Practical advice for new parents

Infant Car Seats

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With car accidents being the leading causes of death and injury in babies and young children, a car safety seat is one of the most important purchases that you will make as a parent. A correctly sized, installed, and utilized infant car seat is simply the best way to keep your child safe while in a car.

If you're a parent-to-be, you'll need to have a rear-facing car seat installed before the big day arrives. Many birthing centers and hospitals generally have policies that forbid new parents from leaving with their new bundle of joy without proof that a safety seat is properly installed in their car.

There are two types of seats that are available for infants. The first is the infant-only seat that is designed to be installed exclusively in the rear-facing position. They usually have a 20 lb / 9kg. maximum weight limit. Many of the infant-only seats are part of a 'travel system' that also includes a stroller that the seat can snap into. The benefit of these is that you can move a sleeping baby from the car into the stroller while not removing him from the car seat.

The convertible car seat, also called an infant-toddler car seat, is the alternative to the infant-only version. These seats are versatile as they can be installed in both the rear-facing and forward position. The downside of the convertible seat is that the seat is fixed to the base in the car, eliminating the option of carrying your child from the car while still in the seat. However, Most of these seats accommodate a child up to 30 to 40 lbs / 13-18kgs and can be used for several years. Most parents move their children from rear-facing to forward-facing at one year of age. However, the rear-facing position is safest and should be used as long as possible.

Once your child has reached three years of age and at least 40 lbs / 13kgs, a belt-positioning booster seat is an option. Unlike both the infant-only and the convertible car seat, booster seats use the in-car shoulder belts to secure your child. There are both boosters with and without head support. The backless boosters are not recommended unless the seat provides ample head support for your child. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) strongly suggests that a convertible or forward-facing seat be used for as long as possible before a booster seat is used.

When shopping for a car seat, it's important to note that the inexpensive car seats must meet the same crash and fire safety standards as their more expensive counterparts. Generally, price has more to do with the brand name than with providing additional safety features. While buying second-hand might be great when it comes to baby clothes and toys, don't even consider buying a used car seat. Secondhand car seats may have been previously damaged in an accident, recalled, or not meet current safety standards.

When it comes to any type of infant car seat, correct installation is vitally important. Sadly, according to some studies, up to 50 percent of all infant car seats currently in use are not installed correctly so make sure that you follow the manufacturer's directions exactly during installation and keep in mind the impact of an airbag on your infant in the event of a crash. In most cases the airbag on your infant's side of the car will need to be deactivated. If you are unsure about any aspect of installing your infant car seat correctly, contact your local hospital, police, fire department or road transport authority to find out resources for helping you with the installation.