How Should You Put Your Infant into a Shopping Cart?
The answer is, you shouldn't. Here’s why it’s a risky ride
You’re in a hurry, you need groceries and you’ve got a baby in tow. What to do? For many of us, the answer involves angling our infant into a shopping cart somehow. But beware: Experts say it may turn aisle 9 into aisle 911.
More than 24,000 kids end up in the ER each year due to shopping-cart-related injuries, according to a 2014 study published in the journal Clinical Pediatrics. Other studies found 85 percent of these kids are under 5. And when a shopping cart accident involves a child under 1, almost all of the injuries are to two extremely delicate areas: the head and neck.
Why are infant shopping-cart injuries so severe? Putting both a baby and his car seat in or on a cart may make the wagon dangerously unstable. “None of the manufacturers of car-restraint systems recommends placing a car seat into a cart’s top bay area,” says Mary McCarthy, trauma injury prevention coordinator at Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital in Valhalla, New York, a member of the Westchester Medical Center Health Network. “Parents often think these seats can clip right into the bay, but this can unbalance the cart and cause a tipping-over accident,” she says.
And even if it sounds like the seat has clipped onto a handle, it may not be anywhere near secure. In 2011, a baby died after his carrier fell from its perch on a cart’s bay.
Related: 9 Baby Safety Myths Debunked
You might think putting your baby and her carrier in the main part of the cart, where the groceries go, would be a safe alternative, but not so, says McCarthy. “Among other risks, heavy groceries in the cart could fall on your baby,” she says. And if the cart tips over — say, due to a collision with another wagon or because the groceries inside unbalance it — there’s nothing to keep your baby from going flying, carrier and all.
At least one manufacturer has a solution on the market. Safe Dock, an infant docking station for shopping carts, can be fitted to a wagon’s front bay and can accommodate any brand of infant carrier. “Yet it’s very rare to see a docking station already built into a cart,” says McCarthy (shopping-cart enhancements are an added expense for stores, after all). “And if the docking station looks less than totally clean, as many parts of shopping carts often do, parents may avoid using it,” she adds.
So what’s the solution for harried parents in need of milk, bread and eggs? “Opt for an infant carrier or a sling,” suggests McCarthy. “That way you can keep your baby close to you, and there’s no risk of an injury from a carriage tip-over or a fall.”
If your baby’s stroller has an undercarriage, you can use it as a basket for small shopping trips (just remember to remove and pay for everything before you leave the market). Or try calling ahead to your local grocery store, McCarthy says. Many chains will take phone orders and have your purchases bagged and ready for quick pickup. Grocery delivery services abound almost everywhere as well.
And there’s some good news: Your baby may be ready to sit in that shopping cart seat sooner than you may think. “Once he’s able to sit up, he can go in there,” says McCarthy. Just be sure to use the safety belts provided. If the seat straps are broken, find another cart, she urges: “Stores have an obligation to make those seats safe, but they don’t always see a cart that needs to be taken out of commission unless a concerned parent points it out to them. Safety isn’t just one person’s responsibility — we all have to work together.”