Picking the Right Car Seat for Your Little One

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One of the greatest responsibilities that we face as parents is maintaining and securing the safety of our children!  One general area where this is most pronounced is when we are transporting our children in our vehicles.  On the surface, the concept of a car seat sounds simplistic, however, there are many varieties and styles out there to choose from.  In truth, the task of finding the appropriate car seat can sometimes be a little overwhelming!  We wanted to take a moment to briefly discuss some of the basic information that a new parent should take into consideration prior to purchasing their first car seat.  The following is a quick discussion of what you should keep in mind when deciding which car seat best fits your needs:

Car Seats are typically designed around the ages of the child, and their corresponding height and weight.  As they grow, the appropriate requirements of the car seat will change.  Infants should only be placed in a rear facing car seat.  This type of seat is designed to accommodate the child until they are toddling.  The specifications of each car seat will typically identify the maximum height and weight that are appropriate for each seat, which is usually between 22 and 40 pounds depending upon the model.  The rear facing seat will typically have handles for carrying, and will snap into a separate base that remains secured in the vehicle for easy insertion and removal from the automobile.  It is also possible to purchase separate bases so that the same car seat can be used in multiple vehicles. 

The rear facing car seat is most often used until the child is two years old, or until such a time that they reach either the identified maximum weight or height for that car seat.  Please bear in mind that a rear facing infant car seat should be used on the baby’s ride home from the hospital!  It is also important to keep in mind that there may be value in paying attention to the minimum weight that is identified for a rear facing infant car seat.  Typically, the minimum rating is five pounds, however, the possibility exists that babies cam be born prematurely, and that their body weight may actually be less than five pounds.  Know that there are some car seats on the market with a minimum weight rating of four pounds.  Another good rule of thumb is to closely examine the lowest setting of the shoulder strap slot.  The positioning of this strap is very significant, and ideally you want to have the strap be relatively snug above the shoulder.  A premature baby may be too small to be comfortably accommodated by a traditional infant car seat.

There are quite a few infant car seats on the market that are convertible from a rear facing to a forward facing position.  The forward facing position should only be used when the child has reached a toddling age (typically age two), and has equally exceeded either the maximum height or weight for the rear facing position.  There are also multiple brands available that are simply a forward facing design with a harness.  Whether it be forward facing only or convertible from rear facing, this style of car seat is designed to typically accommodate children throughout their toddling and preschool ages.  Again, the car seat should have a clearly defined maximum height and weight limit for the forward facing position.  When either of these limits is reached it is time to switch to a booster seat, which is used in combination with the seat belts of the vehicle. 

The booster seat should be used until it is definitively safe for the child to use just the seat belts of the vehicle.  The typical identified height associated with the switch away from a booster seat is 4 feet 9 inches, which usually falls in the age ranges of 8 and 12 years old.  Until such a time that these requirements are met, a booster seat should be used.  It is not safe to switch to relying solely upon the seat belts of the vehicle until these requirements are met, in particular the height of the child in question.  A child should be old enough and physically large enough for the seat belts of the vehicle to fit them correctly.  All children below the age of 13 should be restrained in the rear seats of the vehicle, and they should always be secured with both a lap belt and a shoulder strap in the vehicle.

Lastly, you should know that there are a variety of car seats on the market that are referred to as 3-in-1 seats.  These seats can serve the purposes of rear facing, then forward facing, and ultimately a booster.  These models tend to be larger in size, so be sure to confirm that there is sufficient room in the vehicle when it is in the rear facing position.  The 3-in-1 models typically do not have the conveniences a either a separate base or a carrying handle, however, they may have a higher maximum weight rating for the rear facing position, sometimes up to 50 pounds.


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By Jack Rambadt of Expecting Parents Alliance of America

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