Today I’m going to let you in on a little secret. One no one ever told me about when I was pregnant with my first.
Car seats are one of the most important safety decisions you’re going to make for your family, and installing them is one of the most stressful, irritating, frustrating, hot, sweaty, opposite-of-simple things you’re going to do as a parent. I’m convinced the role of transition during labor is to prepare you for the same sobbing, “I can’t do it! I can’t go on!” resignation you’ll experience to install the seat correctly. I’m joking. Maybe. But I’m going to help you have an easier time navigating car seats with this post.
Before you even put a car seat in the car, the first decision is WHAT car seat to buy.
Though Illinois allows for infants to forward face starting at age 1, the recommendation is infants and toddlers should remain rear-facing until at least age 2. Ideally, the child should remain rear-facing until they have maxed out the height and weight limits of the seat. The American Academy of Pediatrics states, “In a new policy published in the April 2011 issue of Pediatrics (published online March 21), the AAP advises parents to keep their toddlers in rear-facing car seats until age 2, or until they reach the maximum height and weight for their seat. It also advises that most children will need to ride in a belt-positioning booster seat until they have reached 4 feet 9 inches tall and are between 8 and 12 years of age.” The Car Seat Lady also has a great blog post about the importance of keeping children rear-facing as long as possible.
Generally speaking with an infant seat, my experience has been that a child will outgrow an infant bucket car seat well before a year. However, many convertible car seats offer rear-facing capability and you can get several years of use out of this type of seat.
There are pros and cons to starting out with an infant bucket seat and then moving on to a convertible seat. Pros include:
– keeping winter babies warmer and it easier to transfer from the vehicle if they fall asleep. Make sure they do not take extended naps in the car seat, however.
– putting the entire bucket seat in the base of a shopping cart (never ever the top of the cart!) again, without taking out a sleeping baby
– the ability for the bucket seat to snap into stroller frames, like the Snap-n-Go. Easy peasy.
– some babies just don’t like the recline of the bucket seat and may be happier with a convertible seat (my daughter was like this)
– many (not all) babies will outgrow the infant seat well before they reach 30 pounds. And lugging the infant seat around can get really old, really fast. It gets heavier as they get heavier.
A workaround is to put the baby in a carrier when you go shopping.
What about convertible car seats? Pros include:
– children like being higher up in the vehicle with more to see
– they can be used forward or rear-facing so you can get many years out of a purchase
– reflux or colicky babies sometimes are happier with the angle of a convertible seat
– some car seats are heavy and bulky, especially if you are limited with space and trying to fit three across in the back of a car.
– price and practicality vary. Yes, there are some inexpensive options that might work well for occasional use in Grandma’s car, but consider your child’s comfort and ease of installation for you.
Real life recommendations? Well, that depends on your family needs, lifestyle, vehicle, and more. There are a variety of price points and options available. Contrary to what you might think, the highest priced car seat isn’t necessarily the one with the best ratings, so it pays to shop around. A good place to start is the Baby Gear Lab. The Britax Marathon (pictured above) ranked #1 on their list of convertible car seats.
One last word before I move on to proper installation. It can be tempting to buy a car seat on a buy-sell-trade group or as a hand me down from someone else, but please be aware that expiration dates exist and it can be virtually impossible to detect outwardly a seat has been involved in a car crash. Your child’s safety is not worth a compromised seat.
So, how do you install these things? Chances are, many parents are doing this improperly. You can check at local firehouses or see if there is a Safety Seat Fitting Location near you on this list. Or, if you live in the south suburbs of Chicago, you can use my recommendation and call my friend Danielle. She is qualified by Safe Kids Worldwide to provide car seat inspections and education. Contact her for a free safety check.
Hopefully, this post provided some information about what to read, where to look and how to ask for help with your car seat needs. And of course, if you ever want help with a specific question, contact me or leave a comment on my Facebook page.