kids remain rear-facing, preferably for 2 years or longer if they are within the rear-facing height and weight limits of their carseat. In particular, parents should pay close attention to the seated torso height limit of the rear-facing seat (which typically requires 1″ or more of shell above the head).

As always, we like to remind parents that these recommendations from the AAP are safest practice guidelinesThey aren’t rules or laws. The rules a parent must follow are those printed in their car seat and vehicle owners manuals, on the car seat labels and in any relevant state law. CarseatBlog endorses the AAP guidelines for added safety. We also like to offer perspective by looking at the BIG picture. The biggest reductions in risk come from the following simple steps:

  1. Drive unimpaired and undistracted
  2. Keep all passengers properly restrained according to the instruction manuals and state law
  3. Kids under 13 years in an appropriate rear seating position

So please, buckle up and drive safely!

See our Rear-Facing Links Guide for additional information.

2018 Revised American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Policy – Child Passenger Safety Best Practice Recommendations

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Updated Recommendations for Children in Carseats and Boosters

A revised policy statement on Child Passenger Safety from the AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) was released today. The most significant change is the removal of the age 2 minimum recommendation for forward-facing.  The updated policy keeps the basic wording to recommend that children remain rear-facing until they reach the maximum weight or height allowances of their carseat. This revision aligns AAP’s policy with NHTSA’s current recommendations which also suggest using your carseat to the limits before transitioning to the next stage/category of seats.

 

The table below outlines the updated Best Practice Recommendations from the AAP.

The policy revision is a direct result of the retraction of the 2007 Henary study which we now know was flawed. Unfortunately at this moment, we do not have enough data to definitively say how much safer rear-facing is compared with forward-facing. Also we can no longer point to a specific age at which to make the transition from rear-facing to forward-facing. We acknowledge that this revision will cause some confusion to parents and caregivers who have previously been told that the AAP recommendation was to rear-face to a minimum of 2 years. Currently there are 11 states with laws that mandate rear-facing to age 2, and there are also carseats on the market which also mandate a 2-year age minimum for forward-facing. If you live in a state that requires rear-facing to age 2, or if you own a product with a 2-year age minimum for forward-facing then you must follow the guidance of your state laws and/or your manufacturer’s instructions.

The AAP used a data-driven approach in revising this policy. In the absence of statistically significant field data to support the previous rear-facing to age 2 recommendation, they felt it was necessary to update their current policy.

We understand that evolving information can be hard sometimes and the lack of good data is frustrating. On the bright side, the reason that we don’t have enough data on kids being injured in carseats, rear-facing or forward-facing, is because carseats are doing a great job of protecting children in crashes. We encourage researchers and manufacturers to continue important research on this and a variety of other subjects that relate to child passenger safety. Here at CarseatBlog we will continue to focus our efforts on educating parents and caregivers on proper usage of carseats and boosters.

Head Slump: When it’s a Problem and How (Not!) to Fix it

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Putting a newborn baby in a car seat is daunting even in the best of circumstances. They are just so tiny and fragile, the buckles on the seat seem so huge and it often feels like you’re just going to smush (technical term) their insides when you tighten the harness. As they grow, they feel less breakable, but it seems there’s always something new to worry about when it comes to car seats.

One of the most common questions I see on parenting and car seat groups is regarding head slump, typically in forward-facing kids or in older rear-facing children. There are new aftermarket products coming out each day to address this issue, but as a Pediatric Physical Therapist and a CPS Technician, I have some grave concerns that these “solutions” to head slump might be much worse than the problem itself.

What is head slump?

You know when your husband sits next to you on an airplane and immediately falls asleep while you are stuck alone, anxious and bored out of your mind for the next 3 hours? (No? Just me?) Well, that moment when they’re so deeply enjoying their abandonment nap that their head falls forward is “head slump”.

Head slump is when the chin moves towards the chest in a moment of forward flexion of the cervical (upper) spine. It is most common when a person is sleeping upright, and to an adult, it’s pretty uncomfortable. Adults are not terribly flexible and some of us carry a tiny little bit (okay, a ton) of tension in our necks. But thankfully, our kids don’t. Their necks are more mobile than ours and much less prone to tightness from tension, so the forward flexed head isn’t usually painful for them. The person sleeping on the airplane isn’t in any danger from their head slump position and likewise, for most kids, it’s really a non-issue.

When is head slump something to worry about?

The first and most common scenario where head slump is a real problem is in a newborn. The airway in a newborn baby is tiny, about the diameter of a drinking straw, and often it’s a little more flexible than an adult’s, meaning it’s easier to partially block or collapse. Another reason head slump can be concerning for a newborn is that they may not have the neurological drive to reopen their airway. That is, their brain may not be developed enough to realize that it’s being deprived of oxygen or to tell the muscles to do something about it. Finally, because newborns have proportionally large heads on tiny neck muscles, even if they have the drive to lift their heads, they often lack the strength to make that lift against gravity.

The other situation where head slump is a concern is in older children who do not have adequate head control. These are typically children with medical diagnoses of some sort and the problem is essentially the same as in a newborn – if a child cannot lift and maintain their head upright against gravity, then they need to be positioned to make sure that head slump does not occur. The same goes for babies with tracheomalacia, where the trachea is not as rigid and may be more prone to collapse.

These two groups aside, head slump is not a problematic position for typically developing children and older babies. These children have wider airways, the ability and awareness to lift their heads if they’re not getting adequate air, and the position itself isn’t inherently dangerous for the neck. There’s not a universal age where this happens, but once baby can fully lift their head and hold it up to look around for a few minutes during tummy time, they’re likely in the clear.

What should you do about head slump?