Remember how nervous you were bringing your brand-new baby home? How you and your partner fretted over every bump in the road and gave the stink eye to any car that got within six feet of yours? How you wanted this maiden voyage -- and every one after that -- to be smooth, easy and, most importantly, safe?
Turns out, that first trip home from the hospital is often anything but, reports Today.com. According to a new study presented Friday at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Pediatrics, a whopping 93 percent of parents make at least one major error when installing their car seat or securing baby in it -- and that's before they've even left the hospital parking lot. The most common mistakes? A too-loose harness (68 percent), a too-low retainer clip (33 percent), and the wrong harness slot (28 percent). Meanwhile, in almost 70 percent of cases, there were issues with both baby's positioning and the car seat installation.
The study, led by Dr. Benjamin Hoffman, a professor of pediatrics at the Doernbecher Hospital at the Oregon Health and Science University, involved 267 randomly selected moms and babies who were in the hospital's mother-baby unit between November 2013 and May 2014. As the women -- or a third party -- installed the car seat and placed the newborn in it, a certified child passenger safety technician watched and took notes of any mistakes. (The tech helped fix the errors before the new families drove away.)
As Dr. Hoffman points out, it's all too easy for exhausted, overwhelmed new parents who have never actually used a car seat before to make some mistakes at first. "If you wanted to create the perfect storm for misuse, this would be it," Dr. Hoffman said. "You take the most vulnerable person you could, a newborn, and the most vulnerable of caretakers, a family that has just had a baby, and you just take them to the door and just say good luck."
But as any mom or mom-to-be knows, a car seat is only as good as its installation and use. That's why Dr. Hoffman, himself a car seat technician, offered a slew of tips for rookie parents. They include: tightening the harness so you can't pinch any slack between your fingers in the harness webbing; keeping the chest clip level with your baby's armpit; adjusting the car seat at the correct angle; and securing the car seat with either a seat belt or lower anchors -- but not both, unless your manufacturer says so. (You should also check out our car seat safety check article for more pointers.)
Of course, if you're unsure -- or too wiped out come the third trimester -- you can always ask a car seat safety technician to inspect your handiwork or do the job for you. Each year, Safe Kids Coalition sponsors more than 8,000 free car seat safety events around the country, where on-hand experts will teach you the basics of installation and use. Or you can check the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)'s online directory of car seat inspection stations. The peace of mind you'll get during that first trip home is priceless.
Tell us: Did you install the car seat yourself or did you ask someone else to do it for you?
Image of baby in a carseat courtesy of Shutterstock