Having a baby can be overwhelming. Trying to navigate through the new world of baby gear, including car seats, that accompanies having a baby can be overwhelming as well. Once you begin to research which car seat to purchase you’ll discover a multitude of seats exist, but all of the seats on the market will usually fit into a handful of general categories.
Infant Car Seats
Infant car seats can only be used in the rear-facing position, have a carry handle, and come with a base that stays in your vehicle.
Should I get an infant car seat?
Many first time parents question if they have to use an infant car seat. It’s totally up to you. There are some advantages to starting off with an infant car seat though:
They’re portable. The car seat clicks into the base that stays in the car. That means that you don’t have to install the base every time you need to use the seat, and you don’t have to wake a sleeping baby when it’s time to get out of the car. That also means that you can purchase one car seat and multiple bases for other vehicles that may be transporting your baby.
They can be “travel system” compatible. Most infant car seats on the market these days are compatible with a stroller. That means that you take the car seat from your car and place it on a compatible stroller without having to remove your baby from the car seat.
They can provide a better fit for baby. Infant car seats are smaller than other types of car seats. That means that you should be able to get a better fit for an infant using an infant car seat than some car seats that are designed to accommodate both small infants and older toddlers.
Some parents are concerned about the infant car seat being or becoming too heavy to carry. If your baby has not outgrown the seat yet, but you feel that the car seat has become too cumbersome to carry, keep in mind that you can still use the seat without actually removing it from the base that is installed in your vehicle. Some parents simply keep the base and the car seat secured in the vehicle at all times and secure their child directly in the vehicle.
Also remember that it is not required that you use an infant car seat; you just need to use a seat that will keep your baby rear-facing. BRITAX supports the recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatrics that children ride rear-facing until the age of 2 or until they outgrow the rear-facing height and weight capacity of their car seat, but at a minimum, children must remain rear-facing until they are at least 20 pounds and one year old. That means that if your child reaches 20 pounds at 9 months, she still needs to remain rear-facing for at least one year.
Convertible Car Seats
Convertible car seats can be used rear-facing and then “convert” to be used forward-facing.
When should I move my child into a convertible car seat?
Many convertible car seats allow you to begin using them when your baby weighs as little as five pounds. That coupled with the fact that these seats can be used rear-facing means that you could start using a convertible car seat from day one; you are not required to use an infant car seat.
If you choose to start with an infant car seat, your baby will be ready for their next seat either when:
They have outgrown their infant car seat. Refer to your infant car seat user guide to determine when your child has outgrown the seat.
You are ready to move them into their next seat. This could be because the infant car seat has become too cumbersome to carry.
When can I turn my convertible car seat around to forward-facing?
Many parents are anxious to turn their child’s seat around for various reasons; however we encourage you to follow the best practice of keeping your child rear-facing as long as possible. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, it is best for your child to ride rear-facing to the highest weight or height allowed by the manufacturer of her car safety seat.
At minimum, children must remain rear-facing until they are at least 20 pounds and one year old. That means that if your child reaches 20 pounds at 9 months she still needs to remain rear-facing for at least one year.
Combination seats possess a five-point harness that can later be removed and then used as a belt-positioning booster seat (more about belt-positioning boosters below).
Why would I use a combination seat?
It is best to keep your child in a car seat with a five-point harness as long as possible. Some parents who have multiple children will pass their older child’s convertible car seat on to their next child. Rather than moving their older child into a booster seat prematurely, they will purchase a combination seat that will allow them to stay restrained by a five-point harness longer. Once their child has outgrown the harness capacity of the seat, they can remove the harness system and continue to use the seat as a belt-positioning booster seat.
Belt-Positioning Booster Seats
Belt-positioning booster seats do not have a five-point harness system, but rather rely on the vehicle three-point seat belt system to keep your child restrained. The booster seat elevates your child so that the vehicle seat belt is positioned properly over your child. The lap belt should lie low and snug across your child’s upper thighs, and the shoulder belt should cross the middle of your child’s chest and shoulder. Booster seats must be used with a lap and shoulder belt and never a lap-only belt.
When can I move my child into a belt-positioning booster seat?
Booster seats are for older children who have outgrown their forward-facing child seat. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), it is best for children to continue to use a forward-facing car seat with a harness and top tether in the back seat for as long as possible. If your child outgrows his seat but is not yet ready to stay seated properly in a booster seat using the lap and shoulder belt, consider using a seat with a harness approved for higher weights and heights.
Keep in mind that many states have age, height, and/or weight requirements that your child must meet before he can transition to a booster seat. To find out what the laws are in your state, visit the Govenors Highway Safety Association website.
For more information on how to tell when your child is ready for a booster seat, visit our Booster Basics Page.