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Car Seat 101

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What should I look for in a car safety seat, and what mistakes should I avoid making when placing my baby in a car seat?

Mother looking after child laying in seat

One of the most important things you can do as a parent is protect your child while he/she is riding in your car. It is important that infants and toddlers are placed in a car seat when riding in any vehicle.

There are two types of basic car seats: infant car seats (which many experts consider to be the safest), and infant-toddler car seats. Infant car seats can be used by an infant under 20 pounds; infant-toddler seats can hold infants and toddlers under 40 pounds.

As you begin to research car-seat manufacturers, check for consumer reports that detail recalls. Also determine which seats have been crash-tested. Here are some guidelines to keep in mind during this process:

  • Check for easy installation. If the car seat looks like it will be hard to install, keep shopping. Also make sure the seat is compatible with your car and fits safely and snugly in the back seat.
  • Look for a seat with a five-point safety harness, which includes one strap for each shoulder, one for each thigh and one that goes between your baby's legs.
  • Avoid seats that require you to adjust the belt from only the back of the seat. Newer models let you adjust the seat from both the front and the back, and many have raised belt slots to allow for easier installation.
  • Since 2002, all child safety seats and vehicles are compatible with the LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) system and have both upper and lower anchors to keep your child's seat secure and safe.
  • A well-padded seat with good head-and-back support will help your baby remain comfortable while in the car. Make sure he/she can move his/her arms. A seat with a removable cover that is machine-washable is also a plus.

For babies under a year old, remember to install his/her car seat in the back seat, and face it toward the rear of the car. When your child weighs at least 20 pounds and is at least one year old, the car seat can be placed facing forward -- although experts recommend that you keep your child's seat facing the rear for as long as possible.

When placing your child in his/her infant or infant-toddler seat, make sure that:

  • The harness clip is placed at your child's armpit level, and the straps are snug and straight.
  • The rear-facing harness straps are positioned at (or slightly below) your child's shoulders.
  • The seat reclines at a 45-degree angle.
  • You never place an infant in a rear-facing child seat in the front seat of a car.

Note: Each car seat has an expiration date, which can be found in the instruction manual. If you are planning on having your child use his/her seat for several years, make sure the seat doesn't expire before your child reaches 20 or 40 pounds, as appropriate.

Enjoy your travels together!

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