Sleeping NewbornAround here, we’re all about helping families experience a safe and healthy transition into parenthood. We love babies, and bringing them into the world is a great part of what we do–and we care about their safety. And one of the best ways to keep your newborn safe is with a properly installed infant car seat.

As a nurse, I’ve helped many confused parents try to make sense of these strap-heavy contraptions. It can be tricky that’s for sure. I’ve also seen many more parents make mistakes like using a very (very) old car seat or just slinging the lap belt across it and heading home. An incorrectly utilized car seat can mean big trouble for your little bundle in an accident so take these steps to protect your baby:

1. Never use a car seat with a shady past. Car seats actually do have expiration dates. If you are using a borrowed or second-hand one, check underneath the seat for a date and don’t use it if it’s expired. Also keep in mind that any seat that has been through an accident–even a small one–should be replaced. If you aren’t sure of a seat’s history, buy a new one instead.

2. Secure the base. Car seats with a base or main unit that secures into the back seat is best. The base should be tightly secured to the frame of the seat and should not wiggle from side to side. If you are uncertain about how to anchor your base, many fire departments or health departments will install your seat for free. Just call ahead and ask.

3. Buckle up, buttercup. It can be tempting to strap your baby in loosely–letting the straps over their shoulders hang. But in reality a loose strap means a flopping baby during an impact so resist the urge to leave them loose and allow only one inch of space (about the width of two fingers) between the shoulder strap and your baby’s body. Also make sure that the center chest clip is level with your child’s armpits and isn’t over the abdomen. Clips that are too low can cause internal injuries during a crash.

4. Topsy-turvy dangers. New car seats come with a level on the side of the seat that shows when the seat is positioned properly from front to back. Seats that are tipping too far forward (or toward the trunk of the car) can lower baby’s oxygen levels and compress restrict their airway. If necessary, place a rolled towel or even a fun noodle under one end of the seat’s base to make it level.

5. Stay rear-facing longer. I know it’s hard trying to take care of a baby in a rear-facing car seat. What was that sound they just made? Is he asleep yet? I can’t see her smile. But trust me and avoid the temptation to move your baby forward-facing too soon. Experts recommend that babies remain rear facing until they are 2 years old or 35 pounds–whichever comes first.

You can locate a car seat safety installation and inspection site in your area by visiting’s website.