Car seats were completely a mystery to me until today. This morning I met with a "child passenger safety consultant" from Children's Hospital. I thought it would be a quick 15 minute appointment, but it ended up taking almost an hour to go through the safety checklist. Here are the major things I learned.
1. Car seats are HUGE and need a lot of space: The most important advice I'd have for new parents is to go to Babies r Us or another store where they let you try out car seats to make sure they fit in your car! I realized during installation, just how little space there is in the back of a VW golf. Even with just an infant car seat (our friends loaned us a Graco), which is supposed to be the smallest kind of car seat, I had to move both front seats up. I'm only 5 feet tall, and my driver's seat position was back to far for the car seat...yikes!
2. A lot of things can void your car seat's "safety": I also learned that as popular as the Kiddopotamus snuzzler is, it isn't appropriate for use in a car seat, since it wasn't designed or crash tested by the car seat manufacturers. However, it is okay to use rolled up blankets on either side of baby's head and a rolled up washcloth between the crotch portion of the harness and the baby's legs because they don't count as "inserts" that could interfere with how the car seat is designed to work.
3. It's important to pull all the straps tightly: Attaching the car seat base with the seat belt, was NOT as simple as clicking the buckle. I had to make sure the seat belt was set to "lock/ratchet" mode. Then, I had to hold the car seat down in the center and and tighten the seat belt close to the buckle as much as I could. Once the baby is in the 5-point harness, you also have to tighten the harness so that it is so snug that you can't pinch any slack straps at their shoulders. (There's also a hidden button that helps you easily loosen the harness when taking the baby out.)
4. Car seats expire: The car seat manufacturers claim the materials they are made of wear out after about 6 years.