A baby is on the way! Paramount on the list of concerns for a new parent is safety, and safety concerns will start sooner than you might initially think: on the car ride home from the hospital as your new baby takes his/her first ride in a car seat.
Choosing a car seat can be a daunting task; have you seen the size of the car seat section at your local baby supply store? It is huge, with multitudes of seats to choose from, ranging anywhere from $40 to several hundred.
So how do you choose the right one?
Budget: Because car seats can range from well under a hundred dollars to several hundred, many people automatically assume more expensive must mean a better seat. But this is not actually true. One seat that is frequently recommended by Child Passenger Safety Technicians as easy to use and install runs right around $40.
All seats must pass the same basic set of testing standards and ultimately the best seat is the one that is installed and used properly, so take an honest look at your budget and then find a seat within that budget that fits your child’s needs (see below) and your vehicle well, have a CPST teach you how to install it and always use it properly. Visit www.car-seat.org to find a CPST near you.
Age/Size of Child: Even the best car seat is useless if it is the wrong seat for the age and size of your child. Many seats are labeled in ways that are misleading to parents. For example, many booster seats say on the package 30lbs-100lbs. We all have seen one year olds who are pushing 30 lbs. That does not in any way mean that a one year old is ready for a booster seat—many children are not ready for boosters until age seven or eight because size alone is not the determining factor. So do some research and figure out what seat (infant, convertible, forward facing, harnessed booster or unharnessed booster) is best for your child based on both their age AND their size.
As of 2012, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children under age two stay in a weight appropriate rear-facing car seat or to the maximum weight and height limitations for their car seat for maximum safety and head/neck protection.
For some children, this may mean rear-facing until age three or four. A good place to start is the NHTSA website. In addition, since many harnessed car seats (often called a harnessed booster) now offer weight limits up to 80-85 lbs, it is wise to consider extended harnessing for your child for ultimate protection. There is a reason that even race car drivers use this kind of harness—it helps keep the passenger in the safest position and protects them better.
Don’t be in a rush to move “up” to the next style of seat. Each step “up” is actually a step “down” for safety.