Prepping for a new baby is often frantic, from loading up on onesies to packing for the hospital to decorating the nursery. One of the most important things you'll ever do for your baby has nothing to do with stuffed animals or cozy blankets, however, and everything to do with car seat safety.

Car Seat Installation

Installing a car seat can be more than a little daunting. Do your best to follow the manufacturer's instructions, but get your work checked (for free!) by your local police department. Cops will walk you through everything you did correctly, and where you may have missed an adjustment or two. And don't feel bad if you missed something -- according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, three out of four car seats are improperly installed.

Officer William Cocke, a traffic analyst with the city of Berkeley Police Department, says he sees mistakes all the time. "The majority of people have problems. The seat's not secure, or connected the right way. The harness isn't adjusted right."

It's a good idea to bring a notebook to help you remember any corrections, and keep those notes in the glove compartment so you can give yourself a refresher down the road.

In-car Hazards

Making sure your precious cargo is safely strapped in is just part of the safe travels puzzle. You'll also want to remove any objects that could bounce around during a sudden stop, potentially injuring your baby. Keep purses, backpacks, briefcases and cooler bags in the trunk, or securely away from your little one.

Passengers can do some damage, too, Cocke says. If you get into an accident, passengers not wearing a seat belt could be tossed from their seats, possibly hurting themselves and your baby. When everyone buckles up, it teaches good, safe habits early on.

Rear-facing = Safest Way to Go

And when your peanut isn't so petite anymore, you may be tempted to put her in a forward-facing seat. But the American Academy of Pediatrics advises parents to keep their children in rear-facing car seats until the age of two, or until they surpass the height or weight limit for the car seat. Cocke agrees, and explains how rear-facing seats support the spine and the neck, giving added protection against whiplash. And new seats, he explains, have a higher weight limit, so a child can stay in it longer.

So in between affixing sweet wall decals and shortlisting potential names, do a little car seat safety prep for years of safe travels.

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Lindsay Martell has covered entertainment news for E! Entertainment and tech trends for TechTV, CNBC, Newsfactor, and Sci-Tech Today, among others. She lives in Oakland, California.

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