Picking out a car seat is one of the most daunting chores when having a baby. I can tell you the least important aspect of which car seat to buy is the color. The baby doesn’t care what color, and in a crash it won’t matter.
When expectant parents find out I’m a car seat technician, the most common question is “Which seat should I buy?” I will not deny that car seat technicians all have their favorites. There are some car seats that are easier to install than others, but I am always apprehensive to name a specific seat. There is not one seat that fits every situation. (The examples I have in this post are just examples, not endorsements or recommendations.)
Ease-of-use is a huge selling point. It can mean that parents are more likely to use it properly.
For newborns, there are two ways to go. You can start a baby in either an infant-only/rear-facing only car seat with a carry handle, or you can start them out in a convertible that typically stays in the car and will eventually turn forward-facing.
The features to look for in a car seat for an infant (either type) are:
- Nice, low harness slots. For rear-facing children, most manufacturers want the harness slots at or below the height of the shoulder. Compare the lowest slots from one seat to another.
- How does the harness tighten/loosen? Place a teddy bear or doll in the seat and practice tightening/loosening the harness.To use your car seat correctly, you’ll need to loosen the harness every time you get the baby out and tighten it down every time you put the baby in.
- Budget. Keep in mind your budget then look for the features from earlier, then look for the highest height and highest weight limit you can afford. There are really great seats at varying prices.
To choose between the convertible and the infant-only carry handle type is a personal choice. Most babies out grow their carry handle seat by about 5 to 10 months. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends keeping children rear-facing as long as possible but hopefully past their 2nd birthday. That means that if you start with a carry handle type seat you'll need to move them into a convertible seat in order to keep them the safest for longer.
The American Academy of Pediatrics also recommends that regardless of what type of seat you have, that you leave the seat in the car and carry the baby due to a high rate of injuries for babies in their car seat outside of the car. Caregivers are placing the carrier with the baby in it on high surfaces, soft surfaces, etc, then the whole contraption falls. The babies will also benefit from being held when not in the car.
Oh, and stay away from 'after market products'. Car seat manufacturers typically do not recommend them for use in their seats because they haven't been crash tested and can potentially affect how well the harness will hold the baby in a crash. To support the baby’s head, after the baby is buckled in, we can roll up receiving blankets along the sides without affecting the harness.
The next thing to do is find a Certified Child Passenger Safety Technician at a local inspection event to learn about proper use and installation. These events are usually free and they are personalized. The technician will work with you, in your car, with your car seat.
The statistics show that somewhere around 90% of car seats are either installed improperly or the child is not restrained properly. Just because you have a family member or really good friend who has ‘lots of experience’ with car seats does not mean they can install them properly. Odds are they would be in the 90%.
If I were to tell you the odds of a slot machine were that you had a 90% chance of losing you probably wouldn’t play. If there were a gambling expert that could show you how to reverse those odds, for free, you’d probably jump at the chance.