By Katherine M. Tomlinson
You know that among your list of to-dos before your baby arrives is making sure her car seat is installed correctly. But before you even go about the installation process, you’ve got to figure out the best baby car seat for you. Here’s what all new parents should know about the three major car seat options.
Infant car seats
Your baby must ride in a rear-facing car safety seat from the time he is a newborn until he is 1 year old and weighs at least 20 pounds (but it is safest for you to keep him rear-facing for as long as you can find a safety seat designed to accommodate his height and weight in the rear-facing position). Infant car seats’ convenient design lets you detach the seat from the base for use as a carrier, allowing you to move your sleeping baby from the car without waking him. Maximum weight limits for some are 22 pounds, but more and more are being built to protect children weighing up to 30 and 35 lbs.
Convertible and all-in-one car seats
If your baby has reached his infant car seat’s height and/or weight limit, it’s time to look for a convertible or all-in-one (also known as 3-in-1) car seat that will secure him in the rear-facing position for as long as possible. Depending on the model, convertible seats can be used rear-facing until your tot weighs 30 or 45 pounds. The seat can then be turned to face forward to secure your child until he reaches the seat’s forward-facing height and weight limits. These limits range from 40 to 80 pounds.
An all-in-one car safety seat is intended to adapt to a child’s growth and development from infancy through about age 8, so that he will never need another car seat. An all-in-one can be used rear-facing until your child reaches the seat’s first height and weight limit, then turned forward-facing with its harness in place until your child reaches the seat’s second height and weight limit. The same seat can then be used, with its harness removed, as a vehicle seat belt-positioning booster. Forward-facing harness weight maximums range from 50 to 65 pounds.
When your child reaches the weight and height limit of his convertible car seat, it’s time for him to use a booster seat. Intended for older preschoolers, a toddler booster seat is designed for riding forward-facing only. Toddler boosters are outfitted with a detachable five-point harness that can be removed when your child exceeds the maximum weight and height limit for using the seat with its harness. At that point you can continue to use the same base as a belt-positioning booster seat.
The last step in your child’s car seat progression, a belt-positioning booster seat raises your child high enough in your vehicle’s seat to allow the vehicle’s seat belt to cross his body safely at his sternum and collarbone and upper thigh and hips. To ride safely, he will continue to need a belt-positioning booster until he is at least 4 feet 9 inches tall.
See more: Car Seat Safety for New Parents