Jennifer Beall Saxton is the founder and CEO of Tot Squad – a service that offers cleaning, installation and repair of car seats and strollers at different retail locations daily through Southern California and New York City.  With a team of certified Child Passenger Safety Technicians, Tot Squad is committed to the safety, health and well being of children.  Named a “red-hot” franchise concept by CNBC last year, Tot Squad aims to expand nationwide and come to the rescue of busy parents everywhere.   

Bringing Baby Home

By Jennifer Beall Saxton

Congratulations!  You are in the home stretch of your baby’s arrival.  You have your bags packed, your birth plan in place and your nursery ready for baby’s arrival.  But what about your car seat? 


TIP: Don’t wait to install that car seat until the last minute!  With as many as 3 of 4 car seats incorrectly installed, you don’t want to take any chances. 


There are two types of car seats for newborn babies: 1) an infant car seat or 2) a convertible car seat, as long as your baby meets the minimum weight and height requirement.  Both must be installed in the rear-facing position for infants.  The main difference between an infant car seat and a convertible one is that an infant car seat comes in two parts, the base remains installed in the car and the infant seat can be snapped in and out of the base.  It usually has a handle and is lightweight for easy transportation of your sleeping baby.  A convertible car seat has a higher weight and height maximum and can be turned to face rear or forward (when they are older and reach the height/weight requirements), but is designed to be stationary in the car.


Before you begin, pull out both the car seat instruction manual AND your vehicle owner’s manual.  Every seat and vehicle is different, so you want to be sure you are installing your seat correctly and in the best location.


First, ensure a tight installation of your infant seat base or convertible car seat – it should not move more than 1 inch from the belt path in any direction when installed correctly.  You can use LATCH (stands for Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) or the seat belt to install the base/seat, but not both.  If you are using the LATCH system of the car, be sure it is in an approved location in the car.  Many cars have at least two LATCH locations in the rear area, but not always 3. 


Getting a tight installation can often be tricky. Be sure to move the front seat up so you have plenty of room to work in the rear passenger area.  Once you have secured the base/seat with either LATCH or the seat belt, you need to remove any slack on the belt or LATCH straps by bracing either your knee or foot in the base/seat for leverage.  We suggest putting your knee or foot on the right of the base /seat and then on the left, to tighten both sides as much as possible.  With LATCH, you can often reduce belt slack by pulling straps from inside the seat than outside. See video for demonstration.


If you are having trouble, most manufacturers offer videos online for specific models and the NHTSA’s site offers installation videos for every type of seat, rear and forward facing.  If you still cannot get a tight installation, get help at an Inspection Station Location near you.  Certified CPSTs (Child Passenger Safety Technicians) will check your car seat and show you how to correctly use and install it.      


Once you have the base/seat properly installed and you are ready to bring baby home, make sure he or she is securely strapped in.  Do not dress your baby in anything bulky – blankets and jackets should be placed over the harness so that the child is snugly strapped in.  The shoulder straps should begin from just below their shoulders and then tightened so that you cannot pinch the strap material vertically between two fingers.  The chest clip should fall at armpit level.  Be sure blankets or jackets do not restrict baby’s airway.  For an infant seat, once you attach the car seat to its base, be sure to lower the carrying handle to the recommended position.  Do not place any objects in or near the baby’s seat, as these can become flying projectiles in the event of an accident. 


It can be nerve wracking when you take that little bundle home for the first time, so practice using a doll or large stuffed animal so you are confident in taking baby in and out of seat, as well as adjusting, tightening, and loosening straps.


That’s it – you’re ready to take baby home!  Good luck and drive safely.