|Epic parental fail.|
Car seats save lives; that is the message driven home by pediatricians, first responders, car seat manufacturers, and public service commercials. And while that message is undoubtedly true, car seats can only save lives when used properly and in accordance with manufacturer specifications. All car seats come with installation instructions, height and weight limits, and general usage guidelines; but lets face it, once the car seat is properly installed, how often do you really go back and consult the manufacturer's guidelines? I'll be honest, I never did.
I knew "everything" I thought I needed to know. I bought a new, well-rated, five point-harness car seat, installed it rear-facing for my infant daughter, had the installation checked at my local police station to ensure it was done properly and was secure, and educated myself about car-seat basics. I knew from the instructions and information enclosed with the car seat to keep my child rear-facing as long as possible, how to properly fasten and position the harness as my child grew, and that it should be replaced with a new one in the event of an accident - even if it was only a fender-bender and regardless of whether the child was in the car seat at the time. I was proud to have done so much research and felt I was doing all I could to keep my daughter safe. But what I didn't know could have killed her.
Machine washing harness straps.
My daughter was a drooler and, on one memorable occasion, a barfer (I'm sure she'd love that I'm sharing that with you), but it's true. She was also a typically messy child who was often permitted to snack in the car and who quickly had her car seat looking as filthy as a bathroom at a gas station. As a parent concerned about germs and general cleanliness, I thought washing the straps to freshen them up would be the right thing to do. I was wrong.
Washing the straps (that is, removing them from the car seat and immersing them in any liquid for the purposes of cleaning them and then drying them with any heat) can weaken and break the fibers in the stitching which compromises the straps' integrity and can cause them to fail in an accident. Had I checked the instruction manual for our car seat, I would have discovered this very information, but as I said, once it was installed I thought I could just use "common sense."
The right course of action would have been to spot clean them with a damp sponge (even to the point of saturation). Gentle spot cleaning and allowing the straps to air dry completely before re-installing is what is recommended by the manufacturer.
Dressing children in bulky outwear when using a car seat.
I know it sounds counter-intuitive at first. We all want our little darlings bundled up against the cold weather and cozy in their little seats; but in an accident, all that bulk compresses, leaving too much room between your child's body and the straps, which can cause him or her to be ejected from the car seat.
I can't tell you how often we took my young daughter out in her winter coat and strapped her in with it on, even going as far as to slightly loosen the straps to accommodate her increased bulk. I shudder now when I look back and realize how fortunate we were that we were never in an accident. This mistake was not specifically addressed in our owner's manual, but it was addressed in the FAQs on the manufacturer's website, and I can't emphasize enough how important I think it is to share this information. There is a fantastic article on this very topic at The Stir.
The proper way to keep your child warm and safely restrained is to dress him or her in a thin coat and then cover with an additional jacket or blanket once all strapped in. Another great way to avoid exposure to cold is to warm up the car before strapping your baby in.
Failing to register the car seat with the manufacturer's included postcard.
Again, I am guilty. We never sent back the postcards for the first two car seats we bought. I'll be honest, I don't know why; and every excuse from losing the card to just being overwhelmed is possibly the answer. But please, PLEASE return that little card and get your car seat registered. It could save your child's life.
And, it really is perfectly simple to do! Every seat comes with a product registration postcard; simply tear it off and mail it back to the manufacturer. This ensures that if there are any recalls, they quickly contact you to let you know to discontinue using that seat. If you lost the registration card, try calling the manufacturer; often they can register you over the phone, walk you through the process online, or send you a replacement card.
Car seat safety mistakes can be easy to make, but hopefully, by spreading the word and sharing our collective parental experience, we can reduce these errors and prevent potentially fatal and devastating consequences. Safe and happy travels!