factsheet: in the car
By law, you must always restrain your baby in an appropriate car seat whenever they travel in a car. The first car seat you buy should be ‘rear facing’ – that means that your baby is facing the back of the seat when strapped in. Remember that a newborn baby can’t support its head and must never be restrained in a forward facing car seat.
In case your baby is early, you should aim to buy the first car seat at least four weeks before your due date because you won’t be allowed to bring your baby home from the hospital without one.
If you leave your baby with someone else remember to leave the car seat as well. In an emergency, your baby can’t be taken anywhere in the car if the car seat is still in the back of your Nissan Micra. Make sure they know how to secure the car seat and remind them about the dangers of airbags. When you’ve told them what to do, tell them again and check that they can definitely put the car seat in properly. They will probably be offended but they will get over it. Checking up is for their protection too – they would be devastated if your baby was hurt in their care.
Every car seat should have a weight guide, ‘from newborn to 10kg’ for example. It is there for your baby’s protection so make sure you follow it. Move up to the next size as soon as you need to and never carry your baby in a car seat it has outgrown.
Never, ever buy a second hand car seat even if you know where it came from. A car seat that has been in an accident may be badly damaged and unsafe without showing any obvious signs. Also, mums have a habit of taking car seats to pieces so they can wash the various baby stains off the covers. Putting them back together can be a bit like the Krypton Factor and, even though it looks like it did before, it could be unsafe. Don’t take anyone’s word for it – buy a new one and know that your baby is safe
Car seats are not cheap by anyone’s standards so make sure you get the right one for your car. All cars are designed differently – seats are different shapes and sizes and some seatbelts are shorter than others. Before you buy anything try it in your car – both of them if your partner has one too. Ask the assistant to show you how to secure it properly and make sure it is a suitable fit. Make sure you try it in the front and back seats and if your car hasn’t got rear doors check that you can manoeuvre it easily into the back when the front seat is folded down. If your car doesn’t have rear seat belts get them fitted by a professional.
Never put a rear facing car seat in a seat protected by an air bag. The very fact that your baby is facing the back of the seat makes it lethal. If there is an accident and the air bag is triggered your baby will be forced face-first into the back of the seat.
You can have your air bags deactivated by the car dealer if you want. This can invalidate or affect the terms of your warranty though, so check before you do it. It is also worth checking with your car insurance company because removing the air bag could be classed as a modification to the vehicle’s standard design. If you don’t tell them and you have an accident they may be able avoid paying the claim.
You don’t like bright sunlight shining in your eyes when you’re driving and neither does your baby. Also, babies can get sunburnt during a car journey – even through the window. It is worth getting a sun shield which attaches to the side window with suckers.
The majority of people will remember to wear seatbelts and restrain their children properly but they still let their family dog sit on the back seat or in the boot of their estate. Most dogs weigh more than a small child does and sometimes as much as an adult. If you have an accident and your pet is unrestrained they can do a lot of damage to you and your baby as they are forced forward by the impact. It won’t do your dog much good either.
- Before you buy a car seat, consider how comfortable it will be to carry. You will probably carry your baby around in the car seat instead of a buggy or pram during the early weeks so find one that suits you. You’ll be surprised by how much it weighs when your baby is in it. Put a bag of shopping in it and carry the lot round the shop for ten minutes to see what it feels like. There are many different designs and types of carrying handles so you should be able to find one which doesn’t cut into your arms or bruise your legs!
- Drum it in to everyone who takes care of your baby that they must never be taken in a car without a car seat. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been told ‘it’s only down the road just put them on your lap – it’ll be alright’. In my experience the culprits tend to be grandparents and people in that age group. They mean well but they don’t realise how dangerous it is because they were never required to do it themselves