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Car Safety: Infants

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KEY POINTS

  • Rear facing safety seats are the only safe way for your baby to travel in a car, even for short trips.
  • Try to make sure your baby is fed and freshly diapered before traveling in the car.
  • Do not have heavy or sharp objects, or loose packages in the car. They can move around and hurt your baby.
  • Never leave a baby alone in a parked car even for a minute.

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Car travel should be a safe and pleasant time for you and your baby. By law, infants and children must ride in crash-tested, child restraint seats. Never ride with your child on your lap, in a portable crib, or in a car bed. Make sure the car safety seat you select fits your child. A– a smaller child could slip out of a seat that is too large.

Safety seat laws can differ from state to state and are based on your child’s age, height, and weight. Check your state laws. Read the directions that come with the safety seat to be sure you use it correctly.

About child safety seats

  • Infants should ride in rear-facing car seats with a 5-point harness until they are 2 years old or until they reach the maximum weight or height for the seat, whichever comes first. When your child is 10 kg (22 lb), or is older than 12 months, check whether your child needs a forward-facing car seat. Use it until your child is at least 18 kg (40 lb). This is the best way to protect your baby’s head and neck and airways. The rear middle seat is always the safest place for your baby.
  • Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH) is a way to attach child safety seats without using seat belts. LATCH has been required on most child safety seats and vehicles since 2002. A LATCH child safety seat fastens to lower anchors and a tether anchor in a LATCH-equipped vehicle. Most rear-facing infant seats do not need a top tether strap or hook.
  • Some safety seats cannot be installed properly in some cars. Check before you buy a car seat to make sure that it will work with your vehicle. Never accept a used safety seat that is missing any parts or instructions, is more than 10 years old, or one that has been in a crash. If you do not know the history of the car safety seat, do not use it.
  • Make sure the car seat is installed correctly in the car. It should not move more than one inch in any direction. Carefully read the instructions for how to install the safety seat correctly. Check your owner’s manual to make sure you know where to install the seat in your vehicle.
  • Make sure that your baby fits snugly into the seat when you buckle it. Check the safety seat harness and the car seat belts to make sure the fit is tight and secure. Make sure the harness straps are at or below your baby’s shoulders and that the chest clip is at armpit level.
  • Register your car seat with the manufacturer as soon as you buy it. This allows the company to contact you about recalls and safety notices.
  • If you aren't sure if your seat fits properly in your car, contact a children's hospital or local fire or police department. Many of them have a child seat loaner program and can help you find a seat that fits properly. They can also help you install it correctly. Your car insurance company may also offer a child seat loaner program. You can also contact your state highway safety program.
  • Infants with special health problems or medical conditions may need other restraint systems. Talk with your healthcare provider about this.
  • Support a tiny infant by placing rolled towels, diapers, or receiving blankets on both sides of the safety seat to keep the head from falling side to side. Or buy a head support.
  • Limit how much time your baby spends in a car safety seat when not in the car. Babies should not spend more than 2 hours in a 24-hour period in a car seat, and newborns under 4 weeks not more than 30 minutes in a 24-hour period. Longer periods can strain the baby’s spine and block airflow to the baby’s lungs. Also, when your baby is in the seat at home or childcare, your baby is not able to move or explore things. Being able to move and interact with things helps your baby grow and develop.

Car Travel

In cold weather, instead of a bulky snowsuit, dress your baby in a lightweight jacket and hat and tuck in a blanket for warmth. Never allow your sleeping baby's head to be covered with a blanket, comforter, or quilt in bed or in a car safety seat. Pillows, blankets, and stuffed toys could cause a baby to suffocate or strangle.

  • When your baby is awake and quiet, jabbering, or looking around, sing or hum songs, or talk about what you are doing or where you are going. Your baby will learn to enjoy car travel because you make the ride fun. If your baby has a favorite blanket, place it within reach.
  • Carry 1 or 2 soft toys that just for use in the car. This helps decrease boredom. Your baby's attention span is very short. Don't expect your baby to stay occupied for more than a couple of minutes.
  • As your baby gets older, ignore yelling, screaming, and begging. The instant your baby is quiet, start talking or singing to your child again. Do not take your baby out of the safety seat because of crying. Try to take your baby out only when your baby is quiet and the car is not moving.
  • Do not have heavy or sharp objects in the car. A sudden stop can cause them to move and injure your baby or other passengers. Try to keep all loose packages in the trunk or secured in the back of the car.
  • Babies can get burns from hot seatbelts and harness buckles. Cover metal parts during hot weather.
  • Put shades on the windows in the back to protect your baby from bright sun. Don’t use a hood to protect your infant from the sun because it can reduce the airflow around your baby’s head and lead to overheating.
  • Make sure all doors are locked before staring the car. Teach your older baby never to play with doors and locks.
  • Before a long trip, be sure your baby is fed and freshly diapered. If you think your child needs feeding or a diaper change, try to stop before your child starts to fuss.
  • During longer trips, allow for frequent rest stops. Take your baby out of the car seat and place your baby on the back or tummy to relax muscles.
  • If your baby is going to travel in a different car with other drivers, make sure they use the safety seat, and make sure it is installed correctly.
  • Park where you can remove your baby from the car on the sidewalk side away from traffic.
  • Never leave a baby alone in a parked car even for a minute.
    • Heat stroke in babies and young children can happen in a matter of minutes, even if a window is rolled down.
    • The car can start rolling if a child plays with the controls.
    • A power window can choke a child if it goes up while your child is leaning out.
    • A child can get trapped in a car trunk while playing.

If your baby outgrows the child safety seat before your baby’s first birthday, use a convertible or 3-in-1 safety seat in the rear-facing position. These seats can be used 3 ways: rear-facing, forward-facing, or as a booster seat for older children. This kind of safety seat may be used longer by your child, but it is larger than an infant seat and does not have carrying handles. Children should ride in the rear seat of the car until age 13.

Read the directions that came with the seat or ask your healthcare provider when to switch to a toddler safety seat. School-aged children should ride in belt positioning booster seats until at least age 8 or until the regular seat belt fits correctly. It is against the law for a child to ride in the car without being securely buckled into a safety seat. It is against the law because it is very, very dangerous. Please do what is best for your child and use a safety seat during every car ride.

For questions about how to install and use your car seat, contact:

Developed by Change Healthcare.
Pediatric Advisor 2019.4 published by Change Healthcare.
Last modified: 2019-10-17
Last reviewed: 2019-10-17
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2018 Change Healthcare LLC and/or one of its subsidiaries
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