A list of things to think about as you prepare to add a new little person to your family.

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Infant or convertible seat?

One of the first things you need to decide when buying a seat for a newborn is whether to buy a rear-facing only infant seat, or a larger convertible seat. There is no right or wrong choice here, so long as the seat fits your child and your vehicle appropriately. Used seats come with their own set of challenges; read more about those here.

If you are expecting multiples or a small baby, it is very important to look for a seat that starts at 4 lbs and also has low harness slots. There’s even one that allows use at 3 lbs! A baby’s small torso needs to be taller than the lowest harness slot to fit properly in most cases. Take your tape measure to the store and check out the differences between models. Newborns come in different sizes and shapes of course, but a seat that is highly adjustable is more likely to fit well from birth. Many seats will come with required or optional padding or low birth weight inserts to improve the fit, so check that any floor model you’re looking at has all of the parts present.

If you prefer to use a convertible from birth you still need to consider actual fit – not just the stated minimums on the seat. Many convertibles fit an average-sized newborn from birth and also come with required or optional padding to improve fit. Some now start at 4 lbs, but most at 5 lbs. The lowest harness position is still important, so don’t be shy with the tape measure. To make things more confusing (sorry), some convertibles are available with additional newborn-specific padding or fit rules for wee ones. Please ask us if this is the route you want to take so we can give you the most current information possible.

Vehicle shopping

If your current set of wheels isn’t ideal for transporting kids you may find yourself in the market for a new vehicle. This isn’t as straightforward as you might hope, unfortunately. Read more here about what features are important to consider once you have kids on board.

Recline and breathing

One of the biggest challenges encountered by new parents is properly reclining the car seat. Some car seats naturally position a child more upright than others; some babies are floppier than others. If your child’s head tilts forward then something needs to change immediately, as this is very dangerous for young babies. If they are positioned chin-to-chest the airway can close. Babies don’t have the physical ability to lift or reposition their head, and their brain hasn’t yet developed the reflex to alert them to breathe. Chin-to-chest can result in positional asphyxiation and can be silent and fast.

Regardless of whether you choose a rear-facing only seat or a convertible seat, it is absolutely critical to make sure that car seat is reclined as much as possible within any allowable range provided by the seat. Some seats have a weight-based recline range, some are more flexible, and others just state a single line for all ages. Read more about recline angles and how to use them here.

Avoid unregulated products

Walk on by that wall of cute baby stuff  that claims to be “made for use in the car seat.” Car seat manufacturers rigorously design, engineer, and test their products to work as intended, meaning to keep your little bundle safe in a crash. If you deviate from the instructions you increase the chances of the car seat not doing its job. Are you eying up a fuzzy set of harness pads to be comfy at the neck? Some car seats come with those. Some manufacturers make them available for purchase for specific seats. Don’t buy ones that aren’t made specifically for your seat.

Avoid adding head positioners to car seats. They tend to attach to the harness, and go behind the head. This can change how the harness works or fits your child, and putting something behind the head can push baby’s head forward and is the opposite of what you’re trying to achieve. See above for chin-to-chest dangers. 

If your car seat came with a head positioner, head pad, body pad or insert, then read your manual carefully to see if there are any requirements for use or removal. 

Bunting bags or sleeping bag inserts also fall into the unregulated category. They tend to add bulk, interfere with how the harness works or fits, may interfere with how the handle moves, or how the carrier snaps onto the base. Shower cap-style covers may be an option, but avoid use in the car so baby doesn’t overheat. Often a blanket draped over the seat is all that is needed to keep the wind out for quick in and out trips between car and house.

Other unregulated products include mats, mirrors, toys that attach to the handle of the seat, aftermarket covers or sew-your-own covers, and anything that didn’t come with the car seat or was not made by the manufacturer of the car seat. Many brands have options in these categories because parents want them, so look there first if you’re feeling a need for these items. And if you received these items as gift or bought them and can’t return them? They may be appropriate for use in the stroller instead.

Hot cars

Every year we hear of tragic hot car deaths and possibly think to ourselves we would never do that, we love our kids too much. If this is you – stop. Stop right now. That thinking is dangerous.

Of course you love your kids. So did the parents who made the horrifying mistake of forgetting their kids in a hot car. We all get distracted. We all go on auto-pilot. And it’s not that those parents forgot about their kids for 8 hours, it’s that their brain told them their kids were safely at daycare or with grandma or wherever they usually go. If you have ever driven a familiar route and then realized you didn’t really remember the last few kilometres of travel then you, like every other tired, distractable human, are at risk of making a tragic mistake. And this risk intensifies when we are tired. Hands up if you are a new parent (or hey, any parent) who isn’t often tired. No? Okay then, read on.

How to minimize the risk? Thankfully there are some simple, low cost things you can do to reduce the risk to your family.

  • Use any systems in place with daycare or school to have them contact you or a series of people if the child doesn’t show up as expected. This might be called a safe arrival program.
  • Make a habit of always opening the rear door after you exit the driver’s seat. Even better, keep something back there that you need such as a phone, wallet, or purse.
  • Communicate with other caregivers when exiting the vehicle and get in the habit of doing a head count once inside.
  • Take advantage of any technological backups provided by your car seat or car, for example:
    • Some Evenflo seats come with SensorSafe, which includes an app connected to the chest clip of your child’s seat together with the ODB port in your vehicle. The app, when set up, will contact a cascading series of people if the system determines that the car was parked but the chest clip is still buckled.
    • GM has a chime reminder if it determines that the rear door was opened within a certain time the car was driven. We expect to see more and more advances in this area of injury prevention as manufacturers get more creative to prevent the rising number of hot car deaths in North America.

