For baby's safety, a rear facing seat is best. "In a crash, you're thrown forward, and when you're a little person, you don't have a lot of spinal and neck strength... If they're rear facing, then their body weight is going into the car seat, which is like a cocoon and does protect them," says Hartshorn. While previous advice said to turn your child's car seat to face forward on their first birthday, experts are now saying that you should keep your child's seat facing backwards as long as possible. Children grow at different rates, so wait until your child outgrows the car seat rather than turning it around at a certain age. They'll miss the view out the window, but your child will be safer for it.
Before you head out to buy a car seat, it's important to learn the language. Car seat jargon can be confusing, but there are three main types of seats: infant car seats, convertible car seats and booster seats.
Infant seats are exactly what they sound like - seats designed specifically for infants. These seats are all rear facing and are the safest place for your newborn. Many also have great features that allow you to remove the top portion of the seat and use it as a baby carrier. This allows you to transport a sleeping baby into your house or the mall without disturbing them.
Once your child outgrows their infant seat, upgrade to a convertible car seat. These seats start out facing backwards, but as your child grows, convert to forward facing seats. These seats hold children up to 60 pounds, but if you're in a pinch, they can hold infants too. Still, car seats designed for your infant will fit a small child best.
A child over 60 pounds needs a booster seat. These seats make it easier for your child to fit in a regular seat belt and offer extra cushioning in case of a crash.
It is possible to get a car seat on a budget. Experts don't advise using old car seats or those bought at yard sales; baby items like cribs, high chairs and car seats get recalled all the time, so new items will meet the latest safety standards. However, you don't have to spend a lot of money to get a quality car seat. "The bargain seats and the expensive seats all have to pass the same regulations," says Hartshorn. "You don't get safer for more money - you do get more cushioning and padding and more extras for your money."
Every car seat is different, so installing one can take some work. "We say, try and install it yourself first, and then you look at SeatCheck.org," says Hartshorn. SeatCheck.org is a website that will refer you to local professionals who can check the installation of your car seat for free. "It's usually a police station or a fire station," says Hartshorn. This can help parents make sure their little one remains safe.
For more information on car seat installation and other parenting advice, visit www.AmericanBaby.com.
By Erin Petrun