Rob and I are not certified car seat experts and the information in this post is just about our personal experience. We are not qualified to offer car seat advice or teach you how to install a car seat, but safekids.org was highly recommended to us from multiple sources and it has proven to be a wealth of reliable safety information regarding car seats. This post also contains affiliate links. We receive a small commission each time someone makes a purchase through one of our links, which helps to support the blog (and our family!)
As we prepared for this crazy journey of parenthood, it felt like Rob and I lived in research mode. We read all the usual books (What to Expect, The Expectant Father, The Happiest Baby on the Block), spent hours researching highly-rated cribs on Consumer Reports, checked the EWG mobile app for safe baby care products, the list goes on and on. With all of that research, there remained one area that Rob and I felt completely out of our league: car seats. Like any first-time parents, we want the very best for our baby and safety is so important to us. Unfortunately, we had no idea where to begin or what to think about car seats.
Our first step was to turn to Consumer Reports, which led us to select the Graco Click Connect system, which had a great safety ranking, was a brand we were familiar with, and fell within our budget. It felt like such an accomplishment to finally select the all-important infant car seat. We registered for (and were gifted with) an all-in-one set which included a stroller, car seat base, and infant carrier (similar here), plus two additional base units.
As those car seat pieces sat in our basement, the overwhelming feeling returned. We had no idea how to install a car seat and once again felt entirely out of our league. We wanted to enlist the help of a safekids.org Certified Child Passenger Safety Technician, but again were at a loss since our local police station does not have a certified expert on staff. As luck would have it, one of my best friends works at the Oakland University Police Department. She texted me one day to let me know that when the time came to install our car seats, we could stop by the department because one of her Sergeants recently became certified through safekids.org. (I have since discovered an online database that helps parents to easily search for a local certified technician. It can be a little tricky to use the search tool. I had the most success inputting my county and state and leaving all other fields blank.)
Our own experience led us to the Oakland University Police Department in Rochester, Michigan to get expert assistance from Seargent Bradley Beldo.
Before we rolled up our sleeves and dove into car seat installation, we had a few forms to complete, which is standard practice for anyone seeking the help of a Certified Child Passenger Safety Technician through safekids.org. The information helps the organization learn more about the parents they are helping. We also completed the recall information forms for both of our car seat bases with Sgt. Beldo, who assured us he would drop them in the mail as soon as we were finished meeting with him. Those little pieces of paper are easy to overlook and put off for another day, but they are so important for notifying consumers about recall information. It was nice to know someone was taking care of that loose end for us.
From there, Sgt. Beldo calmly and patiently walked us through every bit of information we needed to safely and confidently install our infant car seat base and carrier, including the fact that there are multiple methods of safely installing an infant car seat base in our car.
Naturally, I wanted to choose the safest and best method so I asked Sgt. Beldo's advice. He explained that different brands of car seats and different car models may offer specific advice, so he flipped through the owner's manual of our car and the base unit to see if they offered any specific recommendations of LATCH system vs. seat belt installation.
Ultimately, we decided that seat belt installation was the best choice for our needs. Sgt. Beldo then proceeded to patiently explain and demonstrate everything we needed to know to securely fasten the infant car seat base unit in my car. He stopped any time I had a question (and you better believe I had a lot of questions along the way). Sgt. Beldo didn't mind one bit. After all, the goal of his certification is to help parents become knowledgable enough to safely, confidently and correctly install their own car seats after meeting with him.
When the demonstration was complete, he unlatched the car seat base and suddenly it was my turn. Let me tell you, car seat installation is a special kind of uncomfortable when you are 9 months pregnant. It was very difficult to pull the seat belt tight enough to ensure a secure fit, but I had enough knowledge to know when it was too loose and to seek the help of someone who actually had core strength (Rob) to help me fasten the belt securely.
I was even surprised to discover that infant carriers can securely be installed without a base unit. Once again, Sgt. Beldo walked us through the process for fastening the carrier in my car just in case we ever find ourselves without a base unit. This isn't a setup that I felt entirely comfortable with, but it is very good to know that if there is ever an emergency, we can safely transport the baby in a different car that might not have a base unit already installed.
Once Rob and I were confident in our abilities to install the base unit and infant carrier in my car, our attention shifted to Rob's vehicle. Out came the owner's manuals once again.
We had purchased a separate base unit for Rob's car that is completely compatible with our infant carrier. What we didn't know was that this particular base unit had a different design and slightly different installation instructions – which meant that we became experts at safely installing two different base units that night.
A certain someone was feeling pretty proud at this point.
Once the base units were installed and we knew everything there was to know about installing our car seat base units, Sgt. Beldo still had knowledge to share. He carefully instructed us about the infant carrier.
We learned how to how to safely secure our baby in the carrier and how to adjust the straps as our little one grows.
After absorbing all of that knowledge, we were deeply relieved and feeling pretty good! Learning how to install a car seat was a major item to finally cross off our baby to-do list and we were so thankful to have expert and patient guidance from Oakland University Police Department and Sergeant Bradley Beldo.
Which meant that this mom-to-be could finally rest easy.
The statistics are alarming when you hear how many car seats are incorrectly or improperly installed in vehicles. If you have any concerns about your own car seats (or if you are an expectant parent like us and want to install your car seats correctly from the start), I highly recommend checking out the Ultimate Car Seat Guide from safekids.org. It has answers to all of your car seat questions, tutorials for safe installation, and (even better yet) a national directory to help you easily locate a Certified Child Passenger Safety Technician who can personally examine your car seat's current installation or walk you step by step through the proper way to install a car seat in your vehicle.
Rob and I carry the most precious of cargo in our vehicles and she deserves the safest transport that we can possibly provide. The same is true for your children. Let's all do our part to keep those babies safe from harm.
Adorable photo credit goes to Lynsey Lou Photography.