There are four basic kinds of car seats:
- Infant Car Seat
- Convertible Car Seat
- Toddler Booster Seat
- Booster Seat
Which one should you choose? Answer the following questions to help narrow the size and style that's best for your bundle of joy.
How big is your child?
One size does not fit all when it comes to car seats. A newborn needs a specific kind of seat, a three-year-old another. Fortunately, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (www.NHTSA.gov) has established car seat guidelines to help you choose the right seat. The NHTSA generally recommends the following:
||Seat Type/Seat Position
|Birth to 12 months.
||Infant only seat in rear facing position or convertible seat used rear facing.
|1-3 years old.
||Keep your child rear facing until he or she exceeds the top height or weight capacity of the car seat. Then move them to a convertible seat in forward facing position or a forward facing (Toddler Booster Seat) using harness.
|4-7 years old.
||Keep your child in a car seat with a harness until he or she exceeds the top height or weight capacity for the car seat. Then move to a belt-positioning booster with no back or high back belt-positioning booster.
|8-12 years old.
||Keep your child in a booster seat until he or she exceeds the top height or weight capacity for the booster seat. Then transition to a seat belt. The seat belt should lie across the upper thigh and be snug across the shoulder and chest.
What are your state's car seat laws?
While the NHTSA has general guidelines for car seats, the laws can differ state-by-state. Check out the Governor's Highway Safety Association (ghsa.org) for a detailed list of requirements in your state.
Could you use a whole travel system?
If you aren't interested in a whole travel system but you still want something that's stroller-convertible, you can purchase the infant seat and the stroller separately. Just make sure the stroller you choose is designed to accept an infant seat.
City dwellers and travelers with a brand new infant may want to consider investing in a travel system. This versatile set generally comes with an infant seat, a base for your car and a stroller base. Simply lift the seat by the handle to transfer your little one from car to the stroller. The first time you transfer a sleeping baby effortlessly from car to stroller will prove the worth of this system.
How much weight can you lift?
If you anticipate using your infant car seat as a carrier, make sure you can lift it. Try a few out and don't forget that with the baby inside it'll be 5-15 pounds heavier.
Is your car LATCH equipped?
The LATCH ("Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children") is a car seat system designed to make car seat installation easier. LATCH is required on child car seats and most vehicles built after September 1, 2002. LATCH is not required on booster seats.
A LATCH car seat has attachments that fit directly into the seat anchors. Forward facing seats will also have a tether that fits through the top tether anchor.