For more information on this topic you can read here.  Kids and Cars is the primary source of information on this topic.

 

 

Winter wear

Newborns who travel in rear-facing only seats are quite easy to keep warm. Typically the car seat starts out warm because it’s been in the house. Dress baby in thin, warm, well-fitting layers, such as a sleeper layered with a slim-fitting fleece sleeper over top. Add a hat, and then buckle. Tuck a blanket around baby over top of the harness but avoid any fluff near the face. Quick in-and-outs between store and car can be dealt with by draping a blanket over the seat to keep out the wind, but don’t leave it in place for long as it may limit air flow. Avoid using bunting-bag type seat inserts, see above for unregulated products.

Keeping newborns warm and safe in convertibles, as well as a child of any age in a larger seat, requires a bit more planning. Read more here.

Car seats are for cars

Always buckle as if you’re driving. We all know someone (or did it ourselves) who loosened baby’s harness “for comfort” while inside, covered them with a blanket, and then forgot to re-buckle to drive home. Not only does this put them at risk of injury in a crash, but it means baby could slouch and slide down in the seat, changing the position of their head or where the straps are on their body. New parents forget things. They’re tired, distracted, and just trying to function. Avoid this risk by always buckling properly as if for a drive.

Car seats are not safe sleeping spots. Once the car seat comes out of the car, baby should come out of the car seat. You’ll notice that the angle the car seat sits at is different on the floor or stroller compared to when clicked into the base. Please re-read the section above about chin-to-chest and why it’s so dangerous. Consider baby wearing, a stroller with a recline-flat seat or bassinet, or a portable crib for sleeping when not at home. Find more information on safe sleep here.

Click the carrier only onto the base, compatible stroller, or place on a low and flat surface. Rear-facing only car seats aren’t meant to click or dock onto the top of a shopping cart. This could damage the seat’s own locking mechanism, as well as making the whole contraption very top heavy. Avoid the fall hazard and put the carrier down and in the shopping cart if it fits, baby wear, or use a stroller to pull behind you with one hand while you push the cart with the other. Alternately, this may be a good time to take your friends up on offers to help and send them to the store with a list, take advantage of grocery delivery or pre-order and quick pickup options, or something else that suits your life. Further avoid fall risks by not placing the car seat on high or unstable surfaces like a couch or counter.

Stroller compatibility and travel systems

Disclaimer: we do not provide much input on strollers, that’s not our thing. If stroller compatibility is important to you our advice is to consider how you use the stroller separately from what you need and want in a car seat. If you happen to find a travel system that works for you, excellent. Travel systems are car seat-stroller combos that come as a set.

For many people though, what they want in a stroller is different from what comes in a travel system, and they shop for the two separately. Regardless, car seats are not intended to replace a crib for sleep, and chin-to-chest is dangerous. Strollers may not position baby well when they’re little.

Does your lifestyle include any of the following?

  • being car-free
  • taking a lot of public transit
  • walking including to areas with a lot of stairs
  • living in a building that doesn’t have an elevator
  • traveling by plane
  • trail running
  • pushing more than one child (now or in the future)

If yes, then our advice would be to shop for the stroller separately and then look at what car seats are compatible with your stroller of choice. Popular brands make adapter bars for many types of car seats, and often the adapters can be found second hand.

Parents of multiples are advised to consult with other parents of multiples for input on the stroller situation.

Find and read your manuals

Unearth your vehicle manual and flip to the section usually called “child restraints.” Also read your car seat manual cover to cover. Some manuals are organized more clearly than others. Use the customer service options offered by your car seat manufacturer. All are available to provide additional product support; some even go so far as to video chat with you to troubleshoot any questions you may have. These days, virtually all of them are responsive on social media, so pick your preferred communication method and reach out with questions. They want you to use their product safely and properly, so don’t be shy.

Are you dusting off your own seat to use with another child? Reread its manual. It’s amazing the things you forget. Often, a rear-facing only seat has been left set up for the larger, older child who vacated it, so some steps will need to be taken to ensure it’s set up for a wee one. Also double check that all parts are there, there’s no mold or rodent damage from being in storage, and the seat hasn’t expired since you first purchased it. If you’re borrowing from a friend go through this list with them to make sure it’s appropriate to pass along.

Read your car seat manual and your vehicle manual.

Practice with a doll or stuffed animal

This may sound ridiculous but it’s very helpful! Find a baby-sized doll or stuffy – doesn’t need to be perfectly proportioned – and try buckling it up. If you are doing this at the shopping stage some stores may have an appropriately-sized doll to test out, or CPSTs often have one on hand for prenatal education. Get a sense for how the harness adjusts and tightens, how the buckles feel, and where the arms and legs are meant to go. Your baby will be much cuter, but also possibly wiggly and most definitely noisier. Practicing on a doll will up your confidence for when it’s go time.

Poppy, a Build-A-Bear monkey, is a good-sized model to practice on!

Register your seat

Sometimes car seats are recalled and it’s important that the manufacturer knows to reach out to you to inform you of any concerns with their product. If you don’t register your seat they can’t know that you have it!

Registering is easy and can be done online. Your car seat will come with a postcard-type card that contains all of the information needed to register your seat. If you lost it don’t despair; all of the information needed can also be found on your seat. Look for a sticker that indicates date of manufacture and model number. We also recommend taking a picture of this label for easy reference should you ever need the information on it for a warranty question. The registration information should be readily accessible on the manufacturer’s Canadian website.

