A car seat for a new baby isn’t a luxury; it’s a necessity. Babies and children are at a very high risk of dying in car accidents if they aren’t properly secured, which is why the American Academy of Pediatrics strongly urges parents to keep kids in some kind of car safety seat through 8-12 years of age. An appropriate car seat also protects parents from legal troubles, since all 50 states have strict laws requiring babies and toddlers to ride in age-appropriate safety seats. But what’s a mom to do, if she can’t afford a car seat? Luckily, there are several ways that you can arrange to get a free car seat for your baby if you can’t afford to buy one yourself.
What Not To Do
Resist the urge to seek out a free car seat that is a hand-me-down from a friend or relative, or to buy a used car seat at a thrift or consignment store. You can’t be certain of the history of the seat, and, without buying it new, you won’t be able to register the seat and get notified if there is a recall. Hand-me-down car seats also lack proper instructions, making it very likely that yours will be one of many car seats that isn’t installed properly. Get a new car seat even if you’re on a tight budget; it’s worth it to keep your baby safe.
Free Car Seats from WIC
WIC (women, infants, and children) is a program that provides nutritional support, breastfeeding advice, and groceries to babies, childen, and women who are pregnant or nursing. It’s a common misconception that WIC itself offers free car seats. The program does not have car seats at all. However, WIC is usually administered through you county health department, which may have a separate program to provide free car seats to WIC-eligible households. If you receive WIC, ask your coordinator about any free car seat programs that might be available through your local health department.
Free Car Seats from your Fire Department
Your local fire department already provides help with installing car seats. It’s actually very important to swing by the fire department even if you buy your own car seat, since they can make sure you’re not one of the many parents who installs the seat improperly. Depending on the policies of your city or county, the fire department might also offer free car seats (or vouchers for free car seats) in addition to help with installation. To be eligible for a free car seat from the fire department, you may need to bring proof of your income and residence. Call ahead to find out if your own local fire department offers a free car seat program.
Free Car Seats from the Hospital
In the worst-case scenario, if you make it all the way to your baby’s birth and still don’t have an appropriate car seat, the hospital where you give birth will probably give you one. Most hospitals will not allow new moms and newborn babies to leave without one, so they may have some extras that they’re willing to give. However, please note that these are usually available only on a limited basis for emergencies, when a baby is born early or unexpectedly and the parents have had no time to prepare. If you call the hospital while you’re expecting, they can likely refer you to a program that provides free car seats ahead of time instead of after the fact.
Free Car Seats from Local Nonprofits
Nonprofit organizations in your area are likely to offer free car seats to families with low income. You can call them individually to get assistance affording a car seat. Some good places to look include anti-abortion charities, including crisis pregnancy centers and Catholic nonprofits, since these organizations tend to specialize in helping low-income women. Women’s shelters and churches might also be able to help. Please respect the fact that these car seats are usually generously donated by individuals, so these resources shouldn’t be exploited. However, if you genuinely can’t afford to buy your own car seat, it’s preferable to get a free car seat than to risk your baby’s life by going home unsafely. It’s fortunate that, thanks to the help of nonprofits and government programs, few moms and new babies have to do without a safe ride home.