Any parent with a young child knows installing a car seat can be confusing and complicated.
Are the straps in the right place? Is it tight enough? Are some seats safer than others?
Those are questions Ann-Marie Matkea, an Edmonton, Alta., mother struggled with when her son Oliver was an infant.
That was pre-COVID, and Matkea said she was able to test different seats in her vehicle before buying — she also went to a car seat clinic for peace of mind.
“With the baby seat it was quite stressful,” recalled Matkea. “It took some time to figure out, you know, how tight to get it, make sure it was at the right angle.
“So I had someone make sure my car seat was installed correctly.
“That was a really big lifesaver for me,” added Matkea.
Those in-person clinics have been put on hold during the pandemic.
St. John Ambulance would typically host a number of sessions each year and lately it’s not just first-time parents calling and asking for installation tips. Grandparents also want to make sure they are keeping their grandkids safe.
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“It’s definitely an ongoing concern,” said Stacey Savage, manager of training and community services at St. John Ambulance Alberta Council. “A lot has changed in the last 20 years.”
Savage said anyone second guessing their car seat installation can go to myhealth.alberta.ca and search “car seats.”
St. John Ambulance is also teaming up with Knowledge First Financial, an RESP company, to host a virtual car seat clinic on Thursday, June 10, 2021.
You can sign up for the free clinic online.
Michael Traynor, a sales manager with Knowledge First Financial, said in working with young families, the company wanted to make sure parents still have access to baby health and safety information during the pandemic.
He said one of his company’s own bosses struggled with installing a car seat.
“I’ve seen people literally come apart trying to install a car seat,” said Traynor.
There are some key things to remember, said Savage: refer to your vehicle’s owner manual to find out the proper anchorage points and make sure the seat doesn’t move back and forth.
Savage said once the straps are secure, “rock it side to side.” She said it shouldn’t move more than an inch.
“Lost of people just pull it snug so the straps are tight, but they don’t actually secure it and push it down into the vehicle,” Savage explained.
“It should leave some indentations into the seat.”
Savage stressed towels or other products should never be placed under a car seat to protect leather seats and after-market covers should not be used to line the inside of a seat.
“It doesn’t give that secure grip.”
Bulky jackets and snowsuits also separate the child from the seat.
“We want the seatbelt nice and snug to their body, right to their clothing,” Savage said.
“What we recommend is take the snowsuits off before we put them into the car seat, and then put blankets on top of them once they’re inside the vehicle in the car seat.”
Savage said buckle placement is critical for safety too. For babies, the buckle should be snug across the chest in line with the armpits.
“Too high or too low, we risk damaging organs if there’s a collision.”
As a child ages out of a rear and front-facing car seat, a booster seat is the next step. That progression, said Savage, depends on the individual child.
She stressed if using a seatbelt, it should not rest on a child’s neck and must be secure over the hips.
“Ultimately it comes down to, can they sit in the seat properly where the actual seatbelt comes across their hips. We don’t want it coming across their belly, we don’t want it sitting down on their thighs, it needs to come across their actual hips and their pelvis,” said Savage.
Savage also urged families to keep their child in a booster seat if the child is not able to sit in a car without rearranging the seatbelt.
Matkea’s son Oliver is now in a front-facing car seat. She has relied on family to take a second look at the installation and said transferring that seat to other vehicles has been much easier than the infant car seat.
“I never took it out of the car. I just kept it in one car,” laughed Matkea. “We took that car everywhere!”