Registering your seat applies even if you are using it for a second child and forgot to the first time around. It applies if you were given a safe used seat by a trusted friend or family member. Do it now!

Some manufacturers reward owners who register their seat with additional warranty options, so take advantage!

Meet with a CPST for hands-on help

Car seats are life saving devices, and when used properly, are very effective. For some parents, reading the car seat manual and car manual is all that is needed and they feel confident and ready to welcome their newest family member. 

Some parents feel much more prepared if they meet one-on-one with a CPST to learn how to install and use their seat. Rewind a bit – many CPSTs can also help with the choosing of a seat at the buying stage. Do what works for you! Find a CPST near you at https://www.cpsac.org/find-a-tech/.

Thank you to our CPST colleagues from across Canada who provided adorable and educational photos for this article. You know who you are!

An unconventional giveaway...

Congrats to the winner of a pair of custom-made baby slippers. Jen will knit them and mail them to you. They’re handmade, cute, and stay on little feet! 

Updated January 2020. 

A quick run through of how to make sure your rear-facers are as safe as can be! Want to read in more detail?

Start here, and then a more technical deep dive here.

IMG_25331. Do it as long as you can. Really. Not the minimums. Who wants minimums when it comes to safety? And not just any old easily avoidable dangerous situation – but the most dangerous place your kids are every day…the CAR! The longer you can rear face for (2 years, 3 years, ideally as close to 4 as you can get) the better, as that’s most protective for the head, neck, and spine.

 

2. Research what will fit your car, and try before you buy. You can use a rear-facing only infant-style seat from birth (most common for sure) or you can skip straight to theconvertible seat (or 3-in-1 seat). Pros and cons to both and what you choose will depend on your lifestyle. But go into your purchase eyes open, knowing how the seat will fit your car long term. Imagine having other back seat passengers, such as visiting parents or future babies. Are you or a partner tall? Is your vehicle very small? Do you carpool? Have to reinstall frequently? Consider all of this. Do you make big babies? Having twins? Growth patterns matter, and not all seats start at the same minimum weight, and they certainly don’t all last as long by height, weight, and fit. You want everyone in the vehicle to be safe and comfortable, not eating the dash (and too close to the air bag) for years.IMG_6078

3. Rear-facing seats are outgrown by height OR by weight OR by some fit criteria, usually how much clearance there is above the head – whichever comes first. The seat that’s labelled to 40lbs rear-facing might have a relatively low height limit on it. The seat with the high height limit might have an overall shorter usage if your child has a long torso and a big noggin, maxing out the functional usage time by fit.

 

rfangle324. Use the rear-facing belt path with a rear-facing seat. Convertible seats (the type that later also install forward-facing) typically have one path to route the seat belt or UAS (LATCH) strap through when used rear-facing, and another totally separate one for forward-facing. Not okay to mix them up. The rear-facing belt path is under the child’s knees, whereas the forward-facing one is behind the lower back. Sometimes they’re hard to see, so poke around and make sure you’re threading the seat belt or UAS strap correctly. Then, make sure you have tightened the belt or strap so that the seat moves 1″ or less at the belt path in any direction. Give it a firm handshake – if it shifts more than that something isn’t right.

DSC003705. Leg room. Some seats have more than others, for sure. That is a comfort issue though, and not a safety issue. Legs touching the back seat — or scrunched up cross-legged, dangling over the sides, or sticking up into the air (or, ahem, poking the sister in the face) — is not a safety issue. Most crashes are frontal, where everything moves forward in a crash. This is the most common type of crash, and the most frequently fatal, so that’s the kind we plan for. Legs move too, away from the back seat. At the same time, handily enough, the head, neck, and spine are well-protected because they’re also moving forward, directly into the shell of the car seat. Well done, car seat. Protect that melon.

DSC001026. Strap positioning and tightness. When rear facing you want the harness to be coming from AT or BELOW the level of the shoulders. This is so if you’re in a crash the child will be held down in the seat. That tight harness will prevent the child from sliding up the shell of the seat. You want the child to stay in the seat, so the seat and its highly engineered parts can take the brunt of the crash, not your baby. How tight is tight enough? We like to do a pinch test to check, every time, and no bulky clothes.

 

 

Fllo077. Child preference for forward-facing. This is a reasonable consideration with a 4 year old. Probably also a 3 year old. But small children do not get to make their own safety decisions. Furthermore, if they don’t know any better, how can they prefer to forward-face? We don’t let young children dart into traffic, play with steak knives, or take the family car for a spin just because they want to. All kids go through phases of not wanting to be contained, of not wanting to cooperate (this phase does end some time, right!), and certainly those phases can be intensely frustrating. But stick it out, as long as you can!

8. Physics yo. There’s parental choice and then there’s physics. You know, force and mass and vectors and stuff. So many things in parenting is choice, with pros and cons to each. But the laws of physics are such that a big wobbly bobble-head perched atop an underdeveloped, weak little neck (it’s like an orange on a toothpick!) is absolutely best protected rear-facing. Having an opinion to the contrary doesn’t make that little body and brain safer in the car, because it’s not substantiated by anything. You can tell yourself that your baby is just as safe forward-facing but that doesn’t make it true.

9. Read the manual. Cover to cover, even if it seems like manualsgibberish. It often does seem like it was written in a language you don’t understand, but there’s a ton of info in there. Even if it doesn’t make any sense it will give you a starting place to ask some questions. Also haul out your vehicle manual and read the child restraint section and the airbag section. Lots of good stuff there too. No matter what you read online, are told at playgroup, or by your doctor, the car seat and vehicle manuals have the final say. If you have questions, the manufacturers of those products are excellent resources. They want you to use their products correctly and safely.

