Choosing Your Child’s Car Seat
Parenting is hard. Parents have so much to think about, and recommendations and guidelines change all the time. Trying to figure out which car seat your child might need seems is one of those topics. Why is it so confusing? Part of this is because the recommendations are based not only on the child’s age, but also on weight and height. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) published a new policy in 2011 that recommends parents keep their infants and toddlers rear-facing until age 2 or until they max out the seat’s height and weight limits. Why? Because the rear-facing seat does a better job of supporting the head, neck and spine in a crash.
When fitting your child in a rear-facing car seat, make sure the shoulder straps are at or below the baby’s shoulder and snug enough that you cannot pinch any excess harness over the shoulder. The chest clip should be placed at the level of the armpit.
Once a child ages out of the rear-facing seat, he can face forward with a harness until he reaches the seat’s height and/or weight limits. These limits vary depending on the car seat. When a child is facing forward, the shoulder straps should be at or above the height of the child’s shoulders. You can use either a seat belt (make sure that the seat belt goes through the appropriate belt path and is locked and tightened) or lower anchors (the weight of the child added to the weight of the seat cannot be more than 65 pounds).
The final stage of car seats is a booster seat used with the shoulder belt. A child will need to use a booster seat until she has reached 4 feet, 9 inches tall and is between ages 8 and 12 years. This booster seat rests on the seat of the car and is not anchored or tethered down. The booster seat is used with a regular lap belt and shoulder strap and allows the lap belt to lie low and snug across the child’s thighs. The shoulder strap should cross the middle of the chest and shoulder and not rest on the neck.
Car seats can be confusing, but by following the guidelines based on your child’s age, height and weight, you can keep your children as safe as possible during the time they spend in the car.
Tips for car seats:
- Check the date. Look on the label for when the car seat was made. If there is no expiration date, check with the manufacturer to find out how long it is recommended to use the seat.
- Check for recall. Visit the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website.
- Do not use car seat if it has been involved in a moderate or severe crash. That means any crash with any injuries to anyone involved, one in which air bags went off or the vehicle could not be driven away from the crash and/or the door closest to the car seat had any sort of damage.
- Used. Do not use a car seat that originally was used by someone else. You won’t know the history of the seat. It may or may not come with all of the parts, might be missing the instructions and you cannot be sure of how the seat has been treated and used.
For any questions or help installing a car seat, check your area for car seat technicians: Cert.SafeKids.org.
Jessica Heine lives in Olathe with her family. She is a labor and delivery nurse.
As always, please consult your heath care provider with any questions or concerns.