how to strap a newborn into a car seat
Newborns are best protected when travelling by a car seat approved from birth (Group 0), that is specifically designed for the unique and delicate postural needs of a newborn, with adequate recline and padding.
Using an infant car seat is the first step towards keeping your baby safe in the car. Correctly installing it and strapping your baby in securely is equally important. Even if you buy the safest possible car seat for your baby, if it's not fitted or used correctly, it won't be able to perform as it was designed in a crash.
The first time that you buckle your baby into the car seat will be when you are being discharged home from hospital. Read our guide below so that you are well prepared for your baby’s first journey home.
Here are some important facts and steps to ensure you keep your baby as safe as possible while travelling in the car.
1. read the manual
The best way to ensure that you use your car seat correctly is to read the manual! The manual contains vital information that you need to be aware of in order for the car seat to perform optimally in a crash. The manual will advise where the car seat may be installed in the car and it will instruct you on how to install it correctly. It will also tell you how to adjust the car seat to fit your baby properly. Do not improvise or go against anything stated in the manual. Most European manufacturers do not allow any kind of adjustments or additions such as using a pool noodle to recline it, so be careful not to do anything that is not explicitly stated in the manual.
2. INSTALL THE CAR SEAT CORRECTLY
All European car seats must have 3 points of contact with the seatbelt or vehicle anchors. The car seat can either be installed with the vehicle's 3-point seatbelt, or with isofix. ALWAYS read your particular car seat's manual before installing the car seat.
a) SECURING THE CAR SEAT TO THE VEHICLE
Correct installation of an infant seat used without a base:
When installing an infant car seat without a base, using only the seatbelt, the seatbelt makes a snake-like pattern once routed correctly called Serpentine Routing.
Place the car seat on the vehicle bench with the baby facing backwards. You will see blue seatbelt guides on the car seat; 2 over the front of the seat and 1 at the back of the seat. Route the lapbelt of the seatbelt through the 2 seatbelt guides in the front of the seat i.e. where the baby’s legs/lap would go. Buckle the seatbelt in.
Pull the seatbelt nice and tight, then route the shoulder belt around the back of the car seat and through the blue seatbelt guide at the back of the car seat, making sure there are no twists in the seatbelt. Pull out any slack in the seatbelt to get it in securely. You can watch our video HERE on how to install a car seat using the seatbelt.
Correct installation of an infant seat with an ISOfix base: Attach the 2 ISOfix anchors to the vehicles ISOfix brackets and make sure the indicators turn green. Push the base into the vehicle backrest to tighten it. Drop the load leg until it makes full contact with the floor and the indicator turns green. Click the car seat onto the base and check that the indicator turns green. If you are using an ISOfix base, you should not use the seatbelt as well.
For an infant seat being used with a belted base:
Route the seatbelt through the base as indicated by the manual. If a load leg is present, lower it until it makes full contact with the floor. Check that all indicators are green.
*Note that load legs may not be installed over underfloor storage compartments. Contact your vehicle dealership to order an approved filler, if you have underfloor storage compartments. Alternatively, buy a car seat without a load leg.
3. PUT THE HANDLE BAR IN THE UPRIGHT POSITION.
The handle bar acts as a rollbar in a crash, and prevents the car seat hitting into the backrest of the car. Check your manual for the correct position it should be in.
4. RECLINE ANGLE
Infants have poor head control and are at risk of positional asphyxiation if their car seat is too upright. The correct recline angle for a baby without head control is approximately 45 degrees. If your car seat is too upright, you can try installing it without the base (if you are using one) to get a more reclined position.
If the car seat is still too upright, some manufacturers permit you to tilt the car seat backwards very slightly after the seatbelt has been tightened around it first. But please check this with your manufacturer before doing this.
5. CHECKING FOR MOVEMENT
Up to 1 inch (2.5cm) of movement is permitted. You can check this by giving the car seat a firm shake at the belt path or near the ISOfix points with your non-dominant hand. Do not be alarmed if it moves more at the headrest. Car seats will move more at the top of the car seat, but they should not move more than an inch at the belt path/ISOfix points.
6. ADJUSTING THE HARNESS AND HEADREST
Please refer to your manual for instructions on how to adjust the headrest and harness to the correct height. For rear facing car seats, the harness must be at or just below the shoulders. The bottom of the headrest should usually be in line with the bottom of the baby’s ears, and the head should be less than an inch below the top of the headrest.
7. TIGHTENING THE HARNESS
Before you place your baby in the car seat, loosen the harness out, place your baby’s bottom to the back of the car seat and then put their arms though the straps and fasten the buckle. You should hear an audible click to be sure that it has latched properly.
If you have a 5-point harness, pull the slack out at the hips, so that the harness fits snuggly over the thighs/hips. Then tighten the harness and repeat, until you cannot fit more than one finger between the harness and your baby’s collarbone. You can also test the tightness but ensuring you are unable to pinch the webbing of the harness.