10. Meet with a certified Technician. We’re quite friendly, and we like what we do. Even if you are 100% confident that your car seat is installed and used properly you might learn something useful for the next stage.

Updated January 2020.

We are frequently asked about the angles at which a rear-facing seat may be installed. Most often, we tend to recommend seats that permit a range of angles, and how a particular seat fits in any given vehicle depends very much on that range.

Using as little math as possible we hope this article will better explain why install angles matter to your child’s comfort and safety, and can gain or lose you front seat leg room in the process. Read on!

anglerangeRFWe are guilty ourselves of using the numbers 30* and 45* when that isn’t always accurate or useful, particularly when car seats are shaped so differently, vehicle seat geometry and upholstery cushioning can affect things, the measurement location isn’t always mentioned, and considering the installation technique of the installer.  Where did those numbers come from?

45* is approximately how much a newborn needs to recline (lay back) in order to protect their airway, when measured from vertical. A giant head plus a weak and floppy little neck can easily mean a compromised airway if a newborn is too upright in their seat. Imagine folding a straw in half: that’s about what’s going on when a newborn’s head flops and can not be picked back up.

It is very important to maintain the most reclined angle permitted in whatever seat the newborn is in.  That being said please do not immediately bust out a measuring device like an angle app (although we use one in this post to explain some things later), a protractor, or anything else.  Your seat came with the best measuring device of all – the built-in angle indicator right on your seat!

If a newborn’s head still flops forward when the seat is at the most reclined angle consider removing any head padding/insert (if permitted), or it is possible that the seat is not a good fit for the shape of your child. In that instance we would recommend a different seat, or if that is not possible, to have an adult sit in the back with the newborn to monitor head position, and limit travel until the baby has the needed head control to tolerate the position.DSC00380_2

Manufacturers are free to put any single or range of angles on their seat, provided the seat passes testing within that range.  Some manufacturers specify a very particular range based on weight of the child, some allow an open range based on preference of the child/parent, and some specify a single recline angle.

A manufacturer will determine for their own seat what is the maximum and minimum recline angle for installation. Exceeding either limit risks greater chance of injury to the child if the car seat can not do what it was designed to.

Here are a few types of angle indicators as seen on various seats: lines on a sticker, lines embossed on the plastic, gravity dials, bubble levels, rolling balls. Do you recognize any?

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SureFitangleindicator duallevelline

Manufacturers are not required to have angle indicators on their seats, but if one is present (and most seats do have them) then they must be followed. Engineers don’t sit around designing parts on car seats just for fun, so if there’s a very deliberate instruction for how to recline a seat…respect the design process and follow the indicator for maximum safety!

In addition to a manual reclining mechanism via a flip foot or lever, some seats permit the use of a single pool noodle (firm foam cylinder), a stack of noodles (usually 3 for stability), or a tightly rolled towel at the seat bight to prop up the front edge of the car seat and make it more reclined.

Whether you need this or not will depend on:

  • your car seat;
  • your installation technique;
  • the squish and textile of your upholstery — leather tends to require a noodle more than fabric does
  • the age/weight of your child;
  • how sloped your vehicle seats are to begin with.

How do you know if you need one at all, or if one is permitted? Read your manual of course! This is just one example and does not apply to every seat. If noodles or towels are permitted your manual will say so.

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But how, you ask? Do you struggle to achieve the correct recline angle?  Perhaps the following will help.  If the angle indicator on your seat relies on gravity to work make sure you are parked on flat ground.

Left to right, top to bottom:

  • Front edge of car seat wedged against squishy upholstery – no prop required to achieve desired recline;
  • Single piece of small diameter red pool noodle props up front edge of car seat;
  • Single piece of large diameter blue pool noodle props up front edge of car seat;
  • Tightly rolled small towel props up front edge of car seat;
  • Tightly rolled large towel props up front edge of car seat;
  • Three small yellow noodles taped together to form a stable trio props up front edge of car seat.

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In addition to using noodles or towels you can also vary the final angle by where you compress when installing.

To make a seat more upright compress at the child’s foot area.  To make it more reclined compress at the bum area.

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Let’s back up a minute: WHY do we tend to prefer seats that allow a range of allowable angles?  Seats that permit a more upright installation with older children who can tolerate it (i.e. have the appropriate head and neck control) tend to take up less space front-to-back than those requiring a single line level to ground installation.

For example here is a Graco MyRide, one of our former favourite go-to convertible seats for smaller vehicles, but now retired. Fully reclined for a newborn there isn’t much clearance between it and the front seat slid all the way back.

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Install it as upright as permitted, however, and inches are gained.  In a small car this can mean the difference between front passenger comfort and eating the dash.

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Changing the install angle according to the indicator of course changes the angle at which a child will be positioned in the seat.  Remember how we said earlier we don’t really use measuring tools? You don’t need to – it is completely irrelevant what any measured angle is on a seat if you are following your seat’s angle indicator. However, for illustration purposes here’s what we got, the caveat being again that it DOES NOT MATTER what the level app says, and it can be varied several degrees quite easily depending on how or where the level was compressed.

Fully reclined (approx. 44*)/ fully upright (approx. 30*).
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Rear-facing only infant seats often, but not always, have a built-in mechanism for adjusting the recline angle, in the form of a recline foot. Your manual will have instructions for how to extend or retract it as needed. If you need more recline than can be achieved using only the built-in recline foot you must read your manual to determine if you may add a noodle or towel in addition to the recline foot, or if you must tuck the foot away and use only towels or noodles.

