After finding out that I was pregnant, I began to research baby items. I knew nothing about baby products and was at a loss as to where to start. What products do I need for a baby? How will I know which one is best? I decided to begin my research by checking out car seats since for me safety was my number one priority for my yet unborn baby. How would I best be able to protect her from the multitude of crazy drivers taking to the roads every day?
I typed car seats into the search engine on the Internet and found myself overwhelmed with the amount of options that came up. Did I want an Infant Car Seat, a Backwards Facing Car Seat, a Forwards Facing Car Seat, a Convertible Car Seat, a Booster Car Seat or a Travel System (an infant car seat and stroller combination)? I had no idea what the differences are. I spent hours and hours researching car seats and testing car seats in the stores trying to understand these differences.
Save yourself some time. Check out the following information to help sort through your car seat confusion.
Infant Car Seats
An infant car seat is a car seat designed for a baby’s first year of life and is designed to be positioned rear facing in the car. New safety recommendations suggest that all babies should sit rear facing in an automobile until age two. However, the longer a baby sits rear facing the better.
Therefore, a car seat that can only be positioned rear facing (meaning no forward facing option) is an infant car seat. Helping to make a parent’s life easier, infant car seats are designed in conjunction with a stay-in-place car seat base. You install the car seat base in your car and the infant car seat can be easily snapped in and out of the base. This allows you to remove the infant car seat from the car with your baby still inside, avoiding the need to wake a sleeping baby upon arriving at a destination. Infant car seats can be attached to many types of strollers to create a “travel system”, and this then provides an easy way to move your baby from place to place.
Convertible Car Seats
A convertible car seat is a car seat that can be used from birth (at least 4-5 lbs) until 40-100 lbs, depending on the maximum car seat weight limit. This kind of car seat can first be used rear facing during the baby’s first 1-3 years (depending on the particular seat’s recommended rear facing weight limit), and then is turned around and converted into a forward facing car seat until the baby outgrows the seat when reaching the seat’s maximum forward facing weight limit. At this time, parents can then switch to a 5-point harness booster car seat, a belt-positioning booster car seat, or a backless belt-positioning booster car seat. For many parents this seems like the most practical and cost efficient option. Why spend money buying an infant car seat, then a forward facing car seat, and then a booster seat when you can just have a convertible car seat and then a booster car seat? However, many parents decide not to take this route when choosing car seats due to the invention of the travel system.
Booster Car Seats
Booster car seats are designed for older children who have outgrown their convertible car seat but who are not yet tall enough to be secure in the car with just a seatbelt. Booster car seats can be used with younger children with a 5-point harness or with older children as a belt positioning booster. These seats help position the seat belt correctly over a child’s small frame while still providing the safety features (like side impact protection) found on regular car seats. Backless booster seats are for older children who no longer want to ride in car seat but still need some extra height to help position the seat belt correctly across their bodies. It is possible to purchase all-in-one booster car seats that provide all of these options in just one seat.
Booster car seats are recommended for use until a child reaches 80 lbs and grows to 60 inches tall.
Travel System: A Stroller and Infant Car Seat Combination
A travel system is the combination of an infant car seat and stroller in one. Most brands of strollers and infant car seats offer at least one of these options. When you purchase your stroller you can also purchase an infant car seat designed to fit into your stroller. This way you can move a sleeping baby from the stroller to the car or from the car to the stroller (or to the home/restaurant/shopping center etc…) without waking the baby. This car seat comes with a handle and is easy for using as a baby transport device, even without the stroller.
Car Seat Safety Notices
**Important: Car seats have expiration dates. Most car seats are only good for six years of use (although check with the company for the lifespan of your particular car seat). The clock begins ticking on cars seats from the date of their manufacturer, not the date of purchase, so be sure to check the box that your car seat came in for this date. Also, double check the age of a car seat if buying second-hand.
**Important: Car seats need to be replaced after auto accidents. Any damage to a car seat can compromise its future ability to perform as designed. If you are considering purchasing a car seat second hand, be sure to inquire about any accidents the car seat might have already survived. If you are not sure about the history of the car seat then do not buy.