Buying baby gear is a big deal. We asked industry experts for their advice on shopping with safety in mind.
Safety is, understandably, a valid concern for parents making purchases for their children. The overwhelming array of options in the baby equipment market can confuse even the savviest shoppers, so clarifying some key considerations regarding safety seems a wise place to start.
Libby Manley, a senior writer at Consumer NZ, shares her expertise around baby gear purchasing decisions.
OHbaby: What common mistakes do parents make when purchasing big ticket items for their new baby?
Libby: Spending more to 'future-proof'. For example, buying a car seat that can be used from birth to 7 years old. These seats are usually more expensive and you may find they don’t fit your child for as long as expected, thus you'll still need to switch to a booster seat. Before buying, check a carseat’s height and weight limits in both front- and rear-facing configurations and consider how long you’d like your child to sit rear-facing. Check how your child is tracking on height and weight charts to work out approximately how long your child will fit the seat in each configuration.
Similarly, single strollers that adapt to accommodate a second child are a great option, but if you end up with two children very close in age, you may be better off with a side-by-side double stroller. Or, if you end up with a longer age gap between children than expected, your older child may have outgrown the stroller so you only need a single anyway. Buy extra seats when you need them, rather than at the outset.
OHbaby!: Are there any products best avoided second-hand?
Libby: Carseats should be bought new. A second-hand carseat may have been bought overseas and may not comply with safety standards. Or it may have been in an accident, the instructions or extras such as a locking clip may be missing or it may have passed its expiry date. Over time, plastic can become brittle and the webbing fabric can deteriorate from friction or from sun exposure. These defects may not be obvious.
If buying a cot second-hand or accepting a hand-me-down, check it’s been made for the New Zealand market, in good condition, only a few years old and complies with the mandatory safety standard for cots. Consumer recommends replacing the mattress if it’s already had a lot of use, making sure the replacement mattress is firm and fits the cot snuggly.
OHbaby!: Can you explain safety standards as they relate to the New Zealand market, and why parents should consider them?
Libby: Compliance with safety standards is voluntary for most 'big ticket' baby items sold in New Zealand. The exceptions are cots and carseats. Cots must meet the joint Australian/New Zealand Standard and carseats must meet either the joint Australian/New Zealand, European or U.S. safety standards.
Compliance with safety standards for highchairs, portable cots and strollers is voluntary in New Zealand and there are no safety standards covering change tables, bassinets and Moses baskets.
Consumer recommends checking the item you’re buying meets a safety standard (whether it’s a joint Australian/New Zealand or an overseas standard) as it means the item has undergone some level of safety testing. It’s not always possible to know how rigorous the testing was though so never put all your faith in a safety standard sticker. It’s no substitute for safe, supervised use.
Wherever possible, Consumer tests to mandatory standards. And when the standard is only voluntary, we test to it anyway. If there’s no standard at all, such as with change tables, we’ve developed a test of our own, based on how they're used.
OHbaby! How concerned should parents be about where items are made?
Libby: It’s more important that items meet safety standards – whether voluntary or mandatory – and are used safely. Parents should also check for obvious risks themselves before buying. Does it feel sturdy and robust? Is it free from sharp edges and gaps that could trap small fingers? Most importantly, items must be used as they are intended to be used.
Beware the cheap 'knock-off'
Many companies invest in rigourous testing to ensure their products are consistently of the highest quality. Miriam Rutherford, director of Safe T Sleep, reminds buyers to be careful when considering 'copycat' versions of baby products. The fabric used in an authentic Safe T Sleep Sleepwrap, for example, is proven to be chemical-free and has been tested for strength, longevity and breathability, making it safe to use for four to five years maximum.
Safety concerns around copycat products include untested fabric and fabric weave, poor quality fastenings and untested dimensions and designs, all of which can place babies at risk. FEATURES TO LOOK FOR IN A HIGHCHAIR
✓ The tray should be secure when fitted, but easy for you to remove and adjust. A removable tray insert is useful —it fits on top of the tray and is easily taken out for cleaning. A cupholder helps prevent spills.
✓A footrest is important to support an older child's feet and calf muscles.
✓A reclining seat is useful for babies who can't sit upright for long. But (except for bottle feeding) don't have the seat in its reclining position while you're feeding the baby – it's a choking hazard.
✓The seat cover should be easy to wipe clean. A removable seat cover is a bonus.
✓Check for stability. The legs should taper outwards, preferably extending further than all other parts of the chair.
✓A 5-point harness with crotch, waist and shoulder straps helps prevent a child falling or climbing out of the seat.
✓Castor wheels are useful for moving the chair, but there should be brakes on at least two wheels. If the highchair doesn't have castors, check that it's light enough to move easily (without its passenger).
✓ Check that a child's finger, toe, arm, leg, or head can't be caught – especially around the arm rests and tray. Also look for sharp points and edges.
FEATURES TO LOOK FOR IN A STROLLER
✓ Safety: Check that the stroller complies with a safety standard. The joint Australia/New Zealand standard AS/NZS 2088 is the most common. Other standards are the British BS 7409, European EN 1888 and US ASTM F833 standard.
✓ Wheel numbers: Three-wheelers are usually wider and longer than four-wheelers and are often heavier; they’re more manoeuvrable on uneven terrain but can be less stable. Four-wheelers are more compact and are a better option if you use public transport.
