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Ask Joanne

Preparing your car for a baby on board Add to ...

I’m pregnant and thinking about getting my car baby-ready. What do I need to know? – Yvette in Richmond Hill, Ont.

Many first-time parents learn the finer aspects of tot transportation the hard way – whether it’s neglecting to pack enough wet wipes or forgetting to plan a journey around feedings and diaper changes.

To prepare for a child, and for your own safety, de-clutter your vehicle. A laptop, sports equipment, even a purse or diaper bag could become a projectile in a sudden stop or collision and injure a young child. If you have a purse or bag, place it down under the seat, and remove all but the softest items from the vehicle cabin.

Purchase a car seat early. You don’t want to discover that it’s incompatible with your vehicle a week before the stork arrives. This will also give you plenty of time to read over the seat manual. Make sure to check the expiry date, which is usually embedded in the plastic.

Safety experts strongly advise against a used car seat, because you don’t know if it’s been involved in a collision. Even if it looks undamaged, a car seat that’s been in a collision should not be re-used as the structural integrity has been compromised.

What about extra gadgets to help make your journey with a baby easier? For example, some parents place mirrors in the rear seat so they can see their rear-facing child’s face.

“When purchasing your car seat, don’t be tempted to purchase any add-on products. Things like mirrors so you can see the baby better, little cushions, etc. – none of those were tested with the car seat, and they may impact its performance. That’s an important point,” says Kristen Gane, manager of programs at Safe Kids Canada.

When installing the car seat for the first time, take your time. If you’re struggling and don’t feel confident, attend a clinic. “On our website [SafeKidsCanada.ca], we list all of the car seat clinics in Canada that we’re aware of, so you can find one in your neighbourhood. Car seat technicians will take a look at your seat and tell you if it’s been done properly, or what you can do to improve on the installation. That way, when your baby arrives, you’re all set and feeling comfortable,” says Gane.

Chances are you’ll likely transport your child in more than one vehicle. “If there are two parents who drive in different vehicles and the child needs to be transferred, or perhaps a grandparent who transports the child, a decision needs to be made: do you have the time and confidence to move the seat frequently, or is it better to purchase more than one?,” says Gane.

“The child must always be in a car seat, so this is something to consider ahead of time. If you’ve had lots of practice and are good at installing, then by all means use just one. But if you think it’s going to be a problem, it’s worth the investment to purchase another.”

When it comes to car travel, another consideration applies specifically to newborns. According to a study published in 2007 by researchers at McGill University, due to their heavy heads and relatively weak necks, children under one month of age are at risk of breathing difficulties while in car seats. The experts recommend that these very young children spend no more than one hour at a time in a car seat. Once your baby reaches one month of age, the risk is significantly reduced.

These are some key considerations for a new parent, but what about looking ahead to toddler-hood? “One thing we strongly stress is that children are much better protected when they’re rear-facing,” says Gane.

“Don’t be tempted to transition your child forward-facing too soon. Although some parents don’t like this because it’s not as easy to see the child when they’re rear-facing, it’s by far the most protected mode for children to be in. We strongly suggest you buy a car seat that will take your child to the highest height and weight that you can find, so they can stay rear-facing the longest,” says Gane.

The experts also recommend that children ride in the back seat until they’re at least 12. “Passengers in the back seat are so much better protected; the research is outstanding on this issue,” says Gane.

Remember to make sure the car seat is properly installed, and ensure there are no unsecured objects inside your vehicle. If you don’t already have one, you might consider acquiring a GPS to eliminate the hassle of dealing with road maps, and perhaps add some baby-soothing music to your journey. Oh, and don’t forget to enjoy your last moments of uninterrupted sleep, and driving.

E-Mail Ask Joanne at globedrive@globeandmail.com


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