Choosing a car seat for your newborn is one of the most important things you'll do before your baby arrives. By law, you will need to have a properly installed car seat in your car before you can take your baby home. There are many brands and types of car seats available, and it will take time and effort to decide which is suitable for your child. Here are some things to consider.
You should look for a car seat that best fits your child and your vehicle. Not all car seats are the same and they don’t all work in every type of car. The car seat that you choose should be based on the height and weight of your child. To determine this, you should test the seat to make sure it fits your baby and your vehicle properly. To ensure that you are properly installing the car seat, read the manufacturer’s instructions carefully or contact a certified car seat technician in your neighborhood.
Cost should not be your only guide in choosing a seat. All seats meet the same safety standards and are required to pass the same crash tests. A more expensive car seat usually has extra features, but this doesn't necessarily make it safer or easier to use.
Car seat safety regulations change often, so you should not buy a used car seat if at all possible. You should never use a seat that has been in a crash, has missing parts, or is damaged in any way. It is also difficult to tell if a seat has been stored improperly or has been involved in an accident, so purchasing a used seat without knowing its history is not recommended.
No matter what seat you buy, you should carefully read the instructions from the manufacturer. You can obtain user instructions online or from the seat manufacturer. You should also register your seat with the manufacturer and have the seat checked for recalls.
Child car seats have both harness straps and a harness (retainer) clip. Car seats come with more than one harness height to give your baby some growing room. The harness straps fit over your child's shoulders, and the retainer clip holds the harness straps in place. The harness straps should fit snugly on your child, and the harness clip should be placed at armpit level. You should not be able to “pinch” any harness at the child’s shoulder level.
There are four types of child car seats, including:
There are also seats and harnesses made specifically for special needs children.
Each type of seat has specific features that work for the stage of life your child is currently in. Different seats also have different weight restrictions and limits. Make sure you always look at the manufacturer’s information that comes with the seat before purchasing a car seat. These instructions will help you know what seat is best for your child at any stage of life.
While many state laws are different and some don’t require children over age 4 to ride in a child restraint system, your child is safest when using a car seat. Young children who don’t ride in some kind of restraint system, are unprotected from serious injury. The general rule is to keep children in an appropriate car seat until the child is 4’9”.
Your child is ready to use a standard car seat belt when he or she has met several criteria, including:
Children under the age of 13 should ride in the back seat of a vehicle. Everyone should always wear a seat belt in the car.
To learn more about car seats and help you find the right one for your family, visit the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website (www.nhtsa.gov). This resource has a helpful tool that can help you pinpoint safe car seat options for your child. The car seat finder asks you to enter your child’s birth date, height and weight. It then identifies options that could work. You can find this tool at https://www.nhtsa.gov/equipment/car-seats-and-booster-seats#car-seat-finder.
© Copyright 1995-2020 The Cleveland Clinic Foundation. All rights reserved.
This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 02/20/2020