Car Seat Tips
An introduction to the world of infant and toddler car seats.
We believe the most important purchase you can make before your baby - or babies - arrive is your baby's car seat. In fact, you cannot bring your baby home from the hospital unless you have a properly installed car seat. All seats sold in the US must meet minimum safety standards, and there are a variety of sizes and features to choose from. As a result, there is really no "best" car seat. Our suggestion: select the one that best fits your child and your vehicle, and ignore the price tag. Spending $300 on a infant or toddler car seat that doesn't work and doesn't fit just doesn't make sense.
With all the different styles, manufacturers, and with prices ranging from $25 to hundreds of dollars for a car seat, it's easy to become overwhelmed with the car seat purchase decision. The most important thing to remember at all times is that ALL car seats save lives when installed and used correctly EVERY time. Also, make sure the car seat you are purchasing (or receive as a shower gift) is a baby's car seat. Some of the newer, top-of-the-line carriers have been confused with car seats. If in doubt, check the box - the car seats will specifically say "car seat".
Types of Seats:
Infant car seats.
Infant car seats are specifically designed for infants under 20 lbs. Many families can use infant car seats until close to their first birthday. We were able to use them for the first four months. There are pros and cons over buying the infant-specific car seat (or "bucket" as some families call them), especially when you consider that you'll need to buy another car seat in 20 lbs - my advice, BUY THE INFANT CAR SEATS! It is worth the extra money you'll spend to have the convenience of being able to put the baby into the car seat, and then put the baby's car seat onto its base - which is already in your car, SUV, Truck or Mini-Van. It is definitely easier to transport two babies (or more) in buckets than it is without. Having the infant car seat also eliminates the need to purchase a separate baby carrier. You'll also be able to take the sleeping baby in - and in some cases more importantly - OUT of your vehicle, without waking him or her up. Finally, the "bucket" makes a great place for baby to sleep or sit for short periods of time when visiting relatives.
There are several manufacturers that offer baby car seat 'systems' which include an infant car seat and a car seat stroller that the bucket can snap into. The strollers can be used after the car seat is no longer used, and often times the combination package does save you money than if you were to buy the infant or baby car seat and stroller separately. We used the Graco double stroller, as it was the only one we could find that both matched our budget and would fit both car seats at the same time.
Convertible car seats
Convertible car seats are used as rear-facing baby car seats until baby reaches both 20 lbs. and one year old. Once baby reaches his or her first birthday the car seat can be turned around and converted into a front-facing car seat. (Special Note: Some pediatricians are now recommending one year AND 20 lbs, so check with your pediatrician to see what he or she prefers if your baby hasn’t reached 20 lbs. by his first birthday). The high-end weight limits for convertible car seats vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. When we were looking for a convertible seat the high-end limits seemed to start at 30 lbs. on up. If you buy a convertible car seat instead of an infant car seat, you may be limited to how the maximum weight limit goes, as the car seat will need to accommodate babies as small as 5 lbs. We looked for a convertible seat that would take our then four month olds well into toddler hood, and found one with a maximum weight limit of 45 pounds. I'm glad we did. Although their growth rate has substantially slowed down, they were 30 lbs each at 18 months! Fortunately, at 23 months, we still have one shoulder strap slot to go.
There are also booster seats - which "boost" a child to allow the manufactured-installed lap and shoulder belts to fit properly. Standard lap and shoulder belts don't fit kids properly until they are approximately 4'9" tall and are 80 pounds. Booster seats also allow kids to sit up straight and let their legs bend normally. There are some baby car seats that convert to booster seats. Kids should stay in their car seats with a full harness until the seat is outgrown - which is when a child's shoulders are above the top set of shoulder strap slots. Kids under the age of 12 should always sit in the back seat whenever possible.
All infants, toddlers, and children need to be protected in vehicle restraint systems. Some children may have certain medical conditions or needs that require special consideration when selecting restraints. We've gathered some information you might find useful under Car Seat Considerations for Special Needs Kids.
Before you Buy - Will the seat work for you?
Now that you've decided on a car seat type - or even a specific brand - MAKE SURE IT WILL FIT! It’s a simple idea, but a step that many parents forget.
- We highly recommend going to the store and having a display model placed in your rig before purchase to make sure it fits. We’re not saying don’t by a car seat online, just that you “test fit” your car seat before spending the money. Many online retailers have a no-return policy on car seats. Some seats sit at an angle that may not be compatible with the angle of seats, seat height, or legroom.
- If you purchase an infant car seat, make sure that the car seat is easily attached and un-attached from the base, and that you can easily remove it. I have a friend who spent a lot of money on a stroller and infant car seat system only to discover she couldn't unlatch the seat from its base without performing some aerobatic feats. Mom and Dad didn't find this out until they brought the baby home from the hospital, and the store had a no-return policy after two weeks (they had purchased the car seat months in advance).
- To help save time, you can also checkout an online car seat database (http://www.carseatdata.org/) to determine if the seat you're considering buying will work in your vehicle.
Car seat installation
Install your car seat as soon as possible - but most definitely before the trip to the hospital! Practice putting a 'baby' (we used a stuffed animal) in and taking him out of the car seat, so your learning curve goes drastically down before you try putting your own little guy (who has already been through alot his first 48 hours here!) in the car seat for the first time.
Similar to any other safety devise, car seats improperly installed or not used correctly will not protect your child. The latest statistics show that approximately 80% of child safety seats are improperly installed or used. Most states offer free car seat safety clinics, where you can go to have your car seat inspected and ensure that the car seat is properly installed. To find a car seat safety clinic near you, visit http://www.seatcheck.org.
Don’t forget to fill out the registration card for your car seat and send it in! This way you can be kept informed of any product recalls or safety concerns about your car seat. We’ve collected a small number of sites you can visit for specific car seat recall information.
That's my view on the car seats. In summary:
- Buy the infant car seat, the ease and convenience is well worth the price.
- Buy a stroller that your baby's car seat will fit into. It just makes life soooo much easier!
- Test fit a display model of your car seat if possible, before you buy
- Visit our Do’s and Don’ts of Car Seat Buying for some quick pointers!
- Make sure that the car seat is properly installed - and well ahead of the time that you'll be needing it!
Collin and Evan’s Mommy