Baby's First Car Seat

Deciding on the perfect safety seat for your child can seem like a monumental task. The good news, experts say, is there is no perfect seat.

"If you find a seat you feel comfortable using — one you know you can use correctly every time and that fits your child — then that's the seat for you," said Kerry Chausmer, safety certification manager with Safe Kids, a global network of organizations dedicated to preventing accidental childhood injury.

More on Child-Safety Seats

When shopping for a child seat, expectant parents can choose between infant-only or convertible seats. Infant-only models are rear-facing seats that carry a 20-pound weight limit. These are usually composed of a base that stays in the car and a seat that clicks in and out of that base. Convertible versions work as both rear- and forward-facing seats and can accommodate children who weigh up to 40 pounds.

While both types of seats are safe for infants, babies weighing less than 20 pounds are likely more secure in infant-only seats simply because the seats are smaller. Most experts, however, say the only difference between the two is convenience.

"The reason people go with infant-only seats is they can be clicked in and out [of the base]," said Kathleen Monahan, a child passenger safety expert at Chicago's Children's Memorial Hospital. "They're not more or less safe."

What to Look for in a Safety Seat
Experts say no one brand is better than another, and more expensive child-safety seats aren't necessarily better. So what should parents look for?
A seat that meets all federal motor vehicle standards
A seat that is easy to use and has understandable directions
A seat whose attachments are compatible with your car's backseat

The child seat you choose should depend on your family's needs. For example, if your baby will be transported in more than one car, you can buy an infant-only seat (which has one carrier) but invest also in multiple bases so you have one for each car — and you won't have to unhook and refasten a seat each time you switch vehicles. The more often you move the seat, the better chance you have of getting it wrong.

In addition, if you choose an infant-only device, then you'll need to buy another seat when your baby tips the scales past 20 pounds. However, convertible seats are usually good for kids who weigh as much as 40 pounds. Experts recommend keeping your little ones in the rear-facing position as long as they will tolerate it.

Experts agree that parents should shop prior to the baby's arrival. "Don't wait until the last minute," Chausmer said. "Select a seat and learn [how] to use it before the baby is born. Be comfortable adjusting the harness and putting the baby in the seat correctly. New parents have enough to worry about already without having to think about the seat."

Posted on 8/5/05