Before you buy anything, you need to know the differences between the three types of car seats on the market: infant seats, convertible car seats and booster seats.
Infant seats are specifically designed for newborns and children up to 30 pounds or so. Restrictions vary by model. "An infant car seat is built for a very small baby," says Hartshorn. "It's also super convenient. If you can, I would start there." Once installed in the car, these seats are rear-facing.
Many infant car seats are designed with two main parts: a base and a carrying unit. The base stays belted into your car at all times. The seat doubles as a carrier which unlatches quickly for short trips into the mall or the grocery store.
"All the infant car seats on the market are safe," says Hartshorn. She recommends the Graco Snugride 32 - it holds a baby up to 32 pounds. For more information, click here to visit www.GracoBaby.com. This seat retails for roughly $140.00.
For a celebrity endorsed infant seat, try the Maxi-Cosi Mico. It retails for roughly $170.00, and more information can be found here at www.Maxi-Cosi.com. For a bigger splurge, Hartshorn recommends the Chicco Keyfit, which sells for about $190.00. Click here to visit www.ChiccoUSA.com. "It's really easy to install, it's a little plush," says Hartshorn.
If you're looking for an infant seat that works with your better with your budget, try the Mia Moda Viva Supreme. "This is a brand new company," says Hartshorn. "It fits the smallest babies best, so if you have a preemie or just a baby who tends to run on the small side, it fits a small baby very well." The Viva Supreme costs around $120.00; you can find more information on www.MiaModaINC.com by clicking here.
While infant seats fit small children best, you can also start with a convertible car seat. Convertible seats have removable "layers" of padding; as your child grows, the seat and padding adjust to their new, bigger size. Plus, these seats can face both forward and backward, making sure infants - and older children - are as safe as they can be. The downside is that convertible seats must stay in the car. They do not have a carrier portion that you can take into the store with you, so you'll need a separate stroller or carrier for an infant. "Once this is in your car, it stays in the car," says Hartshorn.
If you're looking to splurge on a convertible car seat, Hartshorn recommends trying the Britax brand. Their seats retail for about $330, but they come in fun patterns and colors. Britax also prides itself on their side impact protection technology. For more information about Britax car seats, click here to visit www.BritaxUSA.com.
For something more affordable, Hartshorn recommends the Evenflo Symphony Sure Latch. It retails for around $200.00. "The price difference is really in the padding and the fashion. The Britax one has... all kinds of really great prints," says Hartshorn. The Evenflo model can hold a child up to 65 pounds. "You can fit a first grader still in this harness," says Hartshorn. For more information on the Evenflo Symphony Sure Latch, click here to visit www.Evenflo.com.
Once your child has outgrown their convertible car seat, it's time to move on to a booster seat. Booster seats are for children who are too big for car seats, but too little to use a standard seat belt.
How do you know when your child is ready to make the move? "All the state laws are different," says Hartshorn, but you can check the laws where you live by visiting www.SeatCheck.org. The website will also show you how to properly install a car seat, taking the guess work out of this essential item.
For more information on infant seats, convertible car seats and booster seats, visit www.AmericanBaby.com by clicking here.
By Erin Petrun