Baby Car Seat Guide: Don’t Get the Wrong Baby Car Seat

Baby car seats are absolutely essential baby products that help your little one sit safely and snugly in the car. They are legally required for all children until early adolescence. With so many different baby car seat designs and models available, how do you decide which baby car seat to buy?

>> Decide between infant-only car seats and convertible car seats

Infant car seats and convertible car seats are different in many ways. Infant-only car seats are rear-facing car seats and have much lower height and weight limitations, whereas you can switch convertible baby car seats between rear facing and forward facing. A baby must ride facing the rear for the first two years of his or her life, or until the baby exceeds certain height and weight limits. Convertible booster seats have a height and weight limit for when the baby can face forward and a height and weight limit for when the child outgrows the car seat entirely and can move on to a booster seat. Deciding between these types of seats is an important first step in figuring out how to buy a baby car seat.

>> Consider your child's height and weight

Your child's current height and weight will help you decide which baby car seat to buy. Infant car seat designs (with infant head supports) have height limits generally around 29 to 32 inches and weight limitations around 22 to 35 pounds. Convertible baby car seat limits are generally between 40 and 80 pounds for weight and can be up to 50 inches for height. Convertible car seats can sometimes be converted to booster seats. How much use you'll get out of these seats depends on how fast your child grows.

>> Does the car seat use the LATCH system?

LATCH stands for lower anchors and tethers for children. The US government mandates that cars manufactured as of September 2002 be compatible for LATCH baby car seat designs. The system is designed around two anchor points at the bottom of the car seat and an anchor point at the top of the car seat. Most baby car seats are LATCH compatible. If you have a car manufactured before September 2002, you may need to look for a car seat that uses seat belts instead of the LATCH system to secure the baby car seat. Knowing if your car is LATCH compatible is another crucial step to learning how to buy a baby car seat.

>> Consider comprehensive baby travel systems

Some baby car seats come as part of a baby gear bundle. These systems usually come as a convertible baby car seat that detaches from the car seat and fits into a stroller. With some specially designed strollers, you can secure the baby car seats to them. These types of baby car seat sets are convenient because they allow you to transfer your sleeping baby from the car to a stroller without waking the baby. If you value convenience, these systems can help you decide which is the best baby car seat to buy.

>> Consider convenience

Your baby car seat will be with you through many situations, so convenience is a big factor in considering how to buy a baby car seat. Generally, you want a baby car seat design that will allow you to fit your baby into it quickly. You'll need to adjust the seat as your child grows, and, if you buy a convertible car seat, when the baby outgrows the rear-facing limitations. You should be able to change your baby car seat easily when this happens. The weight of the car seat is another important factor. Baby car seat sizes vary. Choose a baby car seat that you'll be able to carry with ease.
>> Consider accessories

Accessories might help you determine which baby car seat to buy. Some types of baby car seats have cup holders or trays so your baby can drink or snack while you drive. Another great feature is a machine-washable cover. The ability to detach and clean the seat cover can be invaluable. Many baby car seats come with extra safety features. These features might include extra protective padding and rear crash protection. Baby car seat styles and colors could help sway a buying decision. Accessories are usually listed on the box or near the price tag.

>> Check safety

Safety is paramount when it comes to baby car seats. Refer to your car's owners' manual for guidance. The baby car seat also comes with an owners' manual. The most important safety consideration is the car seat's height and weight limitations. Rear-facing riding is the safest way for babies to ride, so keep the baby facing rear for as long as possible. After you narrow down the models of baby car seats you might want to buy, check the National Traffic Safety Administration's recall database or the US Consumer Products Safety Commission's "babies and kids" section for product recalls.

Baby car seat types, accessories, convenience and safety all will factor into your decision on how to buy a baby car seat. Keep these features in mind when doing a baby car seat comparison, and you'll find a baby car seat you are confident will protect your precious cargo.

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