Installing a car seat for a newborn

Becoming a parent is one of life's major milestones, and it comes with a lot of new responsibilities. Providing safe transportation for your new arrival is one of those responsibilities, and it starts with the installation of a newborn car seat in your vehicle. Numerous types are on the market, but the installation process is largely the same for most of them.

Get in the back

Not only is the front passenger airbag incredibly dangerous for a newborn in a car seat, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also recommends you install baby's car seats in the back and facing the rear of the vehicle. Most states make it mandatory for your child to remain in a rear-facing seat for at least the first year.

Most vehicles manufactured since 2002 are built with the "lower anchors and tethers for children" system, usually abbreviated as LATCH. You can secure the car seat properly with anchors or with only the vehicle seat belt, whichever best suits your vehicle and specific car seat. You don't use the upper tether with a rear-facing seat.

Using LATCH anchors

You'll find the lower LATCH anchors in between the seat cushions of most cars, or occasionally at the side of the seat facing the door. After you locate the anchors, loosen the mounting straps on the sides of the car seat so they reach the anchors easily. Clip the straps into the anchors and tighten them enough to remove most of the slack. Next, position the seat so the front of the baby car seat rests firmly against the seat and seat back. Press down on the seat and tighten the straps on each side equally in stages, so the seat remains in its proper position and isn't pulled one way or the other. When it's snug enough to move less than an inch in any direction, you're done.

Using a seat belt

Place the infant seat on the back seat of your vehicle and position it firmly at the place where the seat cushion meets the seat back. Pull out the seat belt and thread it through the infant seat's designated seat belt slots. Make sure the belt has no twists, which can keep it from securing the seat properly. Clip the seat belt into its buckle and then lock the belt. (Check the owner's manual for your vehicle, if you're not certain how to lock the belt). Press down firmly on the infant seat and tighten the belt until you can't wiggle it an inch in any direction.

Note that you may need to use your body weight on the car seat as you tighten the restraining straps or seat belt. This will help compress the vehicles seat's upholstery so you can tighten the straps securely with less effort. Also, after the seat is properly secured, adjust its back to a setting that's appropriate for your infant's age and development. Most brands and models have clearly marked settings.

Making it personal

Some details of the installation may be different for you, depending on your exact vehicle, the make and model of your car seat, and the laws of the state where you live. Before you start, take a few moments to review the owner's manual for your vehicle, the instructions that came with the baby seat, and your state's pertinent laws.

If you want to be certain your seat is properly secured, you can have it inspected at little or no cost by a trained technician. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Parents Central website offers a searchable database of inspection stations for all states. You can also register your car seat with the NHTSA and automatically receive any recall or safety notices that affect the specific make and model you own.

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