Sometimes the angle indicator on an infant seat is on the carrier, and other times on the base. Remember for newborns: recline as MUCH AS POSSIBLE while remaining within the allowable range. It is often a case of trial and error to get it just right. Remember to park on flat ground if your particular indicator relies on gravity; lines level to ground could be done anywhere so long as the line remains parallel to the ground.

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And now, a close up look at the props used in this post: various types of pool noodles, and tightly rolled and taped towels.
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Don’t tape the towel until you’ve figured out how big you need it to be.  Sometimes you need a thin towel…sometimes a thicker one. Vary how you fold it. Double them up. Make sure they’re narrow enough to not interfere with the lower anchors or buckling of the seat belt, as appropriate (about 10″ wide is usually perfect).

How to fold (old, stained, ratty rag!) towels 101: fold in half, then in half or thirds, tightly roll, and tape. Voila!

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Do you prefer to see these tips in action?  A short video demonstrating the various techniques discussed above.

 

Last updated July 2019.
Travel5

Traveling with little ones can be stressful but with a little planning can go without major interruptions.  Living so far from my family is tough. The deal with my husband when we moved to Vancouver Island just over three years ago was that I could go home to see them in Ontario at least once a year.  When Thea was born in August I knew I would want to take her home to see my parents, siblings and extended family.  Being a child passenger safety advocate means I want my children protected on the airplane as well as in the car.  I waited patiently for a seat sale and bought us both seats.  Eight years ago I had traveled with my oldest daughter as a lap baby and not only was it frustrating but it didn’t seem right that I sat in my seat with a lap belt holding me in while baby was just free in my arms.  I’ve flown enough to know that turbulence and rough landings can sometimes happen, and have since learned about the risks of flying with a lap baby.

Travel6

My decision to bring Thea’s infant seat on board was an easy one.  I have a large stroller I can pop my seat into but decided, per Air Canada’s preference for umbrella strollers, to just attach my infant seat to my lightweight travel stroller.  I used a long bungee cord and it fit snugly and perfectly.  I mostly baby-wear so I toted my carry-on in the stroller set up and put baby into the carrier.  I also printed out a copy of Air Canada’s car seat policy and made sure I chose a window seat for the car seat (see WestJet’s policy here).  You must not block the exit of passengers in an emergency so a window seat is required in this case.

We had two flights to make to get from Victoria to Toronto and the first was a small Dash 8 aircraft.  On all flights I was able to pre-board.  The infant seat buckled in securely and I had to move it quite close to the window as the belt was very short.  It only took a minute to get the seat ready to go.  Thea doesn’t particularly like being in her infant seat but she did really well and seemed to like the noisy engine of the Dash 8.  The flight attendant was helpful and offered to buckle the seat but I didn’t require her assistance.  The next flight from Vancouver to Toronto was uneventful too.  It was a 3-and-3 seat configuration.  The infant seat was next to Travel7the window and I was in the middle seat.  The seat belt stitching was a little thick and I had to tilt the seat to get it in the infant seat’s belt guides. I kept her in for take off and landing with a few walks about for nap time and diaper changes.  I was super happy to have her seat as the flight was pretty turbulent and holding her would have been a challenge.  It also afforded me some down time to watch a movie and eat when she slept.  But really, safety was my first concern.  I am not willing to check her seat and risk it being damaged or lost.

We used the seat baseless in my parents vehicle and it installed easily.  After a quick six day visit we were on our way back to Vancouver Island.  The flights back were also uneventful, and the flight staff easygoing and helpful.  I do not think I would have managed quite so easily if I had not purchased Thea her own seat.

~Laura

We advocate for bringing restraints on board the air craft to best protect traveling children, other people on the plane (an unrestrained child could become a projectile), and the integrity and history of the restraint itself, as does Transport Canada, the US’s NTSB, and other child passenger safety advocates.  There are various options for how to fly with kids – read more here, or if your kids are older and in boosters, read more here.

Click here to read the Child Passenger Safety Association of Canada‘s position statement on the need for all passengers to be safely seated on flights.

Do you travel with more than one child? Are your kids in infant/child seats, or child/booster seats, or just boosters?  Some photos below to give you ideas of how to make it work even if you’re traveling as the only adult.

Some high back boosters will disassemble so the high back portion can be packed, well-padded, in a suitcase and checked; inspect it carefully for damage upon arrival.  A child old enough to be in a booster can very probably manage to carry their backless booster in a tote bag and stow it in the overhead bin on the plane. A booster can not be used on the aircraft as it requires a lap/shoulder belt, which of course a plane does not have.

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Traveling solo? It can be done.  Car seat attached to rolling cart for smaller child, larger child (if large enough!) can sit directly on the plane seat with the belt. Rolling suit case, comfortable baby carrier…voila!  Car seat for older child was waiting at the destination.

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Two kids in seats? Nest them like this.

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Or nest them like this!

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So long as your luggage cart can handle the weight you can turn your car seat+cart combo into a stroller. Kids usually think this is a pretty spectacular way to ride.

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Update December 2019.

We developed this decision making tool (scroll down – the link is at the bottom!) with the help of a wonderful CPST and parent, after she experienced frustration and anxiety while wondering if her child would be safely seated in someone else’s vehicle for a school field trip.  We did some research and discovered there’s a wide range of policies regarding school transportation in BC and beyond, leaving kids potentially unsafe and parent drivers and school boards in a risky position from a liability perspective.

