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Which Car Seat Is Right for Your Child?

As your child grows, you'll need to change the direction that his car seat faces and how he sits in it -- and you may need to buy a new seat. Check out this age-by-age guide to keeping car travel safe for your little one.

Kids must remain rear-facing until they're 2 years old or have reached the maximum height or weight capacity of the car seat. Your options are:

  • Infant-only seat: This can be used until baby weighs 20 to 22 pounds or his head is within 1 inch of top of the seat.
  • Rear-facing convertible: Most babies use this next, because they still need to ride rear-facing. (It may be used from birth, but infant-only seats fit small babies better.) Choose one certified to face rear until baby weighs at least 30 pounds.

When to Switch a Car Seat
When to Switch a Car Seat

For kids who are at least 2 years old and have reached the maximum height or weight capacity of the car seat, they should ride rear-facing as long as possible, options are:

  • Forward-facing seat: This can be used until your child weighs 40 to 60 pounds. (Most are convertible and fit to 40 pounds.)
  • Combination seat: This functions with a harness until the child reaches 40 pounds. Remove the harness and it converts to a belt-positioning booster, which can be used for kids up to 80 pounds with your car's lap/shoulder belt.

For children who have outgrown seats with a harness, use a belt-positioning booster with lap/shoulder belt in the car. It fits kids up to 80-100 pounds. Most kids need boosters from about age 3 or 4 to at least age 8. Children need head support; use a high-back booster if the car has a low backseat. A backless booster can be used if the car's seat has a headrest.

  • Practice buckling the seat into your car before your baby's first ride.
  • Make sure the harness straps fit snugly on your baby's body. Use the lowest harness slots for a newborn infant. Keep the straps in the slots at or below your baby's shoulders for the rear-facing position.
  • Make sure the harness straps fit properly over the shoulders and between the legs -- this is very important. Dress your baby in clothes that keep legs free.
  • To fill empty spaces and give support, roll up a couple of small blankets and tuck them between your baby's shoulders and head, on both his right and left sides.
  • If he still slumps down, put a rolled diaper between his legs behind the crotch strap. Don't put thick padding underneath or behind the baby.

Additional Source: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 800-424-9398, 888-327-4236

 

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.