A baby shower is such a fabulous event! They’re often full of brightly colored products that promise to make those sleepless nights and exhausting days with a new baby easier. These products speak loudly to friends and family who look forward to welcoming a new baby.
We know how important both sleep and quiet are, especially in the early months with a new Little, yet as CPSTs, some of the car seat accessories we see at baby showers make us cringe. As CPSTs and child passenger safety advocates, we approach those car seat accessories with an eye toward safety. We’ve compiled a short list of car seat accessories that we’d recommend against giving at any baby shower and paired them with products that we would welcome.
To start our list, let’s walk down a virtual car seat aisle at a baby store and look at the car seats and car seat-related accessories for sale there.
This is our favorite baby shower gift! New babies need a rear facing car seat. These seats come in two varieties — rear facing only bucket style seats that can be removed from the car with the child still in the seat and convertible or multimode car seats that remain installed in the car. Either option is just fine, our newborns in convertible car seats article has some tips on selecting a convertible or multimode car seat.
All of our favorite car seats are listed on our Recommended Seats page.
Parents who live in colder climates are often fans of buntings that go in the car seat. That way their little one stays nice and warm without having to wear extra layers for a car ride.
However, the “sleeping bag style” buntings that go into the seats have severe limitations. They may push the harness out of position, they may add slack into the harness system, and they may cause the child to be too warm in the car with the heater in use.
A different type that does not interfere is the “shower cap style.” This bunting doesn’t go in the seat, rather it has elastic that keeps it attached by going around the shell of the seat. The harness and baby are unaffected by its use, and it has a large opening so you can get to the baby, and help them stay at the correct temperature in the car. For an added bonus, with this style if you’d like to add lightweight blankets to the child over their appropriately snug harness you can, and the shower cap part of the bunting will keep the blankets from falling to the ground.
Giant, thick headrests such as the one seen here seem like they can add some support for a child’s head but they carry some safety risks. These accessories aren’t tested to the federal standards (FMVSS213, which covers car seats, does NOT have any guidelines for aftermarket products) so we just don’t know how it would perform in a crash.
Most of the work to keep the child’s airway open is done by the recline angle of the car seat itself — this added accessory interferes with that angle. This car seat’s manual, and manuals of all car seats, prohibit using additional inserts.
Receiving blankets are always a welcome gift! They come with so many other items and while they’re useful, it’s possible to wind up with a few extra. Here’s one way to put those extra blankets to use: roll two receiving blankets into sausage form and put one on either side of the baby for additional head support. Don’t put a blanket over the baby’s head, though!
Harness Strap Covers
The virtual car seat aisle includes a wide variety of cute and clever-looking harness strap covers. Some are puffy and thick for comfort, some have adorable animals, some are thin.
What they all share in common is that they cannot be used in the car seat. They can change the way the seat works in a crash — they may push the harness out of position, or move the chest clip too low.
If a car seat does not have harness strap covers, some manufacturers offer them for sale. Call the manufacturer to find out if your seat’s model has some available for sale. Another option is to pull the child’s clothing up between the harness and their neck to cover the harness strap.
Each manufacturer and each car seat has different rules about toys hanging from the handle of a seat and different rules around where the handle needs to be when the car seat is in the car. So when buying any toys that attach to the car seat’s handle, make sure they’re allowed by the specific car seat.
If the child’s car seat allows toys to be attached to the handle, we’d suggest lightweight, soft toys only. No plastic bars, nothing heavy because the toys could hit the child in the face during a crash.
Seat protectors for under the car seat may or may not be allowed. Generally, if the seat protector is made by the car seat company, it’s approved for use with the same brand of car seat. However, these mats are often not necessary and not allowed.
If a parent is concerned about their car’s leather seats, conditioning the leather every few months and leaving the car seat out overnight is a great way to keep the leather in good condition.
If a parent is intent on covering the vehicle’s seat and the car seat allows for it, we suggest using a thin towel underneath the car seat.
Some models of mirrors use batteries to power speakers and lights. The music and soothing lights on a mirror may offer the promise of some peace for the parent in the driver’s seat but we’d caution against mirrors for a few reasons: the more features on the mirror, the heavier it becomes, and the more likely it is to harm the child if it came loose during a crash.
We recognize that in some cases, parents find that a mirror is necessary. For parents who may have medically fragile rear facing children, or children who may be Deaf or mute, they’re practically a necessity. It’s that’s the case, our concern is around the mirror coming loose during a crash and hitting the child.
We’d suggest using a mirror selectively — only when the vehicle is stopped. When a driver’s eyes are distracted from the road, that poses a far greater risk to all the passengers in the vehicle than checking on the squawk of a Little who just found their voice. Our recommendation is a padded, lightweight, simple mirror that is not mounted on a stalk.
Brightly colored, heavy window shades that attach to the vehicle with suction cups or clips seem like a great idea. The kiddo can look at their favorite character or a pretty picture while being shielded from the sun. However, the suction cups don’t tend to stay on particularly well and the shade can become a harmful projectile when the adorable shade falls down in a crash or when the caregiver needs to brake suddenly.
Window clings are less bulky and more usable than window shades since you can often roll the window down using these. They’re darkened static cling plastic sheets. They can be cut to the custom shape of the area needed and even if they do come off in a crash, they are not a concern. Cloth window covers (often called “Window Socks”) that stretch over the entire top of the car’s door are also a light weight option. As an added bonus they allow the window to be rolled down while still blocking sun. Both these options are light weight enough that they are not a projectile risk.
When shopping for baby shower gifts, it’s important to remember two guidelines: first the car seat manual may have restrictions on many of these items, and second, some of them may not be ideal in their own right, even if they are allowed. Our major concerns as CPSTs are whether the item is going to be a dangerous projectile in a crash or if it is going to interfere with the installation of the car seat. But those aren’t simple issues: many products, such as a mirror, are not simply good or bad; technicians and parents alike are divided on their use.
If as a parent you receive something that isn’t safe in the car, remember that it may be perfect for your stroller, baby carrier straps, or high chair. So it may not be trash, but it may not be used as the giver intended.