Everything You Need to Know About Infant Car Seats
A child’s infancy is a precious time, filled with excitement, growth and tremendous transformation. This is true not just for the baby, but for his or her parents too. There are so many things to learn and explore and so many priceless moments to experience. And let us not forget the sheer volume of things to purchase: a crib and bedding, baby clothes, diapers, blankets and warmers, nursing and feeding accessories, cleaning agents and lotions that are safe for the baby. These are all important items on a new parent’s list. But of these, did you know there is only one item the law mandates that a parent buys? An infant car seat. Yes, infant car seats are that necessary—you need this before you are allowed to take your baby home from the hospital—and hence, that critical.
Infant car seats are just that: seats suitable only for infants. This kind of seat is installed facing the rear end of a car and can be used for your child's first year. It supports up to 40 pounds in weight and 32” in height. But what it lacks in longevity, it makes up for in convenience. New parents love this kind because they are easy to unhook from your car so your blissfully-sleeping infant stays undisturbed while you carry him or her home. (Some versions even fit into a stroller.)
As the name implies, convertible car seats are more versatile, in the sense that they can be used beyond the first year. They too are installed facing the back of your car but can then be turned to face forward. This is mighty helpful as the law in most countries mandates that infants are placed facing the rear end of the car for their first two years. The biggest downside of this seat is that it cannot be easily removed from your car. So if you plan to move your toddler across cars, you are better off exploring other types of seats.
Convertible car seats support up to 80 pounds in weight and 50” in height. This is great news for young parents as you can continue using this seat even after the second year as long as your child falls within the specific height and weight range.
As you would expect, this kind of seat combines the qualities of infant car seats and convertible car seats. This means that they can hold your infant in a rear-facing seat for the first two years and a forward-facing seat supported by a harness after the second year.
These are more appropriate for children 4 years and above and can serve until your child turns 8 years old (depending on the height and weight of your child).
Things to Consider
The above information should help you narrow down the type of seat you wish to purchase for the child. Here is where we tell you that $500 seats are not always better than $200 seats. Surprised yet? Here are the key things to consider…
Safety First, Always
Good infant car seats always serve their purpose first, which is to ensure the safe travel of your precious bundle of joy. This means that the functionality of your seat trumps its look, feel and brand. (Look for a seat that comes with protection from side-impact.) Also, if the seat’s straps are too loose for your child’s height and weight, it doesn’t matter if it is that perfect precious-pink/ sacred-silver with Italian fabric; it is not good enough.
This is also the reason we recommend buying new infant car seats as opposed to using an existing one. (You never know how roughly the old seat has been used, even if it looks safe.) A good test for parents is to strap your child into the installed seat securely (so there is a little wiggle room), and see if you are comfortable turning him or her upside down in this position. If this makes you uncomfortable, your gut is helping you with good advice: the seat is not safe enough.
Ease Of Installation
Let us say you found the jackpot of safe infant car seats. But if you are overwhelmed by all those instructions and don’t install it right, you are once again compromising on critical functionality. You can believe us when we say that this---incorrect installation-–is the number one reason for the seat failing to protect a child. A good way to cover this is to get the infant car seats checked, or better yet installed, by a professional.
Portability Of Seats
Infant car seats are clearly more portable than the other types. But if you prefer to go the convertible route, consider getting one with a separate car-seat base. This way, if you have 2 cars, you can install a separate base in each car and snap on the car seat per use.
Comfort Comes Last, But Is Best Of All
There is plenty to consider here: anti-allergic fabric with cushy padding, weight of the (portable) seat so you don’t break your back while you carry it, strong yet easy-to-release buckles and harnesses, adjustable headrests and washable covers. The works.
Reuse, Only If You Must
We cannot stress the importance of buying new seats for every child simply because this will mean less stress for you. The wear and tear on car seats is unquestionable so the newer the better. But if you have to reuse an existing one, consider one that is still under warranty, never been in a crash and comes with an instruction manual so you can check the quality of all of its parts.
How to Install
Once you have purchased your dream infant car seats, the easier (and more expensive way) is to hire a professional to install it. Or, you can do it yourself with a little care. Here is how you go about it.
Get Your Manuals In Place For The Seat And The Car
You know how most of us skip the manual while installing do-it-yourself IKEA furniture and just wing it? This is not that kind of project, as each type of seat can be different. Remember, safety is first always. This starts with following the instructions as they are meant to be followed in the infant seat- and car manuals.
Explore Built-In Latches For Infant Seats
Did you know most cars manufactured after 2002 come with built-in anchors or latches to fit rear-facing infant seats into place? No? This is another good reason to read the manual.
Placement and Separation
Once you have locked down the car seats on the available anchors or latches, place your car seat in place, ideally in the middle of the back seat but never in the front seat (especially if it is supported by an airbag). Most infant seats come with 2 parts, which are the base and the carrier. The base is first latched or buckled on the back seat. Here, take care to use the right belt pad (forward/backward) so there is no overlap. You can also test the snugness of the fit by placing your knee on the seat. (This roughly translates to the infant’s weight). In this position, you will be able to further tighten the belts in place; only then should you snap the infant seat in place.
Installing Booster Seats
Unlike rear-facing infant seats, front-facing booster seats can be buckled into the car’s back seat. (The back seat should have an opening to slide the car seat in with buckles.) Once this is done, it is anchored in place using built-in tethers or latches, as per the car seat’s instruction manual.
Once you are done with the installation, remember to turn the rear-facing seat at a 45-degree angle, as recommended by experts. This will keep your toddler from falling forward when you break in traffic. Fortunately, most infant car seats come with headrest height and angle adjustments to support this. (If this is not in place, you will need to angle it using a swimming pool noodle, which is worth the effort.)
Infant car seats are not only a necessity but a worthwhile investment in your child’s safety. Now the best part about “buying” in this 21st century is that you can do most of it online and return the product within a certain timeframe, if you are not happy with its quality. So as a new parent, we encourage you to make use of these features to test your infant car seats with your little one in place. Don’t hesitate to swap your buy for an alternate model if you are not comfortable with the final fit. But most importantly, don’t hesitate to ask a friend or professional to check the final installation so your little one is always safe.
Last update on 2021-10-22 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API