Q&A: Car Seats

Keep these tips in mind when choosing a car seat for your new baby.

Q. What type of infant car seat is best?

A. When you're ready to take your bundle of joy home from the hospital, your baby will need to ride in a car seat. Some hospitals actually send a nurse down to your car with you to confirm that you have one. If you've checked out car seats in baby superstores, you know there is a bewildering variety to choose from. Which should you buy?

Choose rear-facing seats. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the safest way for infants to ride in a car is in the backseat facing the rear of the vehicle. Never put the car seat in a front seat where an air bag is present; if the bag inflates, it could crush and kill your baby. Rear-facing car seats protect a baby's head, neck, and back in a crash. A baby should ride facing the rear until at least 1 year of age and 20 pounds, and longer if possible. If you want to keep an eye on your rear-facing baby, you can attach a mirror to the backseat, positioning it in the view of your rearview mirror. Some experts discourage the use of these mirrors, however, because they distract the driver from watching the road and can become deadly projectiles in a car accident.

There are two kinds of car seats for babies. Small, lightweight, infant-only seats are one option. Larger convertible seats safely hold a baby facing the rear and can be turned around and converted into a safety seat for a toddler or preschooler weighing up to 35 pounds. Both kinds of seats are equally safe, so the kind you choose depends on personal preference.

Pay attention to installation. Closely follow the directions that come with the seat. If it is not installed correctly, or if the baby is not properly harnessed into it, the seat may not protect the baby in an accident. You may want to install your car seat and then drive to an inspection checkpoint to verify that you've put it in correctly. Local police stations, hospitals, and car dealerships often provide this service free of charge.

Do the paperwork. When you buy a car seat, fill out the registration card that comes with it and send it to the manufacturer. That way the manufacturer will be able to contact you if the seat is recalled.

    Originally published in You & Your Baby: Pregnancy.

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