Sometimes the answer is a school bus, which eliminates much of the worry for older kids, but for those with tiny kindergarten kids even bus-riding can pose some challenges. Please be in touch if you have bus questions.

This tool is a yes/no decision-making tree and can be used for field trips where there are parent drivers, carpool situations, or any transportation scenario.  It’s quick and to the point, and easy to follow.  It focuses primarily on school-aged kids but doesn’t break down how to determine if a child ought to be rear- or forward-facing in a harness — that’s just too much to cover with this one simple tool.  Page 2 of the Tree shows examples of good and poor belt fit — thank you to M. Robertson for the artwork.

Please share and reproduce it. Please ask questions if you have a particular transportation scenario that is challenging — maybe we can find a seating solution you haven’t considered.  It’s very difficult to cover every possibility in a chart like this but DOES address booster or belt very well, from a best practice perspective.

Other helpful resources you can look at here are our list of favourite booster seats, a breakdown of the 5-step test for seat belt readiness, a descriptive article to guide you when deciding on a harness or a booster, and a visual of what a good booster fit looks like versus a poor one.

properuseboosterbeltfitgoodbad

Click on the below link to open the Decision Making Tool as a pdf:

Decision Making Tool

 

Rear-facing: why do it and how to make it work is one of our most-read articles, and full of lots of fabulous information and resources. It is rather long, however, so we’ve decided to save some of the extra stuff for this piece!  All the extra stuff you didn’t know you wanted to know about rear-facing, questions that often come up, and more detailed technical information for those of you keen on the why of it all!  Hmmm, if you ARE keen on knowing why and how and everything else maybe you should become a car seat technician…

In the meantime, read on!  Many thanks to those who provided pictures for this article.

 

What’s the point of a rear-facing seat if you’re rear-ended?crst6

Strictly from a physics perspective a passenger IS safer forward-facing while being rear-ended — everything moves toward the point of impact (the back) and then rebounds forward (the opposite of what happens in a frontal crash).  A rear-facing child has nothing supporting the head as it moves toward the back of the vehicle.

In reality if someone rear-ends you, then THEY are having a frontal crash.  Frequently they then plow you into whatever’s in front of you causing a frontal crash for YOU.  Fatal rear end collisions are statistically far less frequent and at much lower speeds than frontal collisions.

Since we can’t predict what type of crash we will have in advance, we need to play the odds both for frequency and severity.  Frontal, frontal-offset, and side impacts are combined the most frequent and most deadly, and rear-facing provides vastly superior protection in all of those types of crashes.

Do you need to see some pictures? Here’s an amazing rear ender crash with a happy ending.

 

Loading rear-facing kids into the third row

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What if the only way to rear face your child(ren) is if they’re in the third row? Many three-row vehicles have one tether anchor there (required for forward facing), and sometimes none at all. It’s up to the manufacturer of the vehicle where those anchors are installed so long as there are three total. Often the placement is inconvenient and parents are faced with putting rear-facing children in the 3rd row to leave the 2nd row available for forward facers.  But…how do you get them IN there? And how do you buckle?  If kids are old enough they can scamper in themselves by climbing on adjacent seats. If they’re smaller they can also be loaded and buckled through the back hatch.

 

Happily rear facing

 

 

 

These three kids (ages 4, 11 months, and 2.5) are rear-facing in a Chevy Avalanche.  The middle child is loaded first over the low sides of the car seats, and the older two can climb in themselves. Easy peasy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s the point of rear-facing tethering? Does my seat allow it? How do I do it?

This fabulous summary was written by Children’s Restraint Systems Technician-Instructor Natalie Day.

Aussie style rear-facing tethering
Aussie style rear-facing tethering in a Britax infant/child seat.

Rear-facing tether is almost never required (the exception being Britax G4 seats manufactured between Dec 2013 and June 2014) , and may or may not benefit the child depending on the specifics of the collision.

There are two types of rear-facing tethering: Australian (over the top to the designated forward-facing tether anchor) and Swedish (to the front vehicle seat track, using a D-ring strap provided by the child seat manufacturer). Australian tethering is to reduce downward rotation during the collision event, while Swedish tethering is designed to minimize rebound after the initial collision and to minimize side movement in a side impact crash. However, neither of these are exactly the same as on Aussie and Swedish child restraints.  Aussie seats also have an anti-rebound bar, while the attachment points and installation on Swedish models are quite different.

 

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Swedish style rear facing tethering to the seat track of the driver’s seat.

In Canada, rear-facing tethering is only allowed on Sunshine Kids/Diono and Britax infant/child seats.  Britax allows both Aussie and Swedish style, and Sunshine Kids/Diono allows only Swedish style.  Risks of rear-facing tethering in the Swedish style include increased neck loads for young infants, and the potential issue of creating your own anchor point in the vehicle without the vehicle manufacturer’s permission/approval.  Before doing so you MUST determine if your vehicle manufacturer permits the creation of an anchor point with the child restraint-supplied D-ring; as of this writing there are no known vehicle manufacturers that expressly permit Swedish-style tethering.

Britax Boulevard rear facing tethered to the designated forward facing anchor point in the row ahead.
Britax Boulevard rear facing tethered to the designated forward facing anchor point in the row ahead.

If your vehicle is new enough to have advanced airbags, the tether strap pulling up on the seat track may affect the air bag sensors, decreasing protection for the front passenger if the air bag doesn’t deploy properly.

