The first step in keeping your baby safe on the road is choosing a car seat that works for your baby's age and weight, and that fits your vehicle. Since your baby will need to be in a car seat from birth to age 8 or older, you should be prepared to buy more than one car seat.
Infant-Only Car Seats
For newborns, a rear-facing, infant-only car seat is a good choice.
These car seats also double as convenient baby carriers outside of the vehicle. If you have a tiny newborn or a preemie, make sure you look at the minimum weight for your infant car seat. Some say they can be used from birth, while others give a specific lower weight.
Convertible Car Seats
As your baby grows, a convertible car seat will allow rear-facing to 35 pounds or more, even up to 50 pounds on some car seats. You should keep your child in a rear-facing car seat as long as possible. It's the safest way to ride, and there are plenty of car seat models now to hold even a tall, heavy child rear-facing well into toddlerhood. Most kids can remain rear-facing beyond age 2, which is the bare minimum to switch to forward-facing. Convertible car seats can also be used forward-facing to 40 or 65 pounds, depending on the car seat.
Some car seats go beyond that weight.
Combination Car Seats
A combination car seat can be a good choice for toddlers who are old enough and weigh enough to be forward-facing. These cannot ever be used for infants under one year of age or for babies who weigh less than 20 pounds.
They should not be used for toddlers under the age of two, either, as these children should still be riding rear-facing.
All-In-One Car Seats
Some car seat are a hybrid of several of these types. These may be called all-in-one car seats, three-in-one car seats, or four-in-one car seats. Which modes of use are included with the car seat depends on the manufacturer and even the car seat model. Check carefully to be sure it will fit your child's age, height, and weight.
Once your toddler is at least four years old and weighs at least 40 pounds, a belt-positioning booster seat will help the vehicle seat belt fit better. Best practice is to keep your child in the harnessed car seat for as long as possible. Don't be in a rush to switch to a booster seat if your child still fits in a convertible or combination seat harness by height and weight! Once your child is ready for a booster seat, though, it's an important step to protect children from injury in a crash. Most states in the U.S. now have laws requiring the use of booster seats until age 8, though there are exceptions if the child reaches a certain height or weight at a younger age.
- What is a High-Back Booster Seat?
- What is a Low-Back Booster Seat?
- Top Belt-Positioning Booster Seats for Toddlers
Common Car Seat Questions and Mistakes
Federal statistics indicate that 80 percent of car seats are used incorrectly. However, child passenger safety experts who work with parents at inspection stations and checklane events suggest that misuse may actually be 90 percent or more. Knowing the most common car seat problems will help you keep your baby safer when you're out and about.
- Ten Ways to Make a Car Seat Less Safe
- Do Car Seats Expire?
- Can I Re-Use a Car Seat After a Crash?
- Winter Coats Can Interfere with Car Seat Safety
- When to Use a Car Seat Top Tether
Heather Wootton Corley is a certified Child Passenger Safety Technician-Instructor.