How to Choose a Car Seat
Car seats are one of your most important purchases for keeping your baby safe, and you have to have one to bring your baby home from the hospital.
However, car seats can be really confusing. Let’s start with the most critical consideration for choosing the right car seat: safety.
Car Seat Safety
All car seats sold today meet strict federal regulations for safety. They all have passed crash tests, so you can trust that they will keep your child safe.
Most car seats last for six years. After that, the impact-absorbing foam inside the car seat expires. Beware of using hand-me-down car seats. If you do, check the expiration date which should be stamped into the plastic on the bottom of the seat and make sure that the car seat hasn’t been in an accident.
The most important things for car seat safety are accurate installation and proper use with every ride. The safest place for most car seats is in the middle of the back seat. However it is more important that you install it in a place where you can have a tight install. If you have two more kids in your back seat, you do not have LATCH connectors in the middle or your back seat is uneven in the middle, use either side of the back seat. See more about car installation with either LATCH or seat belts below.
For proper use with every ride, make sure that the car seat harness buckle is right at or below the baby’s shoulders to keep the straps in the safest position when the baby is rear facing. As your baby grows, you will have to adjust the shoulder straps higher to keep them in a safe position.
Bulky coats can make car seats less effective, so dress your baby in thin layers during the winter to keep them safe. If the car is very cold, wrap a blanket around the car seat outside of the harness straps. Many car seat manufacturers also sell footmuffs or weather boots to keep baby warm and safe. Only use a footmuff made by the same brand as your car seat, so that you can trust it is safe to use with your car seat.
Infant vs. Convertible Car Seats
When shopping for a car seat, you will see two very different options: infant car seats and convertible car seats.
Infant car seats detach from the base, so you can bring a sleeping baby into the house or snap the car seat onto your stroller. However, these are specifically meant for infants and can only be used for about one year. Then baby has to move to a convertible car seat.
Convertible car seats convert from rear-facing to forward-facing. They also have higher height and weight limits than infant seats, so they can used until your child is big enough for a booster seat.
Car Seat Installation
Car seats are installed either with the LATCH system (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) or a seat belt. Since 2002, LATCH has been required in car seats and cars. There are two anchors found in the seat bight/crack of your back seat that match with lower anchor connectors on your car seat base.
LATCH installation tends to be much easier and tighter than seat belt installation. If you are going to be riding in taxis or ride shares often, look for a car seat with a Euro-style belt path to make seat belt installation easier.
Here are six of the best car seats with details about how to install them.
Once you have installed your car seat into your car, make sure that every ride is safe. The shoulder straps should always be positioned at or just below the baby’s shoulders to keep the straps in the safest position. As your baby grows, raise the shoulder straps coming out of the back of the car seat to keep them safe. Depending on the car seat, this is either done by rethreading the straps or raising it with a simple lever. (See your car seat instruction manual for more details.)
Find out more about how to choose a car seat by our trusted friends at Babylist.
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