Benefits of rear-facing tethering Swedish style include increased lateral stability in a side impact collision, and a reduction of rebound after the initial collision, both of which may have a protective effect on the seat’s occupant. For an older, heavier child, this would be more important.

Rear-facing tethering Aussie style has less risk because you use a designated anchor point, however it is harder to get the child in and out of the restraint with the tether strap.

 

Whether rear-facing tethering is appropriate (or required) for your child and your vehicle should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

 

Anti-Rebound Bars

Anti-Rebound Bar on a Clek Foonfimage-3

New crash test standards that came into effect in Canada on January 1st, 2012 included a new component commonly called the ‘Anti-Rebound Standard.’  In essence it limits how far a child’s head can travel back toward the rear of the vehicle after the initial frontal impact.

All seats currently for sale pass this standard in some way, mostly due to either the shape of the seat itself, or the handle in the up position (a sort of ‘roll bar’ if you will) on infant seats.  A few seats have more obvious structural components to limit rebound, and they are called anti-rebound bars.  They are used only in the rear-facing orientation, and are available at the time of writing on the Clek Foonf, Clek Fllo, First Years True Fit, Peg Perego Convertible, Britax Chaperone, Maxi Cosi Prezi, Britax G4 seats produced after June 2014 (and available as a retrofit on seats manufactured prior to that date – call Britax), and Britax ClickTight Convertibles.

 

Side Impact Protection and Rear Facing – What’s the Connection?DSC00150

Transport Canada does not have standards for side impact protection. Many manufacturers claim side impact protection of one type or another — EPS foam, EPP foam, head wings, air bags — and our feeling is that it likely is beneficial to some degree.  A deeper shell or head wings also likely provide some protection from intrusion injuries as a physical barrier between foreign objects and the child’s head.  Manufacturers generally do not release their side-impact crash tests though, so there is no way to compare between seats, or to know if testing would be typical of a real crash.  Because there is no standard we’re comparing apples to oranges when looking at the different options between manufacturers.

Rear facing itself offers tremendous side impact protection.  It is a very rare (almost never) crash where you are not moving at all and someone hits you directly side-on. Most side-impact crashes have some forward movement, causing the head of a forward-facing child to move out past the shell of the seat. The statistic that rear-facing is 532% safer comes largely from side impact crashes. They are the most deadly type of crash as there is less protection in the vehicle’s structure from the side versus the front.  A rear-facing child in a side-impact crash (with some degree of forward motion) is pressed into and contained by the shell of the seat at the same time that the head, neck, and spine are cushioned and supported by the shell of the seat.  Rear-facing in ANY seat is safer than forward facing in the most embellished of seats with potential side-impact protection.

 

That’s all folks.  Unless we missed something.  Is there an element of rear facing that you’d like us to expand upon?

So what’s the take home message?  Rear face as long as you can. Really – the longer the better, to the limits of the seat. Aim for age two at a minimum and then go from there.  Plenty of seats are available that will do that for even the tallest of kids.  More money doesn’t mean safer, but it might mean some convenience features that make it easier for you to rear face as long as possible, so shop carefully for a seat that fits your child, your budget, your car, and that you can use properly every single time. THAT’S the best one for you!

We appreciate feedback – please leave a comment below.

All rear-facing! 4 years old, 11 months old, and 2.5 years old

Updated December 2019.

The message to rear face a child well past the bare minimums seems to be getting out there into the world, the baby and parenting groups, and mainstream media, which is great. But did you know that current recommendations are to rear face for as long as possible to the limits of your convertible seat?

With many seats on the market now easily able to accommodate children to age three, four, or longer, many people wonder why. Isn’t it hard to do? Don’t kids get uncomfortable? This article will attempt to explain the significant safety benefits of rear facing your children, and how to accomplish it as smoothly as possible.

 

Legal minimums

Legal bare minimums to forward face vary from province to territory but generally are somewhere in the neighbourhood of age 1 and 20 lbs. That minimum is ages behind what Transport Canada requires, which is itself ages behind the capacity now available on most convertible car seats.

Manufacturers may set additional limits as regarding age, weight, or developmental milestone before a child may ride forward-facing. A parent or caregiver must adhere to the strictest limits, which in almost every case, is the labelling on the seat itself.

When it comes to child safety, what parent wants the bare minimum? Regarding the most dangerous place kids are every day — the car — it IS possible to well-protect your children if you understand why current recommendations are what they are.

 

What we know: physics and research

Traffic safety data from the Sweden shows an amazingly low frequency of child fatalities in car crashes.  However, it’s not easy to directly compare Swedish statistics to Canadian ones as the cars, roads, driving habits, drivers, types of car seats, and longevity of rear facing vary greatly, but the record is compelling.

US and Canadian data lacks real world data with real crashes with real kids to pinpoint an exact age at which a child is safe to ride forward facing. Roads are getting safer, and more caregivers are using seats correctly more often.

Some older studies suggested age two was the turning point, and for a long time that’s the number we saw thrown around. Those studies have been shown to have some methodological problems though…so we don’t really know what the magic age is. Given the availability of restraints today that can accommodate the average child rear facing to the age of four, and the increased awareness among caregivers to rear face for longer, we expect to see better crash outcomes.

The physics of rear versus forward facing are undeniably convincing. In a frontal impact (for which cars and car seats are designed as most crashes are frontal or frontal-offset), a rear-facing restraint spreads the crash forces across a child’s head, neck, shoulders, and back, cradled and protected by the shell of the car seat. The concept was developed in Sweden in the 1960s, with inspiration from the Gemini mission astronauts for their take-off and re-entry. In contrast, a forward-facing restraint holds back the body but not the head, and the weak neck and heavy head focus a great deal of force on the spinal cord.

