Getting used to a newborn, particularly one’s first child, takes effort. There is getting used to changing a squirming uncooperative bundle, swaddling (or wrapping like a burrito) at sleep time and calming a squalling infant. But, no task seems to confound first-time parents like dealing with a car seat. In fact, research shows that conquering the car seat is a difficult parent test, one that over 90 percent do wrong their first time.
The ride home from the hospital is often a child’s most dangerous. Nervous parents, exhausted from hours of labor and alternately excited and terrified by their new role in life rarely get the child safety seat or baby installed correctly. While studies show that errors are more common for those who are less educated, non-English speaking or minorities, Britain’s Prince William famously did not secure the car seat correctly when taking son George home from the hospital
A new study shows how prevalent the problem of car seat use errors is, particularly for newborns. The research conducted with 267 families at the Oregon Health and Science University Hospital showed that 93 percent made at least one critical error in placing their newborn infant into a car seat or when installing the safety seat into their car. The study, conducted over six months ending this May, looked at healthy full-term babies who did not spend more than four hours in the neonatal intensive care unit.
The most common mistakes parents made included not pulling the harness tight enough (69 percent did this) and/or installing the car seat too loosely (43 percent). One-third positioned the car seat angle incorrectly in the vehicle or they put the retainer clip too low to keep the baby restrained in an accident.
Other mistakes observed that were done by 15 to 23 percent of new parents were positioning the harness too high up on the child, not adjusting the harness correctly, forgetting to lock the safety belt (i.e., just putting the car seat in the vehicle without using the seat belt or other parts to lock it in place) or did not leave enough room between the car seat that the front seat of the vehicle.
While the other issue reflect inexperience with the safety seat, another problem the researchers found the impacted 20 percent of new parents was socioeconomic or cultural. One-fifth of those surveyed used after-market (second-hand) car seats that had been in an accident (which weakens the structure), were no longer approved for use or inappropriate for a newborn.
So, what should new parents do to ensure they are using the car seat correctly or whether a car given to them by someone else is safe enough? Conquering the car seat is may be on parenting test many find difficult, but help is available. Many states offer free car seat inspection sites at police stations, highway patrol offices and various other locations. The government’s Safercar Web site (see link below) contains detailed installation instructions and links to videos for a variety of car types. The site also contains information on used car seats.
By Dyanne Weiss