Thursday, May 16, 2013

Are car seat accessories safe?

I have a confession. My biggest fear of having a baby isn’t childbirth, or sleepless nights, or making breastfeeding work or even leaving my baby to return to work after maternity leave. It’s the car seat. Why am I so terrified of what is basically a glorified piece of plastic? No clue. But I am.

Whenever I think of car seats I just want to curl up in a ball and ignore the reality that come October I will need to know how to install one, or even worse before then I’ll have to sort out which model to buy. Perhaps I’m most scared because I know from my job at Texas Health Resources that in the Dallas-Fort Worth area 80 percent of individuals who come get their car seats checked actually have install the car seats incorrectly. I spend so much time in my car it terrifies me that I might do something so important wrong.

And with the age of Pinterest if you even begin looking at car seats there are even more options for how you can supposedly make your baby more comfortable. But then I start wondering as I look at the cute accessories: is that needed? Is it safe? The one comfort to me in the whole car seat process is that I know that all car seats must adhere to the safety standards put in place by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and have specific manufacturer instructions that need to be followed. And I’ve also learned that most manufacturers warn against using unregulated products because they were not crash-tested with their seats.

With all that said I turned to Melissa Smart, a certified child passenger safety technician at Texas Health, to ask her to give me the lowdown on all those products I see floating around regarding car seats.

Here’s her take on the most common items:

Extra Padding and Covers
Many car seat products sold are designed improve the comfort or look of your car seat, but they are not regulated by the government and have no safety standards. A hand-made car seat cover may look appealing, but it can have hidden dangers. Altering the original fabric or padding may interfere with how the seat was designed to fit baby, and could cause the seat to malfunction in an accident. This includes extra padding and neck rolls, fabric harness covers, and blankets that lay between the child and the car seat.

Cold Weather Accessories
It is very important that your child’s harness fits snugly, so we should be wary of how much clothing is on a child before putting he or she in a harness. The child should be wearing no more than two layers of clothing and nothing thicker than a sweat shirt. A thick winter coat or snow suit may interfere with tightening your child’s harness, which could be very dangerous in an accident.  Blankets and coats should be laid on top of the child after they are harnessed in. Blankets that attach to the car seat whether on the handle or otherwise should not be used unless it came with the car seat.

Mirrors and Other Projectiles
Some aftermarket products are not just a danger to children, but also to parents. We have to remember that anything in our vehicle can become a projectile for us or the baby, especially mirrors or unrestrained booster seats. Booster seats that are not in use should be buckled in so if an accident does occur it doesn’t go flying towards the driver. Mirrors are often recommended to new parents as a must-have, so that the driver can see their child in the rear-view mirror. This creates a huge distraction for a sleep-deprived new parent, and distracted driving can lead to accidents.

Seat Protectors

Another item pushed on new parents is the seat protector. These are usually a thick piece of plastic with a coating on one side that will grip the leather or fabric of your car’s upholstery under a car seat, and are designed to help protect your car from damage. While that is a great intention, they might interfere with your car seat installation and don’t actually offer any meaningful protection from spills or messes. Individual car seat manufacturers have different guidelines regarding seat protectors, so always consult your instruction manual.

I know we’ve just scratched the surface on the whole car seat conundrum but at least it feels like a start. At the very least I know a few DIY projects to check off the list and a few products we can avoid when registering.

One thing I do know is regardless of what seat we end up choosing we will have our installation verified by a certified child passenger safety technician. Most Texas Health hospitals now offer free Car Seat Safety Checks. Events are staffed by nationally certified car seat safety technicians who will educate caregivers on proper usage and installation. Appointments are free but registration is required by calling 1-877-THR-WELL (1-877-847-9355) or by clicking here.

Do you have any other car seat tips for this worried Mom-to-Be?

Jennifer Erickson is a Sr. Public Relations Specialist for Texas Health Resources who is 18 weeks pregnant and not at all sure how to decipher the many options for baby gear.

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