On the road to parenting, there are many choices and lots of must-haves. Car seats fits into the latter category. And with your most precious cargo in tow, it's crucial to know the proper safety guidelines and choose a car seat wisely. Since car seats are responsible for saving thousands of children's lives each year, every state enforces their use for infants. To make traveling with baby as safe and easy as possible, consider keeping a car seat in every vehicle baby rides in, like those belonging to grandparents and caregivers.
To help you choose and use the car seat that's best for your growing family, we've put together some guidelines on different types of car seats for now and for the years ahead.
infant car seats (4-35 lbs.)*
Although there are many brands and features to choose from, all infant car seats share these key elements: they are designed to support the back, head and neck of a developing infant and they must be installed rear-facing (facing the back window) in the back seat of the vehicle.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all infants and toddlers should ride in a rear-facing child safety seat until they are 2 years of age or they exceed the maximum height or weight allowed by the manufacturer of their child safety seat.
Remember, a car seat is an absolute must for bringing baby home — hospitals won't let you leave with your newborn without one.
convertible car seats (Rear-facing: 5-40 lbs., Forward-facing: Minimum 2 years and 20-70 lbs.)*
These car seats grow with your baby, converting from rear-facing to forward-facing. They have higher height and weight limits, so babies can ride rear-facing until the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation of 2 years.
Babies should remain rear-facing in convertible seats for as long as possible, until they reach the manufacturer's maximum weight and height limits, at which time the seat can be turned to face forward.
When used rear-facing, always make sure that the harness straps are at or below shoulder level, and placed in the designated slots as specified in the user's manual.
booster car seats
When your little one has outgrown the convertible car seat, but is too small to use the car's seat belt system alone (approximately ages 4-8 years old), he needs a bit of a boost. That's where a booster car seat comes in handy.
There are 3 types of Booster Car Seats:
combination booster car seat: (Forward-Facing With Harness: 20-65 Lbs., Belt-Positioning Booster Car Seat: 40-120 Lbs.)*
Use with a 5-point harness for children up to 65 lbs. Then remove the harness and use as a booster seat with the vehicle's seat belt system.
Harness straps should be at or above shoulder level. Once the child exceeds the weight or height limits of the seat, remove the internal harness and use it as belt-positioning booster seat. Be sure the harness is snug and adjust the chest clip to armpit level.
belt-positioning booster car seat (40-100 lbs.)*
A belt-positioning booster car seat features full head support and raises the child up for a better fit while using the car's own vehicle seat belt system.
All booster seats must be used with both lap and shoulder belts, never with the lap belt alone.
no-back booster car seat (40-100 lbs.)*
This booster car seat uses the car's own seat belt system and head support to appropriately restrain and protect children in the appropriate weight range. Once your child reaches an approximate height of 4'9'' and weighs 80 pounds, he or she may no longer need to use a booster car seat. State and local laws vary. For details, contact your state or local government.
frequently asked questions
Q: Why can't I put my baby's car seat in the front of the car?
A: Passenger-side airbags make it particularly dangerous for babies to be in the front seat. Airbags are designed to help protect adults riding in this seat, but if one is released (even in a low-impact crash), the force of the airbag opening can cause serious head and neck injuries to an infant. The safest place for a baby or young child is in the back seat.
Q: How do I know if the seat belt fits my child correctly?
A: Look at where the belt is positioned. Make sure the lap belt fits snugly across your child's thighs, not belly. The shoulder harness should fit across his chest, not his neck or throat.
Q: How do I know that the seat has been properly secured?
A: The seat should not be able to slide more than an inch in any direction. If you're using a convertible seat, check to see if the seat belt is put in the correct path for the direction the baby is facing. If your car is newer than 2002, it should be equipped with the Lower Anchor and Tethers for Children (LATCH) system. If your car and your car seat have anchors for this, it may be easier to fasten the car seat using this system instead of using a seat belt to secure it.
Q: My car has a built-in seat. Is this safe to use?
A: Yes, built-in seats are safe as long as they are used according to the manufacturer's instructions. Check with your vehicle's owner's manual to be sure you're using it correctly.
Buying the right car seat and using it properly is a good foundation for car safety, but there are a few more rules of the road every parent should keep in mind:
Never leave your child alone in a car or near a car unattended.
Beware of certain parts of the vehicle that could be potential safety hazards.
Always set a good example by wearing your seat belt.
Once you've made the choice for you, reviewed the safety issues…just buckle up and get ready for all the new adventures life has in store.
* Weights and heights vary by model. Please refer to individual car seat instruction manual for manufacturer recommendation.