A car seat is one of the biggest safety measures you can take to protect your baby from infancy through early childhood. Just like you should never drive or ride in a car without a seat belt on, your baby should never ride in a car without being properly buckled into a car seat. In the event of an accident, small bodies that are not secured in an age appropriate car seat are highly susceptible to being flung from their seat, which severely increases the likelihood of injury upon impact.
You will need several car seats for different stages in your child’s life. It’s important to follow the manufacturers’ instructions for installing your car seat and always ensure your child is belted snugly with the harness and the chest clip positioned correctly. Also, be sure to follow the age, height and weight requirements for your specific brand of car seat. Although your child may not prefer being in a car seat, the longer you can keep him in one, the safer he will be.
Curious about what’s in store for your future when it comes to car seats? Here’s a basic guide to car seats for every age:
For the first two years of life, babies should be turned around to face the back of the car. While this makes it difficult to see your baby, it is the absolute safest way for him to travel because it protects the head, neck and spine. Most parents begin with a detachable carrier car seat that can be removed from the car with the baby still in it. This makes for an easy portable seat wherever your baby may be and also helps babies remain asleep when they’ve reached their destination. (Trust us, you’ll be thankful for that!) These carrier car seats usually come with separate bases that remain latched and buckled to your car for easy ins and outs while you’re on the go or for transporting your baby in multiple cars.
As your baby gets bigger, usually between 8 and 12 months, you will need to move to a larger rear-facing car seat. These bucket seats sit upright and many of them can convert into a forward-facing car seat when the time is right. They still have a tall, hard back to stabilize your toddler. This seat should fit snuggly over the shoulders and lock at the top of the chest, and wrap around each leg for a between-the-leg latch. As with your infant seat, this seat should be latched into your car and belted with your car’s on board seat belt. Most have an over-the-seat latch for a third security measure ensuring the seat is firmly in place. Keep your baby rear-facing for as long as you can based on height and weight. Many parents prematurely turn their kids around because their feet are hitting the back of the seat. However, rarely would legs or feet be injured in a crash. Protecting the head and upper body is more important at this early age.
The next phase of car seats is exciting for everyone because your baby gets to turn around! For the first time he can see exactly what you see, and you can look at each other too. And the shift happens just as you and your little toddler are better able to have conversations. Most people simply turn around their rear-facing harness seat, however this may be a good time to buy a new seat specifically for facing forward and that allows for maximum growth. Keep your tot in a harness seat as long as the height and weight limitations allow as this is a much safer way to travel. Make riding in a new “big kid” car seat fun by providing a cup holder and a pocket for some small toys and books. As your child grows older, he’ll be able to get in his seat himself, which will make life easier for you too. Always double check the buckling to ensure it is tight enough for safety. Usually kids outgrow the forward-facing harness seat by around age 4 or 5.
Once your child has outgrown the harness seat, which is determined by shoulders exceeding the harness allowance or ears peeking over the top of the seat, it’s time to move to a booster seat. This usually happens between age 4 and 6. A booster seat allows your child to sit higher so your car’s seat belt will fit properly. The seat belt should cross your child’s shoulders and chest, not neck or face. If your seat belt hits too high even with a booster seat, you may not be ready to leave the harness seat. Kids usually ride in a booster seat until age 8 to 12.
Older Children: Seat Belt
As your child becomes taller, he can use a regular seat belt without needing a booster. Instill a sense of car safety in your child including always wearing a seat belt no matter where you are or how far you’re going. Keep your child in the back seat until he reaches at least age 13.