Leaving the hospital with a baby in a convertible car seat. Can I do that?
A very common question that Child Passenger Safety Technicians are asked is whether or not new parents can take their baby home in a convertible car seat. They’ve heard that hospitals require a rear facing only seat and they won’t be allowed to go home; or that convertible car seats are used when the child outgrows their rear facing only car seat and can’t be used from birth. Some parents-to-be have been unhelpfully and incorrectly informed by pediatricians, or employees at baby stores, that it is illegal to use a convertible from birth (I know I have!).
What are the laws? In all 50 states, DC, and in Canada children must use a car seat. For a newborn, zero states/provinces require a rear facing only seat. None. Some states/provinces have a law that children must be rear facing until one year and 20 pounds. Other states/provinces simply say to use an appropriate seat while others require that a seat must be properly used (or some combination of these three). But no matter the wording of the law, absolutely no states/provinces require a rear facing only seat.
What if the hospital says you cannot leave with a convertible because their policy is that a child must be carried down from the maternity ward in a rear facing only seat? I’d be surprised if their policy actually specified a rear facing only car seat (a seat with a handle that can be removed from the car) versus a rear facing convertible car seat (that would generally stay installed in the car). Since many caregivers do use rear facing only seats, the nurses may simply expect that you’d want to use one too. One way to satisfy the hospital’s requirements is by offer to have your spouse or partner carry the child to the car, or bring the convertible up to show the nurse before you leave. But most of the time the concern is that a mother who is shaky after her ordeal should not drop a child, and if she does the child is protected. This is not a legal requirement, simply a hospital policy.
Even if the policy does state a rear facing only seat, legally they have no ground to stand on to keep you from taking your baby home. The child is yours and you can walk out at any time. As difficult as it is as a new parent (regardless of the number of children you have, you are a new parent again), keep calm. “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by ignorance,” to paraphrase Hanlon’s Razor. Most nurses are not trained in car seats. This means they don’t know what seats are ok and they don’t know if your seat is installed properly.
Unfortunately, even if they ARE, many legal departments are standing in the way of accepting liability of allowing nurses on staff to adjust a child in a seat or the seat in the car. It’s really a bad position in which they stand, since they either have no clue, or if they do, there’s nothing they can do to make changes. So don’t attack a nurse verbally if you can avoid it (I would never tell a brand new mother that she’s over-reacting, we’ve all been there, but try hard to keep yourself in check). Know your rights. You can take your child home legally in any seat in which they properly fit and is properly installed. The hospital cannot legally hold your child. If things are escalating further than really they should, call the police. Ask them to escort you out of the building to your car. It will not endear you to the hospital staff, so this should not be done lightly, but if you feel very much that you cannot leave and you know that legally you can, this is a good last step.
And just in time to go to print (4/27/15), the AAP has released a new policy on releasing a mother/child pair from the hospital. It discusses the health of the child and mother, the ability of the mother to care for the child, and then harbors this fantastic line as a criterium before the discharge of a child and mother: “An appropriate car safety seat is available, and the mother is properly trained on positioning and use.” It does not state a rear facing only seat, nor a convertible. Just an appropriate seat. That is a great piece for a new parent to have in their arsenal should they choose a convertible from birth for their newborn, straight from the AAP.
Need help choosing the right convertible seat for your new arrival? Our article, Choosing a Convertible Seat for a Newborn might help!
Suggested Checklist for Proper Use
☐ Straps are below the child’s shoulders
☐ Straps pass the pinch test
☐ Nothing bulky around the baby (other than inserts that may have come with the seat)
☐ No non regulated products in use
☐ Chest clip is at the nipple/armpit level
☐ The base/seat is installed with less than 1” of movement at the belt path only
☐ The base/seat is using only the lower anchors OR the seatbelt, not both
☐ If lower anchors, it’s in a position with approved lower anchors
☐ The handle, if applicable, is in an allowed position
☐The angle is correct for a newborn