Chances are, it’s been awhile since you last thought about child safety seats for effective parenting. If you’ve been out of the game for a while, you might be surprised at, and a little mystified by, the changes in car seat technology.
We were lucky. When our granddaughter came to live with us, she had a car seat. In fact, I had helped her mother pick it out from the store. But babies grow fast. When it was time to upgrade, we had no idea what we needed or where to start.
If you’re in a similar situation, this short guide can help take some of the mystery out of child safety seats.
While child safety seat laws vary, all states have them. Check your state’s specific requirements before shopping.
Most states require some form of restraint for children up to age 16. The types of seating and required restraints often depend on age, height, and weight. Following the guidelines set by the American Academy of Pediatrics is the best way to be compliant with your state laws.
- Children under age of 2 years should ride in rear-facing seats.
- After age 2, children should transition to front-facing seats with a five-point harness.
- Children under age 13 should ride in the rear of the vehicle.
Types of Seats
The type of seat you need depends on your little one’s height, weight, and age.
Infant Seats (Newborn thru 2 years)
These seats usually consist of a base and removable seat with a handle and pull-down canopy. The base is secured with the vehicle’s installed safety belt. The seat can be used without the base.
Babies should use an infant seat until they are at least 22 lbs. Many seats are manufactured to support children up to 35 lbs.
Five-Point Harness (2 years thru 10 years+)
When your little one outgrows the weight limit of their infant seat, it’s time to upgrade to a front-facing seat with a five-point harness. Straps go over the shoulders and legs, and connect in a locking mechanism at the child’s chest level.
Many five-point harness seats can comfortably fit children up to 4’9″ (57 inches) in height and 85 lbs. in weight. Our family pediatrician recently advised me that children should use a five-point harness up to age 12.
Booster Seat (8 years+)
Car safety belts are designed to accommodate people at least 4’9” (57 inches) tall. A backless booster seat can lift bigger kids up for a better fit.
How long you use boosters depends solely on how fast your child grows. Your child is ready to move out safety seating when they are:
- Between the ages of 8 and 12
- Weigh at least 100 lbs.
- Height is at least 4’9” (57 inches)
I’ll never forget the first time I cleaned my granddaughter’s car seat. It was filthy. We thought about hosing it down in the yard, or tossing the whole thing into the tub. After a little research, I found out I could take the fabric seat cover off for easier cleaning.
I tackled that thing on the kitchen floor, wrestling and tugging on straps as metal buckles flew around my head. It was such an accomplishment when I finally got it all taken apart and clean! My celebration was cut short when I realized that I now had to figure out how to put it all back together.
Installing, using, cleaning, and maintaining car seats can be difficult. Fortunately, there’s help! Many police and fire departments offer periodic car seat inspections. The National Child Passenger Safety Certification program can connect you with technicians in your area that will help you install and understand your equipment.
You can also check with your local hospital or insurance provider, as many of them offer these and other useful safety classes. Premature babies, and children with certain medical conditions may need special car seats. Always follow your pediatrician’s recommendations.
Taking care of a child can have its overwhelming moments. Buying a safety seat doesn’t have to be one of them. With a little research and help from your community, you are sure to find the right seat to keep your little one safe and happy.