My Biggest Car Seat Mistake
I’m not a perfect parent. There is a boatload to learn and remember and keep track of, especially with the first kid. It’s easy to be misinformed or undereducated due to the vast number of things to learn as a new parent. This pertains to so many different parenting situations, but where I found I lacked the most education was when it came to car seats.
They come with an instruction manual the size of a dictionary, they have many moving components whose tasks aren’t always the most obvious, and all brands/types/styles vary – sometimes immensely – so generalizing or guessing aren’t necessarily safe options with these guys.
Shortly before my oldest was born, we purchased an infant car seat, the Chicco Keyfit 30. This car seat is magnificent. We have loved using it with both of our children and I will forever be an advocate of this incredibly popular infant seat. That being said, I definitely didn’t fully read the weight/height capacity information. That’s not true, I understood that there was a 30-pound weight limit, but had NO CLUE that there was also a height requirement. 30 inches. It never dawned on me that such a thing even existed. I did know that my son was allowed to turn around and face forward at age two, whether he reached 30 pounds or not (when he turned two he wasn’t quite 25 pounds). So that was the long-term plan: to keep my boy in his infant car seat until he turned two years old. For his second birthday, we got him a big boy car seat that faced forward. At that birthday checkup, he was 32 ¾ inches tall: nearly three inches taller than the car seat’s height capacity. If I had known and put him in a rear-facing convertible car seat at or shortly before he got to be 30 inches tall, he would’ve been around 13-16 months old. Which means he had been improperly buckled for almost an entire year. That’s half of his life!
Looking back, I don’t think I can blame this whole mishap on just overlooking the height restrictions. I think a large part of this was that I also had no idea about the convertible part of the convertible car seat. I had heard of a few friends turning their car seats around to face backwards but I thought that they were breaking the rules and improvising to keep their complaining kids happy out of an infant seat. I simply thought kids went from an infant car seat to a forward-facing big kid car seat. Hence the nonchalant reaction when my boy was clearly too big for his seat.
So even after it was established in my brain that convertible car seats are allowed to be both forward-facing seats AND rear-facing seats, it still didn’t dawn on me about my specific Chicco Keyfit 30 not being safe until much later. When the guy who helped us at the store sold us on this car seat, he kept going on and on about how big it was and how long a child could be kept in it. What he was referring to was the weight capacity jumping from 22 pounds to 30 pounds in the Keyfit 30. The height limit remained at 30 inches. But again, I didn’t know a height limit existed.
Now, fast-forward to my daughter who used the same infant seat. Her first birthday rolled around and at her birthday checkup, the pediatrician mentioned (as he did with my son) to keep a watch on the car seat weight and height limits. I figured I should look and make sure I had my facts straight (I think working for a baby store matured me a bit in that two-year-span). And sure enough, I had missed a big factor of my car seat’s safety. I had my daughter safely in a rear-facing convertible car seat when she reached 30 inches, just before she turned 18 months old.
She turns two next month, but I don’t foresee turning her around to face forward anytime soon. Reaching age two doesn’t automatically mean they have to turn around. Up until 2011, the standard time to turn a child to face forward was 1 year old and 20 pounds. Since 2011, it has been recommended to wait until age 2. But the most recent recommendation from both the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is to keep a child in rear-facing mode until they reach the rear-facing weight/height limits (this will be different from the forward-facing limits) of the car seat. This could mean using rear-facing mode until well over a child’s third, or even fourth, birthday!