This article originally appeared on Yahoo Parenting and was reprinted with permission.
When it comes to car seat safety, even the newest parents (hopefully) know that the direction a child faces is as important as anchoring in the base. But a less-discussed car seat safety guideline has been getting a lot of attention on Facebook lately — where to position the clasp on a child’s 5-point harness in the seat.
After Fort Carson, Colorado mom Heather Starr shared a post highlighting how vital it is for parents to get the alignment correct, describing a car accident that one of her friends’ children had been involved in, the message has been shared a staggering 162,000 times (and counting) in just five days.
“This is a 3-year-old girl who was just in a car accident,” Starr writes in the caption of the photo (above), circulating since June 10.
“The bruising on her chest is from her chest clip on her 5-point harness. … Clearly, there was some force to that accident. Had the clip been placed lower, she likely would have had organ damage. … Had it been placed higher, she could have been asphyxiated.”
Assuring friends that the toddler is fine today, Starr adds, “This little girl is walking away from a car accident with some uncomfortable chest bruising. A couple inches difference and she wouldn’t have been walking away at all.”
It was a close call indeed, the mother of the child featured in the photo (who wishes to remain anonymous) tells Yahoo Parenting about the May 21 accident that her friend described. But even more frightening than the crash that totaled the family’s car is the thought of what could have happened if the mom hadn’t told the father of her toddler how to position the car seat clasp — which she’d done just one week earlier.
“Doctors in the E.R. told us that our daughter had extensive bruising,” she says. “And they said that if her chest clip had been lower they’d have been very concerned about internal bleeding and that if it’d been higher it could have hit her neck causing her air to be cut off or worse.”
Thankfully the mother had been researching car seat safety recently. “I have a new baby on the way so I’d been looking into buying a used car seat,” she says, noting that members of Facebook groups that she belongs to immediately advised her against getting a used seat. “I didn’t know a lot about car-seat safety,” she admits. “So I started looking into it.” In doing so, the mother also noted ways that she could further safety for her older child.
“A week prior to the accident I’d gone through all that I’d learned with her dad because he had asked me about putting her in a booster seat,” she says. “So it could have been so much worse.”
To save others from the same risks, the mom now urges, “Check the car seat every time you put the child into the car,” she says. “And that the clip and straps are positioned right.”
Certified child car safety expert and pediatrician Alisa Baer tells Yahoo Parenting that optimal position for the clasp is with “the top of the clip at the top of the child’s arm pits,” for kids of all ages, from infants in rear-facing seats to age 2 and up in forward-facing seats.
And while she’s not aware of internal injuries being a typical risk with the chest clip positioned too low, Baer says too-high clips — even outside of car crashes — have caused strangulations “when parents leave kids sleeping in the car seat with only the chest clip buckled and the child slides down a little bit and they strangle on the chest clip.”
The biggest red flag that she urges moms and dads to be aware of, though, is actually the harness straps themselves. “Keeping those snug is what really matters,” she says. “The chest clip is merely a positioning device to help keep the shoulder straps so that they stay on the child’s shoulders. If the harness straps are loose, a properly positioned chest clip is not going to do much good because it is the straps that restrain the child during the crash.”
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