Has anyone heard of an organization that donates car seats?
All the suggestions you’ve gotten are great. Call your police station and ask about car seats, they can usually direct you. If there is a children’s hospital, call them, they often have a car seat tech on staff and can help. Or the maternity ward where you will be delivering.
One thing to really consider if you are low on money, an infant carrier car seat will only last 5-7 months depending upon your baby’s size. So that’s a big expense or a lot of work getting a free seat to only last for a very short time. A much better plan if you’re cash strapped is to start out with a convertible car seat. Cosco Scenera – $50 at Walmart/Kmart/Target. Great seat for the price. Goes up to 35lbs rear facing, 40lbs forward facing. Great rear facing seat, but is outgrown very quickly forward facing b/c of short top slots and short shell. You’ll still get you’re $50 worth out of it, though, as it will last most kids to at least 2 years, quadruple the amount of time of an infant seat! And during those 2 years, you can work to save the money you will need to purchase baby another harnessed seat that will keep him harnessed to booster age, which shouldn’t be until age 5 years at least.
There are some other things to realize about infant seats: we are seeing rampant developmental delays becuase babies are in these carriers (and swings, and bouncy seats…) so much. Look around everywhere you go and instead of holding their babies, people have them in these carriers. When on their back and harnessed (and any time a child is in a carrier, he needs to be harnessed, even though its not in a car!) they can not work the muscles they need to develop to crawl, sit up, and walk. In the manuals for these carriers, it even says specifically ‘for use in cars and strollers only’! But we all seem to miss that part.
Carriers should NEVER be placed on grocery carts. It makes the carts unstable and they can tip over, seriously injuring the baby. Also, not all car seats fit all carts, and they don’t lock on, they’re just sitting there, posing an obvious threat. And some of the carts are shaped or sized in a way that it puts the carrier at an unsafe/uncomfortable angle for the baby. I’ve seen babies laying in carriers on carts with their head lower than their feet – not a good idea for digestion or spit up.
The American Academy of Pediatrics says Parents and caregivers should never Place an infant carrier on top of the shopping cart. “Many infant-only car safety seats lock into shopping carts, and many stores have shopping carts with built-in infant seats. This may seem safe, but thousands of children are hurt every year from falling out of shopping carts or from the carts tipping over. Instead of placing your baby’s car safety seat on the cart, consider using a stroller or front pack while shopping with your baby. ”
Your baby and you will both benefit a lot more from a good sling and a convertible car seat than an overused infant carrier seat.
As you’re shopping, remember these rules about seats:
1)the BEST seat is the one that fits your child, fits your car, and will be used correctly 100% of the time. (This is why convenience features DO make a difference and ARE worth the money! If its easy to use, you’re more likely to use it correctly.
2)Children should stay rear facing AS LNOG AS POSSIBLE!!!! The 20lbs/1 year rule is outdated and provides a bare minimum for turning kids forward facing. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration both recommend keeping kids rear facing as long as possible, up to the limits of their seat, preferably until at least 2 years of age. For good reason: A forward-facing child under 2 years old is 4 times more likely to be killed or seriously injured in a crash than a rear-facing child of the same age. A child’s vertabrae do not fully fuse until 3-6 years old, before then, she is at great risk for internal decapitation. The spinal column can stretch up to 2 inches in a crash BUT the spinal cord can only stretch up to 1/4 inch before it snaps and baby is gone. In other countries, rear facing 2 – 3 – 4 year olds is standard, they understand that its safer. Here, we turn them as soon as we get to, seeing it as a right of passage thing or something. Ridiculous. Most convertible seats have a 30lbs rear facing limit, Cosco/Dorel/Safety1st/Eddie Bauer seats rear face to 35lbs, Britax rear faces to 33lbs.
3)Once you do turn them forward facing, they need to stay in a 5 point harness as long as possible. 4 years/40lbs is the minimum for riding in a booster, and most 4 year olds have no business using one yet. If they can’t sit upright for an entire trip, they need the harness of a car seat still. And, even if they do sit properly, a 5 point harness is safer, so you want to keep them in one as long as possible. This is important to consider b/c most car seats only forward face to 40lbs. My son just turned 3, and is in the 95th% for height and weight – 40″ tall and weighs 41lbs. He outgrew the 40lbs seats shortly after his 2nd birthday. It was a total waste of money. He now has a Britax Marathon, which goes to 65lbs, and will be able to fit it for some time yet. If I’d have bought it when he was born, I could have had one car seat this whole time instead of the 3 I wasted money on. They are more expensive for many reasons, this is one.
I was familiar with western PA while I lived out there.
Many of the car seat check places (places where a citizen can go to get their seat checked for a child) are run through safe kids, and they do typically have a fair amount of seats that have been granted (given for free) that they give if someone has an inappropriate, recalled, or otherwise unusable car seat.
They don’t advertise that they donate or give away seats, but if you find a car seat check in your area (on the safe kids website, there is a button on the right that says something about ‘events in your area’, and go to the event, talk with one of the CPS-Techs and they should be able to get you squared away with what you need.
(additionally, and this belongs someplace entirely different – from working with SAFE KIDS and NHTSA I have a handful of car seats, newer models, never used in a moving vehicle, used for classroom and demonstrations. For nothing asides the cost of shipping, we can discuss what kind of seat would be best for you and get one [if its in my collection] to you)
Additionally, be extremely wary of any second-hand car seat, because the safety seats do expire (there’s a date on them that someone in the know can educate you on), the plastic can degrade over time. They can be recalled and the owner may or may not know about it. Small impacts can cause the seat to fail in the event of a serious impact, and nothing is worth more than the safety of your little one.
Two other places to contact: Your local hospital (especially a maternity or children’s hospital), and your local police/sheriff/state police department. Out east, some ambulance departments and fire departments know where to find car seats when needed.