Choosing — and Using — a Car Seat - dummies

Choosing — and Using — a Car Seat

By Joanne Stone, Keith Eddleman, Mary Duenwald

Buying a car seat for your baby is one of the most important, but confusing, purchases you’ll make. You have many choices, so staying informed about what to look for is important. Basically, you can choose from two types available for newborns:

  • Infant-only seat: Designed for babies who are under 1 year of age or weigh less than 20 pounds, this car seat is smaller and more lightweight than the alternative and should be used only in a rear-facing position. (A seat that faces the rear is essential for newborns, because it supports the child’s back, neck, and head during a car accident.)

    This type of seat is also more convenient because it’s lightweight and can also be used as an infant carrier, feeding chair, or rocker.

  • Convertible or infant-toddler seat: Car seats of this type are usually larger than infant-only car seats. You use them in a rear-facing position until your baby reaches 1 year of age or about 20 pounds. (Check your state’s car seat laws to make sure you are up-to-date.) Some models have weight limits as high as 30 to 32 pounds for rear-facing use.

    The advantage of this type of seat is that you make only one purchase instead of buying both an infant seat and then a convertible seat after the age of 1.

When shopping, look for a model that is simple to use. Also, pay attention to price — the higher-priced seats aren’t necessarily better. If you choose a convertible seat, try it out in your car to make sure it fits both backward and forward before you throw away the receipt. Also, check out whether the car seat is easy to install — you shouldn’t need to be a mechanical engineer to properly install your baby’s car seat.

The following considerations are also important when choosing a car seat:

  • A five-point safety harness with straps that adjust from the front

  • Plenty of head and neck support

  • An easy-to-clean seat

After you’ve made your selection, you may want to practice buckling the seat into your car before taking your baby out for her first ride. Remember that your baby should ride in a semi-reclined position (at about a 45-degree angle), with the straps snugly against her body.

If you want to cover your baby, buckle the harness first, and then put a blanket over her — a blanket under the harness, or even a bulky clothing garment like a snowsuit, may make the harness too loose.

If your baby is a preemie, ask your doctor if the baby needs to be tested in her car seat before discharge. Premature babies are at a greater risk for periods of apnea (absent breathing) or depressed heart rate in a car seat. You may need to use rolled-up towels or diapers on either side of the baby’s head to help keep her head and neck from slumping.