Your Baby’s Car Seat: What You Need to Know

The car seat may be the most important safety product you can buy for your new baby. The number one cause of death in children is car accidents, and a properly installed and used car seat can reduce your child’s risk of death or serious injury in a crash. Unfortunately, as many as 70% of car seats in use today are either improperly installed or not used correctly. Learn the basics of car seats before you take your precious cargo on the road.

Types of Car Seats

There are two types of car seats for babies. The first is the bucket style infant seat, which has a handle for easy carrying and often has a permanent base that is left in the car. The seat latches into the base for travel, and can easily be released. These car seats are popular for young babies, as they allow the parent to remove the entire seat from the car without disturbing a sleeping infant. Infant car seats can only be used in the rear-facing position, and generally have a weight limit of 22-35 pounds.

The second type of car seat is a convertible seat. These car seats have a larger weight range, and can be flipped from the rear-facing position to the forward-facing position when baby is big enough. Although far more expensive, with some models carrying weight limits ranging from 5-100 pounds, it might be the only car seat you ever have to buy. Convertible car seats are not portable and remain in the car at all times.

While most states mandate that a child remain rear-facing until they are both one year old and weigh 20 pounds, it is now the official recommendation of the AAP that you keep your child rear-facing up to the limit of the car seat, which is 35-40 pounds on most models.

There are a wide variety of car seats on the market with a range of price tags, but all car seats, no matter what the price are subjected to the same safety tests. The only exception to this rule is European seats, which are put through side impact tests as well as front and rear. At this time US car seats are not tested for side impact.

When choosing a car seat, the most important factor is how well it fits in your car. Most stores will allow you to test-fit a floor model before you buy.

Car Seat Installation and Use

Before your baby is born, you should make sure the car seat is installed properly in your vehicle. The car seat should always go in the back seat, in the middle if possible. Newer cars offer the LATCH system, which is a series of built-in tethers specifically for car seats. Check your car’s manual to find out if you have LATCH, and follow both the vehicle and car seat manufacturer’s directions to install the seat. If you don’t have LATCH, follow the directions for installation using your car’s safety belts.

Even if you are sure you have the seat installed right, it’s a good idea to double check. Many children’s stores and also local police or fire departments offer free car seat inspections. Visit www.seatcheck.org to find a free inspection clinic near you. Experts will review the installation of the car seat with you, and also go over how to use it properly.

Every time you put your baby in the car seat, make sure that the harness is properly latched and is tight enough. It might be tempting to skip the car seat on very short trips, but even at low speeds and on short trips, accidents can happen – and your baby could get hurt. The car seat is the most important tool you have to protect your baby on the road, so use it correctly every time!

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