Car Seat Shopping Guide
There are many ways to get your baby from here to there, but you probably don’t need them all. If your baby will be traveling by car, you will need a car seat. Depending on how many cars you have, and how likely your baby is to travel in them, you might want to get two.
Do not buy your car seat online without testing it in your vehicle first. The most important thing about a car seat is that it fit your car properly. Even similar models from the same manufacturer can fit your car differently. When properly installed, the seat should not be able to wiggle sideways, instead it should be as if it were an extension of the seat in your car. Your best bet is to take your car and seat to a car seat check at your local police or fire station to ensure you have it installed correctly.
Check the harness system on the seat. A Three-Point Harness has straps that secure at baby's shoulders and between the legs. A Five-Point Harness adds a secure point at babies hips. A Five Point harness is safer than a three point harness. Most car seats will have a clip on the straps at babies chest to ensure the straps do not get twisted, which could be dangerous. Check both the latch on the harness and the latch on the chest clip. Are they easy enough for you to undo, or more importantly, latch while trying to hold a squirmy baby in place?
For the first year of life, until your baby is able to sit up on her own and about 20 pounds, you will need a rear-facing car seat. If you don’t want to buy another seat when baby gets larger, invest in a convertible seat. These chairs can be positioned rear facing for babies up to 20 - 30 pounds, and forward facing generally until baby is 40 pounds, but specifics vary by model so be sure to read your owners manual. There was concern about the safety of infant seats, caused by a faulty report from Consumer Reports in late 2006. Consumer Reports has acknowledged the error in their testing and reassures the public that infant seats are the safest way to transport a baby.
The infant carrier car seats give you the freedom to remove baby from the car without taking baby out of the seat. Many mothers find this convenient when baby falls asleep. Many of the infant carrier seats can be attached to a stroller or a grocery shopping cart giving you a safe place for baby to sit while you shop. Check the latch system to ensure it can be done and undone while leaning into your car's back seat, and do not be surprised if it's not all its cracked up to be.
My first car seat was part of an "all in one" system. The car seat did not fit my van properly, the carrier could not be used on the shopping carts at any of my local stores because it was the wrong size, and despite what it said on the box it took two hands to get the carrier out of the base or the stroller. I ditched the base because the seat strapped more securely to the seat without it and replaced it as soon as we had the money. I obviously did not keep it for baby number two.
I picked a car seat that had an amazing safety rating. I decided to take my car seat to one of the free car seat clinics as soon as I bought it. What a great idea that turned out to be. I learned the correct way to install the seat so my baby would be as safe as possible.
Bottom line, check any car seat you are considering using for proper fit and ease of use before you purchase it.
- Does it fit properly in my car?
- Can I secure and unlatch it easily in my vehicle?