When shopping for a car seat, safety is always top of mind. There's only one way to take baby home from the hospital, and that is in an infant-safe car seat. Here are some tips for choosing the safest possible car seat for your little one.
<p>When shopping for a car seat, safety is always top of mind. There's only one way to take baby home from the hospital, and that is in an infant-safe car seat. Here are some tips for choosing the safest possible car seat for your little one.</p>
Newborns can sit in two kinds of car seats: a rear-facing infant seat, or a convertible seat (which faces the rear of the car at first, and later is turned toward the front). Buying a convertible car seat saves money because it lasts through toddlerhood, and it's completely sound in terms of safety; the drawback is that it cannot be taken in and out of the car like an infant seat can. Most parents agree that the ability to move a sleeping baby in an infant car seat -- even if the baby fits the seat for only a year -- is priceless.
If you want to buy an infant car seat but need to trim costs, consider shopping for a travel system -- an infant seat and stroller that are sold together at a discount. You may find these in the stroller aisle, not the car-seat aisle.
Understandably, you want to know which car seat is safest. But all car seats that are on the market have been tested and approved for the current safety standards (check for the JPMA stamp on the box). Because the safety technology improves so frequently, the most important thing you can do is buy a new car seat and not accept a hand-me-down.
At the lower end of the price range ($80 to $200), whether you're purchasing an infant car seat or a convertible car seat, look for a model that has a 5-point harness (two shoulder straps, two waist straps, and one strap between the legs that meet in the middle), side-impact protection (extra foam or air pads at the side of baby's head), and compatibility with the LATCH system (a way to fasten the base tightly without using seatbelts).
If you can afford to buy a premium car seat, priced above $200, expect additional features, such as an anti-rebound bar at the foot of the seat that limits the amount of movement during a crash. Other features that bump up the price include cushier fabric, accessories such as a little "boot" around baby's feet, and a larger canopy.
To save trouble, check to see if straps of the car seat you're buying will be easy to adjust as your baby grows. Ideally, you want straps that will not have to be rethreaded. Many brands now have adjustment handles in the back of the seat, or a pull cord between baby's legs, that make rethreading a thing of the past.
You're not finished once you walk out of the store. Although all companies continue to simplify the installation process -- videos on YouTube.com supplement some instruction books -- it's still recommended that, after you install the car seat, you have your work checked by a professional. Log on to www.seatcheck.org to find an inspector near you.