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Buying a Car Seat

Question:

"There are so many different car safety seats on the market, I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed. What should I look for when I'm buying a car seat? How will I know that it's safe for my baby-to-be?"

Response:

No matter how many products you put on your buying-for-baby wish list, the car seat is one purchase that's non-negotiable (you'll need one to get your baby home from the hospital)! But how do you choose the right car seat model for your needs (and your wallet)? And faced with so many straps, snaps, and buckles, how do you make sure it's installed in your car correctly and your baby is secured in the seat properly? Here is the car seat info you'll need when buying a car seat:

The seat.

For infants less than a year old there are two options: an infant carrier seat, which is typically good until a baby reaches 20-30 pounds (depending on your car seat’s specific weight limit), or a convertible seat that can be adjusted as your baby grows.

Infant car seat info.

Many parents like to use an infant car seat/ carrier that can snap in and out of a sturdy base strapped or latched to the backseat. Not only does this seat keep your newborn snug and safe, it also allows you to easily transfer your baby in and out of the car (many models also snap into stroller frames for even easier transport). The downside of the infant carrier seat? Your infant won't be an infant for long, so once the top of your baby’s head is within an inch of the seat, or when your baby is heavier than the weight limit of the seat, it's time for a new ride (for your baby, that is)! Remember that no matter what infant seat you use, it should be rear-facing (and the AAP - the American Academy of Pediatrics - recommends that kids stay facing that way until they're at least two years old or up to 22 to 40 pounds) and placed in the backseat. Never put an infant car seat in the front, where air bags pose a deadly risk.

Convertible car seat info.

When you're buying a car seat, you'll see that there are many seats that, as your baby gains weight and inches, can be adjusted and converted from a rear-facing position to a forward-facing one.These seats score points for their longevity and flexibility because they can accommodate a child up to 40 to 70 pounds, depending on the car seat’s weight limits, and babies that are too heavy or tall for infant seats. However, the fit of a convertible seat may be slightly less secure for a newborn, so if you choose this model, make sure your baby fits snugly in the rear-facing position.
If the fit seems too loose, use a padded head bumper or rolled-up blanket to pad around her body (not under or behind her body, which could affect the security of the harness) to keep her from wobbling.

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The straps.

When buying a car seat, keep in mind that even if you find the perfect one, it won't do you much good if it won’t fit or secure properly in your car. Cars and car seats manufactured in 2002 or later contain the LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) system - a configuration of straps that secure your safety seat at three different points, required by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration since that year. The LATCH anchors in your car are located in the creases of seats (where discarded Cheerios tend to hide)! Look for little child seat emblems on the seat - the tether anchor is usually by your back windshield, or all the way under a captain's chair in a minivan. Once you get all three tethers attached to the car seat, pull the straps to the tightest possible position so it does not move more than one inch forward or backward or side to side when pulled at the belt, and make sure the seat is reclined appropriately (check your car-seat manual for specific recline-angle requirements). If you have a car made before 1999, a seat belt must be used to secure the car seat.

The harness.

Now that you've got the car seat installed, how do you install your baby? Car seats come with a variety of harness systems including the three-point, T-shield, and almost all come with a five-point harness system. The five-point harness has five straps at your baby's hips, shoulders, and crotch and is considered the best for kids' car safety. The harness should fit snugly but not so tight as to completely constrict your child's movement (you should barely be able to fit two fingers into the harness at your baby's shoulder). Keep in mind that you will need to adjust the harness as your child grows and as the seasons change to accommodate lighter or heavier clothing.

If you have any doubts about child car-seat safety, or if you just want some extra assurance that you're meeting national safety requirements, don't be afraid to get some help; the government trains professionals to check your safety seat for you. Just search for a child passenger safety technician in your community.

For more tips on keeping your child safe while you're on the road and suggestions for car seats, check out WTE's Must-Have Car Seat List.

Happy cruising,



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