✓ Wheels: Large wheels tend to be better on kerbs and stairs. Inflatable tyres help absorb bumps. Swivel front wheels make steering easier – but make sure you can lock them, to keep the stroller stable up and down steps and over rough terrain.
✓ Brakes: Some strollers have a separate brake on each wheel. However, brakes activated by a single linking bar are much more convenient.
✓ Backrest: Look for a backrest that can be reclined for a sleeping child.
✓ Storage: A parcel tray under the stroller is essential. Never balance bags on the handle of a stroller – they can make it tip.
✓ Hoods and covers: An extendable hood provides shade and shelter. A viewing window in the hood lets you keep an eye on your child. A boot cover protects the child’s legs and feet: it’s worth considering if you go for long walks in cold weather. If the stroller you want doesn’t have a rain cover, you can buy a generic one at most baby retailers.
✓ Front bar or tray: Make sure it's removable when lifting the child in and out of the stroller.
✓ Footrest: This reduces the likelihood of injury by the child's feet getting caught on the ground or in the front wheel.
✓ Safety leash: A leash on the handle bar that straps to your wrist can stop the stroller running away if you lose your grip. Keep it out of the way of the child as it's a strangulation hazard.
✓ Toddler seats: One of these is useful when there’s an older sibling – check whether it can be fitted to the stroller.
✓ Tyre pump: This is used for pneumatic tyres. It's supplied with some models or may be available as an optional extra.
FEATURES TO LOOK FOR IN A CARSEAT
✓ Standard compliance label
✓ Locking clip: This holds the seat belt tight when it’s used to install the carseat or secure the child in a booster seat. Locking clips are a good idea, even though not required by the standards. Some restraints don’t need one, so check the instructions.
✓ Tether strap: This stops the child restraint tipping forward in a crash. The tether strap must be used for all restraints (rear- and forward-facing) that comply with the Australian/New Zealand standard – otherwise their safety performance will be compromised. A tether strap doesn't necessarily make a seat safer than a seat designed without a tether, but if the seat has one, it must be used - not using it will risk serious injury to the child, or worse.
✓ Side wings: Well-padded side wings can help protect the child in a side-on crash.
Many wings are height-adjustable so they can “grow” with the child.
✓ Reclining the seat: Many forward-facing and booster seats can be reclined to create either a better fit, or to allow your child to sleep more comfortably and safely without slumping forward. Some seats require the recline angle to be set before the seat is installed, which will be inconvenient if you need to adjust it often.
Others allow the angle to be adjusted after installation, using a lever or button.
✓ Height-adjustable seatback: A seat may claim to be suitable for children up to a certain weight but a tall child can grow out of a seat before then. Some forward-facing seats and booster seats have adjustable seatbacks that can be raised as the child grows.
✓ Isofix and LATCH: Many late-model cars designed for sale in Europe are fitted with Isofix mounting points. An Isofix-compatible carseat can be snapped into the rear-passenger-seat frame instead of being held by the car's safety belt – so Isofix reduces the likelihood of a seat being installed incorrectly. The US has a similar system called LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children). Isofix and LATCH seats will fit each other's mounting points.
✓ Lining: Make sure the lining is easy to remove and washable. To protect your car's seat coverings, look for a restraint with a mat underneath. Or you can keep a towel in the car instead.
Best not share
Now that we understand carseats don’t last forever, what should we do with them when we no longer need them? It just doesn’t seem right trying to stuff them in a wheelie bin…
The folk at repurposing specialists 3R Group agree. Michelle Duncan, project manager at 3R Group, explains “It’s not smart to dump over 40,000 car seats in our landfills every year.
These seats contain materials that can be repurposed or recycled, saving virgin materials being imported into the country”.
Hence 3R Group devised SeatSmart, a programme allowing Kiwi families to recycle their carseats, rather than dump them in landfill, and it’s not called SeatSmart for nothing.
“Currently over 94% of the carseat’s materials get a second chance at life – the straps go to the clever people at Karkt handmade bags, the metal goes to scrap for recycling, and the plastic goes to New Zealand processors to become caps for concrete slab construction” says Michelle.
“We’re also keen to spread the word about car seat expiry dates – many people don’t know that seats generally have a life of only six to 10 years before manufacturers state that they’re no longer safe to use” Michelle reiterates.
Old carseats can be dropped off at collection points in five towns and cities across New Zealand for a small fee of $5. Expansion to Christchurch and beyond is expected soon. For more information, visit www.seatsmart.co.nz or call 0800 374 768.
A safe conclusion
Recent concerns about the use of capsules for sleeping, and the public message to only sleep babies on a firm flat mattress, led to confusion over the use of baby hammocks.
The Natures Sway baby hammock was the subject of a University of Auckland research project that looked at whether sleeping in a hammock might cause impaired breathing.
Natures Sway were very pleased to learn that the Department of Physiology's study (published in Acta Paediaticia, July 2014) found that oxygenation levels and sleep apnoea were the same as with a standard bassinet. Natures Sway have always maintained that the curve of the hammock is not only safe, but also beneficial, as the cocoon-like design helps baby sleep. Still, science offers invaluable peace of mind.