Safest Car Seats For Baby
Choosing the Best Infant Car Seats
With prices ranging from $35 for a basic infant seat, to more than $400 for a seat that transitions as your child grows, it’s not always easy choosing the best and safest car seats for your most precious cargo. Thankfully, infant car seats break out into 3 overall types:
- For infants up to 22 to 35 pounds, depending on the model
- Have a 5-point harness system that attaches at the shoulders, at the hips, and between the legs
- Typically have carrying handles and may be used as part of a stroller system
- May click into a base that can be left in the car; parents can buy more than one base for additional cars
- Should be used for travel only, not seating outside the vehicle
Also read the car seat tolerance screening
- May be used for newborns and infants up to 50 pounds
- Can be used rear-facing, then “converted” to forward-facing for older children
- Typically bulkier than infant seats and don’t come with carrying handles or separate bases
- May have higher rear-facing weight and height limits than infant-only seats, which make them ideal for bigger babies
- Have a 5-point harness that attaches at the shoulders, at the hips, and between the legs
- Also called “convertible car seats” these are the most flexible and often cost-effective car seats as they can be used from birth through the toddler years
- May be used for newborns and infants up to 50 pounds
- Can be used rear-facing for infants, forward-facing, and then as a belt-positioning booster for the convenience of using one seat as long as possible
- Are often bigger in size so adequate space within the vehicle when rear-facing should be determined
Always choose a rear facing car seat with a 5-point harness for your infant. Additionally:
- Position your baby with their back and buttocks flast against the car seat
- Refrain from using rolled blankets to keep baby from sliding or slouching, as per the manufacturer’s specific instructions for the car seat you’re using
- The harness straps coming out of the car seat should be at or below your baby’s shoulders, and the retainer clip should be positioned mid-chest
- Always place your baby rear facing for the first year of life, and for up to 2 years for maximum safety
- If possible, have an adult sit in a rear seat with your infant
- Never leave an infant unattended in a car seat
- Never use your car seat for baby’s nap
Cars and car seats, sadly, aren’t designed to work together – so the car seat that fits your friend’s SUV may not work in your family sedan, says Brooks Watson, a firefighter, certified child passenger safety technician, and owner of Safety Squad.
Expectant and new parents often ask their healthcare providers, friends and car safety technicians about the ‘latest and best’ new model or brand. But sadly, there’s not just one right piece of advice that fits all situations. That’s why the standard advice from groups including the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the American Academy of Pediatrics goes something like this: “The right car seat is the one that fits your car, your baby, and is used properly every time.” If you’re like most parents, this is less than helpful.
However, there are six specific things you can do to ensure you buy the best possible seat for your car and use it right each time:
Buy a new infant or convertible car seat for each baby
This is not the time to use an older siblings car seat or to be frugal by purchasing a second-hand seat. Car seats expire: their materials degrade over use, time, and environmental conditions. Models are rapidly evolving; new safety and convenience features are added continuously. Newer models may offer advantages that make them easier to use. Car seats involved in accidents should never be used again, even if they look like they have not been damaged. It is difficult to know the history of a used seat. All new car seats purchased in the US from retailers must meet the minimal government safety standards.
Get a seat with a greater weight limit
There are seats that have an upper weight limit of up to 50 pounds with baby in a rear-facing position–check the weight restrictions and limits for each individual seat. Buying a seat with a greater weight limit lets you keep your baby seated rear-facing longer using the same car seat. The AAP recommends that babies and toddlers ride rear-facing as the safest possible position for them in vehicles until they reach the greatest weight or height, whichever comes first, set by the manufacturer through its weight and height limits for that seat.
Focus on flexibility
Newborns arrive in all shapes and sizes. This may be especially important if you are at risk for a smaller baby, such as with twins, a history of preterm labor, or of small babies. Infant car seats have a lower as well as an upper weight limit.
Look for a seat with infant head support and good interior padding as these features help maintain proper alignment for newborns. They also reduce the likelihood of parents from using “add-on” fit items that haven’t been tested with your car seat. Avoid head wraps, strap covers, padding, sheep skins, or sleep-bag type covers as in most cases these haven’t been tested with your car seat. Adding items to your car seat might decrease its safety as well as void the warranty. General rule: If it didn’t come in the car seat box, don’t use it.
Evaluate the adjustments
Can you easily adjust the height and fit of the harness? Can you easily re-route the straps? The adjusting mechanism varies greatly from seat to seat. You’re more likely to use the seat correctly if the adjustments are easy to make.
Have baby’s seat checked for proper installation
In order to install your car seat in the center of your back seat, you will probably need to use your vehicle’s safety belt system if it doesn’t have a LATCH system in this seat (which is 53% safer for baby than the outboard positions). Check www.nhtsa.gov for a list of local installation stations where you can have your rear-facing infant seat checked to ensure proper installation.
Choose your car seat first, and then chose your travel stroller
Safety trumps convenience every time. Next to your baby’s crib, the car seat is the most important thing you will buy for your baby. Many parents spend months researching travel strollers, and then buy whichever car seat fits that stroller. Choose your car seat first. If it doesn’t work with your favorite stroller, consider buying a “snap-n-go” type travel stroller for the short period of time that you will use the infant car seat.
And be sure that you can return or exchange your infant car seat if necessary. Not every brand/model of car seat will work with every single vehicle on the road. If buying online, be sure to clarify the return or exchange procedure particularly keeping in mind that return shipping costs may be left to you to pay.