A loose harness can cause a baby to be ejected out the car seat in a crash and it can also result in dangerous head flop as well as older babies from being able to escape out the harness when they are older. Watch our video below on how to buckle your baby in securely.
8. AVOIDING HEAD FLOP
If you have installed the car seat correctly and strapped your baby in as per the steps above and your baby’s head flops forward, this needs to be correctly immediately. Babies under 6 months are at risk of positional asphyxiation if their head were to flop forward in a car seat (or a swing, carrier, bouncer, pram etc.) as they lack the head control to lift their head up to open their airway. You can read more on positional asphyxiation in our comprehensive article here.
If your baby has too much space in the car seat and inadequate postural support, do not use any infant inserts that are not manufactured and crash tested by your car seat manufacturer. These infant supports, although freely available in many stores, are unregulated and may interfere with the car seat’s harness in a crash.
A safer alternative to infant supports is using tightly rolled receiving blankets as they do not interfere with the harness when used correctly. Car seat techs permit the use of two tightly rolled receiving blankets and positioning them on either side of your baby, AFTER you’ve strapped him/her in securely. If there is a gap between your baby’s nappy and the buckle, car seat technicians recommend rolling a receiving blanket tightly and placing it under the baby’s legs and between the nappy and buckle. Some car seat techs advise that you can also roll a receiving blanket and place it around the top of the head in a halfmoon shape to reduce the side-to-side movement of the head.
HOWEVER, please be aware that this can pose a suffocation risk if your baby were to turn their head into the blanket and it were to cover their mouth/nose. Your baby must be monitored closely if you do roll a receiving blanket around the top of their heads
a) NO BULKY OR PUFFY CLOTHING
Dressing your baby in a puffy or bulky onesie or coat is dangerous as it creates a gap between your baby and the harness. In a collision, the clothing would compress and the harness will not be tight enough to restrain them. This can result in a baby being ejected from the car seat.
Remove their coats and jackets when you get to the car and pull the harness tight enough that you can just get one finger between the shoulder and the straps. It would be better to place a jersey on backwards over your baby or tucking a blanket snuggly over your baby after strapping them in securely, ensuring that the blanket cannot become loose and pose a potential suffocation hazard.
b) NO AFTERMARKET ACCESSORIES
It is not recommended that any additional accessories be used that are not made by your car seat’s manufacturer. These items include infant head or body pillows and supports, padded harness covers, pool noodles/towels to recline the seat (unless explicitly approved by your manufacturer), custom made covers, chest clips, head straps, sleeping bags or car seat blankets . These products will not have been crash tested with your particular car seat and may interfere with the car seat’s harness or the seatbelt, and can cause the car seat to fail in a crash.
c) LIMIT THE TIME BABY IS IN THE CAR SEAT
It is not safe to leave babies under 4 weeks in car seats for longer than 30 minutes or children under 2 years for longer than 2 hours, due to the increased risk of positional asphyxiation. Positional asphyxiation occurs when a baby’s head falls forward to their chest, and they do not have sufficient head control to lift their heads back up. This restricts the airway and the lack of oxygen to the brain can result in brain damage and eventual death. It is advised to take your baby out the car seat for regular breaks if you are on a long journey, or using the car seat on a pram, to allow your baby to kick and move and thus improve circulation.
d) DON'T PUT A BABY IN A CAR SEAT ON THE TROLLEY /FLOOR /COUCH /COUNTER /BED.
It is also not safe to place a baby in the car seat on the trolley/floor/couch/table/bed etc. for risk of asphyxiation, especially when the harness is loosened, as well as the risk of falling.
e) REDUCE PROJECTILES IN THE CAR
Any loose objects in the cabin can become airborne in a crash and can be a potential projectile. Avoid using any hard toys, tablets or bottles/cups in the car, as they may become projectiles in a crash and cause severe injuries. If your car has a cover over the boot it is strongly advised that you use it, to prevent prams, luggage etc. hitting into your passengers. Alternatively, you can use a cargo net or cargo straps to secure loose, heavy items in your boot.
We hope that this article has helped give you a crash course in infant car seats and how to use them correctly.
WHAT TO DO WITH A CRASHED SEAT
If your car seat has been determined to be unsafe, one thing you should NOT do is donate it or sell it. The idea that it is better than nothing is not correct. The manufacturers set limits on their seats, after extensive and expensive testing. If they no longer guarantee a seat will work to save a child’s life, please don't take the chance. No child then deserves that seat.
Some people may see your car seat in the dustbin and may try to salvage it, so you must actively protect the now useless seat against either well-meaning recyclers or dumpster divers.
You can leave it at any Renault Dealership in Gauteng or any InspectaCar nationwide in South Africa for Wheel Well to collect. Please mark it clearly that it has been in an accident and should not be used again. They will dispose of it properly, by recycling the plastic parts and making it unusable by anyone else by cutting the straps and removing any detachable parts. They donate the covers to animal shelters to use as blankets.