When you have a baby, there are so many decisions and purchases to make that it can have your head spinning, particularly if you are a first-time parent. From the stroller and the cot to the nursery decor and the clothing, to name just a few, there are plenty of choices you have to make.
One of the most important ones, though, that you really don’t want to rush or get wrong, is your selection of a child’s car seat. Take a look at statistics and you’ll see that thousands of children are injured in motor vehicle crashes each year (the number was more than 120,000 in 2014), and sadly hundreds of children die too.
Many injuries and fatalities occur because children are not safely buckled in or strapped into a car seat during transit. In fact, a CDC study found that, in one year, over 600,000 children aged between zero and 12 rode in vehicles without the proper safety precautions at least some of the time.
In recent weeks, the death of two children in the United States has further raised awareness of the importance of the proper installation of child safety seats. It is imperative that parents select a car seat that is the right option for their child’s age and size, and that it is installed properly. Read on for some tips you can follow today to ensure your family stays safe when traveling by vehicle.
How to Choose a Child’s Car Seat
When it comes to choosing a child’s car seat, you’ll find that there are two main types to choose from: infant carrier car seats, and convertible car seats.
Infant car seats are designed to support smaller babies and can be more convenient when you have a young one. However, they are typically only suitable until your baby reaches between 20 to 30 pounds (the weight limit varies from car seat to car seat).
The major benefit of an infant car seat is that it can snap in and out of a sturdy base which gets strapped or latched to the backseat of your car. This means that it is easy to transfer a baby in and out of the car (which is particularly great if they are asleep); plus many models snap straight into stroller frames for convenient transport.
The drawback to the infant car seat, though, is that babies grow out of them quite quickly. Once a baby hits the weight limit of the seat or its head sits within an inch of the seat, you will need to move to a bigger option.
A convertible car seat, on the other hand, can be adjusted to suit your baby as it gets bigger in weight and or length. These types of seats can be converted from a rear-facing position to a forward-facing one once your baby is big enough (generally seen as two years of age or up to 22 to 40 pounds). They can often accommodate children up to 70 pounds, and provide great flexibility and longevity as a result.
The downside of a convertible car seat is that it is less convenient if your baby is asleep since you can’t just snap the cradle out with the baby inside. Also, be aware that convertible seats, due to their nature, are typically a little less secure for newborns. If you decide to go with this type of seat, then make sure your little one fits very snugly — you may need to use a padded head bumper or other padding to stop a newborn’s head from wobbling around in the seat.
Notes for Any Seat
When selecting a car seat it pays to look for one that:
- Will be easy to clean
- Has clear, straight-forward instructions available if you want to install the seat yourself
- Has easy-to-access harness adjusters and an easy-to-adjust harness height
How to Safely Install and Use a Child’s Car Seat
Installing your baby’s car seat correctly is imperative.
Start With Your Car’s Owner’s Manual
Before you go shopping for a car seat for your baby, it is a good idea to read the owner’s manual for your vehicle so that you can see exactly where a seat can go (keep in mind child car seats must always be in the rear of the car, not the front), and how it must be installed.
Be aware of how much room you will have available in the back seat since large bases may not fit in smaller cars, and consider who else will need to sit in the back of the car and in what spot.
Check Which Attachment Option You Have
Car seats can be attached using either seat belts or a LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) system, so check the user manual to see what option is available to you. Also, read up on where the LATCH attachments might be in your vehicle.
Contact a Professional
After you have purchased a quality car seat, it is just as important that it is fitted in your vehicle correctly. If you want some assistance with this, consider utilizing a Child Passenger Safety (CPS) technician. These technicians are certified by the government in the proper installation of child car seats and can be found at locations such as hospitals, police stations, fire stations, and your local AAA. You will find a searchable database online via the NHTSA website if you need help locating a CPS technician in your area.
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