This video illustrates the differences in how a child moves in frontal collision seated in a forward-facing restraint and a rear-facing restraint. Watch here: Rear vs foward facing comparison.

Babies have markedly different body proportions than adults, with a large and heavy head making up approximately 25% of their body weight. An adult male’s head comprises only about 6% of body weight. Swedish studies found that children are better protected if they ride rear facing up to an age and size when the size/weight of the head is proportionally less and the neck is much stronger, to at least age 3-4. If a child is faced forward too soon, a hideous injury referred to as internal decapitation can occur, where the bones and muscles stretch in a crash, but the spinal cord in the neck does not. It is as horrific as it sounds.

Transport Canada, the Child Passenger Safety Association of Canada, and child passenger safety advocates everywhere encourage parents to keep children rear facing until they outgrow their larger convertible car seat, and promote shopping for a convertible seat that will accommodate your child for as long as possible. For many children this is realistically to age four.

 

Legroom

Parents often worry about their child’s legs at this age – what on earth do they do with them!? Won’t they break in a crash? Research indicates that injuries to the legs are uncommon in rear-facing children, with a greater frequency of injuries in forward-facing children. Remember that in a crash everything moves towards the point of impact, so in a frontal crash everything goes forwards, including legs. Rear-facing car seats are designed to best protect the head, neck, and spine; even if legs were injured in a crash, they’re much easier to fix than a head or spinal injury. Leg room varies greatly from car seat to car seat, so that is one factor to consider when shopping. Kids are much more flexible than adults, and can sit in ways where we would be very uncomfortable.

When transitioning from the infant seat (or shopping for a convertible seat right from the start look carefully at your child’s build: height, torso height, and weight. Average to small kids have plenty of options; tall and long-torsoed kids have fewer options for seats that will take them well past age two rear facing. Look at your child’s growth pattern on a growth chart to get a sense of how old they will be at a certain height, and then shop for a seat that has both a high standing height limit for rear facing AND a tall shell.

Try before you buy

Before you buy it absolutely try it in your vehicle, and install it. Try it in various seating positions, install with UAS and then try the seat belt (not both at the same time), and then try it forward-facing too.

The BEST car seat is the one that fits your child, your budget, your car, and that you will use correctly every single time. It does not need to be the most expensive one or the one with the prettiest cover. What does a bit of extra money get you? Read here.

All seats for sale in Canada pass the same crash tests, and it’s a pass/fail system. Most manufacturers don’t release their crash test data, so we don’t know how a particular seat performs beyond that it passes. It’s also important to remember that you don’t drive a test sled, your child is not a fibreglass dummy, and you don’t get to pick your crash!

Logistics

The logistics of how to rear face a child beyond the minimums will be simple for some, and a barrier for others. Living in a cold or wet climate means dealing with boots. It’s easy and generally more comfortable for the child to remove them altogether while in the vehicle. Carrying a child out to the car and bringing boots with you minimizes mess (but don’t forget to bring them…oops, learned from experience!). Getting a seat protector for where your child’s feet rest helps keep upholstery clean, but a simple fix for captain’s chairs is to fit an old t-shirt over the seat, popping the head rest right through the neck hole. Easy to throw in the wash when it gets dirty.

Once kids are agile enough to do it they usually like to climb in themselves…writing this I am hearing “I do it MY SELF!” as my youngest would shriek if I tried to lift her in. Hoisting a heavy child up and into a seat can be challenging, but let them learn to scamper up and you’ll save your back (but quite possibly try your patience).

Once a child has excellent head control their seat, if it allows it, can be installed at a more upright angle. This means more room for driver and front passenger, and most older kids prefer a more upright angle. This is another factor to consider when shopping, and generally if you can fit an infant seat in your vehicle (that does require a very reclined angle to protect that newborn airway) you can fit a larger convertible seat installed more upright.

Dealing with complaints

Most children do go through a phase of complaining in the car seat, and don’t be tricked into thinking that forward facing them will solve the problem entirely. The novelty of it may distract them for a while, but often it’s a phase of independence, and not liking being restrained at all in any orientation.

It is a critical safety decision to keep them rear facing despite their protests and it’s not their decision to make — don’t mistake comfort for safety.

Parents make other safety choices for their kids all the time, despite their protests: No, you may not play with the sharp knife. No, you may not eat the whole bottle of vitamins. No, you may not run out into the street just because it looks fun. Sorry kid, not your decision. Try some new music, a car-seat-only soft toy, or something else that your child will respond positively to.

Have you already turned your child forward? It’s okay to turn them back. Make it fun and a novelty. Many kids aren’t bothered at all by the switch. Is your child outgrowing their convertible seat rear facing but you’re not ready to go forward facing yet? It’s okay to consider a higher capacity seat to rear face for longer, but if that’s not possible for you don’t feel guilty – you rear faced your child to the limit of their seat, which IS the recommendation.

Take home message

Rear face for as long as you can. Shop carefully for a convertible seat that will take you to your rear facing goals, and plan ahead so you can watch for a sale (we announce them every Friday on our Facebook page).

Read your car seat and vehicle manuals carefully. Need some install help? Check out our YouTube videos for some guidance, and after all of that it doesn’t hurt to meet with a tech for a check even if you think everything is perfect.

We’ve since written a follow-up article going into some technical details of rear facing, including elements not covered here. It was getting kind of long as it was!

Thank you to those who provided photos of rear facing kids of a range of ages and in a variety of seats!