Baby car seats are an essential part of the overall safety measures you put in place to protect your little one in their living environment. When you travel with your little one in a vehicle, that vehicle becomes part of your baby’s living space, and it’s your responsibility to make sure it is safe for them.
Baby car seat manufacturers go to great lengths to design and test their car seats’ safety, but parents need to educate themselves on the different types of car seats and their limitations.
When manufacturers make recommendations, it’s because their tests reveal data that defines the car seat’s optimum safe use. Anything outside their recommendations increases risk. And the whole idea of using a baby car seat is to reduce risk, right?
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Fact check on car seats
To give you an idea of how risk is not seriously considered, research has found that 90% of all child car seats are not used properly, and about 50% of these seats are flagged with five common usage mistakes.
There are several types of child car seats designed for newborns right up to children who have grown big enough to use the standard seat belts in a vehicle.
Each child car seat will have an instruction manual and a tag attached to the seat that displays the minimum and maximum height and weight recommendations for each specific seat. The instruction manual will have a detailed step by step guide on installing the seat and how to secure your child in it properly.
The three main types of seats are rear-facing, front-facing, and booster car seats, but because there are so many different brands, types, and styles on the market, you may have a tough time deciding which seat is best for your little one.
Useful tips for buying your child’s car seat
- If you are buying or accepting a second-hand child car seat, get as much history on the seat as possible. Check for any cracks in the base and, make sure the harness is in good condition and locks and releases as it should. It should look like it has been taken care of with minimal wear and tear signs. It is also important that the manufacturers’ label is still attached to the seat, and you can still read the recommendations. Even with all this information, it remains a risky deal. You will have to call the manufacturer to determine if the seat has reached its expiry date or has been recalled. Taking all this into account, it is not advisable to buy a second-hand child car seat. Rather pay a bit more and be sure about your child’s safety.
- Expiry dates for child car seats are normally between 6 and 10 years from the manufacture date. This is due to limits on testing, expected wear and tear, and recalls. It’s wise to look at the manufactured date to avoid investing in a seat that was made a few years earlier. You may need to use the seat for additions to your family.
- The best and safest seat for your little one is one that your child fits into, and your child’s weight and height are within the seat recommendations. The seat must be correctly installed in your vehicle, and your little one must be buckled up correctly with every use.
- Price or brand name shouldn’t be used to decide what seat will be best for your child.
- Think about the practical side of using the seat in different vehicles. Will it be easy to move the seat between vehicles? How well will the seat fit in your vehicle?
- Look at the padding and safety features of the seat.
- You may have a small baby who needs extra support in a rear-facing seat. You may need to insert rolled up maternity blankets or cloth diapers on the sides of your baby and in the crouch area beneath the harness buckle for that extra support. Find out if using extra support has been approved for the specific seat. If not, find one with approval.
Rear facing car seats
Infant: 0 to 1-year-old
Convertible: 6 months to 3 years old
Rear-facing car seats are considered very safe, especially if your vehicle is involved in a front-end crash, which is the most common type of crash. In a front end crash your infant’s head, neck, and spine move equally into the protective seat and not away from it. The harness keeps your little one secured in the seat while the seat itself is kept in place by the vehicle’s safety belt.
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You will begin with a newborn car seat that can be separated from its base and has a carry handle. The seat can easily be moved in and out of the vehicle by simply clipping it in and out of the base. When your little one has almost outgrown the carry seat you will then move to a bigger rear-facing car seat that can be converted at a later stage to a front-facing seat.
Alternatively, you can opt for the All-in-One seat that can be used as a rear and forward-facing seat. It is bigger than other seats and has higher weight and height limits, but it may be a tight squeeze when used as a rear-facing seat in small cars.
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Rear facing car seats should be used until your little one is 3 years old but this depends on their height and weight. If either one is not within the manufacture’s recommendations then you should move to a forward-facing car seat.
The harness for rear facing car seats should come over the shoulders from behind them, pretty much at the shoulder blade level. This gives maximum restraint in the seat.
Forward facing car seats
Convertible: 3 to 5 years old
Forward facing only: 3 years old until manufacturers maximum weight or height is reached.
Only once your little one has reached the weight or height limit of the rear-facing car seat, you can then turn the convertible seat into the forward-facing position or use a forward-facing only car seat.
The standard harness for forward-facing car seats is a 5-point harness system. It is important to note the harness’s height and weight limits as you may have to replace the seat with one that has higher limits before moving to a booster seat.
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As a rule, before advancing to a booster seat, you should check the following points below. And if one of these points rings true for your child, then move to using the booster seat with the car safety belt.
- Your child reaches the maximum weight or height for the front-facing seat.
- Your child’s shoulders are above the top harness slots causing the harness to fold over the shoulders from the shoulder blade position. This will cause serious injury in a front-end crash.
- The top of your child’s ears reaches the top of the seat. Your child may still be under the height limit, but we are all built differently, and some children have longer torsos than others.
The minimum age to use a booster seat should be 5 years old but the ideal age is when your child reaches the maximum weight or height for the 5-point harness.
Don’t be too hasty to go straight from a forward-facing car seat with a 5-point harness to your child just using the car’s safety belt. Statistics show that children in booster seats are 45% less likely to be seriously injured in a crash than children of the same weight, height, and age only using the car’s safety belt. In short, don’t skip using a booster seat.
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Although booster seats make use of the vehicle’s safety belt, the seat itself provides better overall support for your child, especially for the hips, neck, and head. Only when your child is old enough, has the right weight and height can they progress to using the vehicle’s seat belt without the booster seat.
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Typically, children between the ages of 9 and 12 should use a booster seat. By the age of 13, your child will have grown enough to use the vehicle’s seat belt comfortably while still benefiting from its safety features.
Frequently Asked Questions
What’s the best way to clean my child’s car seat?
When dealing with spills, soak up as much as you can, and as soon as you can, with a cloth or napkin. Then use a few wet wipes to clean the seat as best as you can. When you get home, read the manufacturer’s instruction manual or search for it online then follow their cleaning instructions using the right cleaning materials. Some cleaning methods may not work on the fabric of the seat so it’s best to get the correct advice from the manufacturer.
Should I change to a forward-facing position if my child’s feet touch the back of the car seat?
No, do not change seating positions if your child hasn’t reached the manufacturers height or weight maximum recommendation. Children can bend their legs and be comfortable in that position for long periods of time. As far as safety is concerned, research data indicates that children in the rear facing seating position very seldom get serious leg injuries.
Most back seats are limited to three seat belts, but what if I have to transport more children than that?
This is a situation you must try and avoid but if you have no other alternative then you can use a forward-facing child seat on the front passenger seat. Push the front seat as far back as possible to increase the distance from the dashboard and airbag. Understand that this is not recommended by the manufacturer and may be violating the law as well. Considering the added risk, it is best to make other transport arrangements.
The key takeaway is to use the manufactures weight and height recommendations to indicate when to transition to the next level of child car seats.
When it comes to transport, whether you’re using a car, airplane, train, or bus, your child’s safety should always be your first priority.