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When we recently had our first son, we were “encouraged” to take a car seat class that lasted several hours .

The topic was how to put your baby in a car seat (not even how to install a car seat in your vehicle, which actually sounded more complicated).

It seemed like a giant waste of time when all we wanted to do was be with our newborn (or take a nap).  Putting a baby in a car seat did not seem too difficult to me:  just have to make sure the infant is secure in the seat and that it fits properly.

Here’s what I wish I had known before we bought the car seat.

Before you buy an infant car seat, try adjusting it!

Modern car seats are adjustable: most have a harness with two shoulder straps and two straps that go over the legs, meeting in the middle.

Experts recommend using the “pinch test;” if you can pinch the straps, then there is too much slack. If you don’t have the straps tight enough, the baby could come out of the seat  in a collision.

Babies grow FAST. If it is really hard to adjust the height of the shoulder straps or loosen and tighten the belts, you might not want that particular car seat.

Trying to wrestle a squirming baby into a car seat is hard enough without having to flip over the seat to make adjustments every week.  Buy a car seat that has easily adjusted straps.

Understand car seat installation

Besides making sure the baby is snug in the car seat, you have to make sure the seat is properly installed in the vehicle.

The good news: car seats today are safer and easier to operate than they’ve ever been.

Most  infant car seats have two parts: a base, and a seat.

The base is attached via latch clips to the car frame (in all passenger vehicles manufactured after 2002).  The clips are attached directly to the frame bar, and much easier to work with than the old seat belt method.

Once the base is clipped in, you just have to level and tighten it. Most seat frames have built-in levels, and adjust easily.

Get it checked

Every parent wants the safest seat, but if it isn’t installed or used correctly, then it isn’t safe at all.

Safe Kids conducts free car seat checks in Oregon, Washington, and across the country.

Take advantage of this free service to make sure your baby is as safe as possible.

Headline Image Source: (CC BY 2.0) flickr/Ethan Hein

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