Ever hear the urban legend that there are alligators wandering New York's sewer system? (There aren't.) Or that Walt Disney was cryogenically frozen? (He wasn't.) These myths sound fascinating, and even possible, but really, they're just rumors. It's the same with the humdinger about hospitals giving out free infant car seats. All over the internet you'll hear that you shouldn't bother buying one, because medical centers keep them in the basement and will let you have one for free. But is this true? Will the hospital give you a car seat? If it happens to you, you're one in a million. Maybe you should buy a lottery ticket while you're at it.
"Every hospital is different, and some hospitals might provide a car seat, but it’s very, very rare," explains Lorrie Walker, Training Manager and Technical Advisor of Child Passenger Safety at Safe Kids Worldwide, in an interview with Romper. Car seats aren't cheap, she says, and no institution can afford to just give them out. Nor should parents leave such a purchase to the last minute. "Usually when you give birth, you get one diaper, one bottle of formula, and a lot of literature, but nobody gives you a really, really expensive piece of equipment like a crib for example," Walker says. "So this is a myth that if you just go to the hospital, they’ll have seats. They don’t. Some might, but it's very rare."
Even if you have your baby prematurely, it's unlikely that hospitals will do more than advise you on where to buy one. In the event that you need a special car seat or medical bed, you can probably expect the same: help, but no handout.
I get it — car seat price tags are no joke. Parents wish that hospitals gave out freebies, and thus, a myth was born. According to Walker, however, it might be for the best that car seats aren't given out like cupcakes. After all, your baby's safety is worth the money. "The whole idea of a free car seat is probably not a very good one," Walker explains. "Even if somebody can only afford a dollar, or five dollars, or 20 dollars, they really need to buy into the idea that their baby needs this, and it’s worth sacrificing for."
With free giveaways in the past, she says, coalitions have seen a stunning number of people try to return car seats to stores for cash. As a result, most programs designed for underserved families require at least some investment from parents. "It’s done in the spirit of helping parents understand what a great tool this is, what a life-saving tool this is," Walker says.
If you're struggling to afford a car seat, many organizations can help, but provisions vary from state to state. Because Safe Kids coalitions offer car seat checks across country, Walker suggests making an appointment with a tech near you, and asking them who serves low-income families in your area.
Whatever you do though, don't hit up Craigslist, or purchase a cheap seat over the internet. According to Walker, you simply can't guarantee that the product is new, unexpired, and without recalls.
There's one other myth out there in need of a good debunking. Ever hear that the hospital won't let your baby leave if without a proper car seat? Nope. "That would be kidnapping," says Walker. What they can do is advise you, she says, and connect you with resources. Hospitals might sell car seats in their gift shop, or hook you up with a local program, but they can't keep your baby.
And they almost definitely won't give you a car seat. After all, four million babies are born each year in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). What hospital could afford to give out such gifts on the regular? Honestly, you're lucky if they let you keep the slippers.
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.