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Infant car seat 101

Talk about precious cargo! Your newborn needs a safe car ride every time, starting with your first journey home from the hospital. In fact, did you know you can't even leave the hospital with your baby unless you have a proper car seat installed? 

As your due date draws nearer, it's important that you're familiar with the right way to transport your baby safely. Here's what you should know: 

Rear-facing is the right way

Your baby should ride in a rear-facing car seat in the back seat until they are at least 2 years of age or have exceeded the height and weight standards set by the car seat's manufacturer, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. 

A rear-facing seat protects your baby's head, neck and spine in a crash. And riding in the back seat prevents your baby from being hurt by your car's airbag during a crash. 

Of course, the way your baby should ride will change over time as your little one grows. The first step is a rear-facing car seat, followed by a forward-facing car seat and eventually a booster seat. But even after your baby outgrows a booster, the front seat is still off limits until age 13 due to the airbag. 

But that's all a ways off. So for now, let's focus on your baby's current needs: a rear-facing seat.

Many choices

The American Academy of Pediatrics and other experts list these three main types of rear-facing car seats: 

  • Rear-facing only. Portability is their main advantage. Most can be removed from their base (which stays in the car) and carried by a handle or used with a stroller. They typically accommodate babies up to 22 to 35 pounds. When children have reached the manufacturer's height and weight limits for this seat, they should graduate to one of the next two rear-facing seat options. 
  • Convertible. These are larger and not portable, but they convert to a forward-facing seat when your child has reached the proper size. Because these seats usually accommodate larger children (up to 40 to 50 pounds), babies may be able to use them rear-facing longer. 
  • 3-in-1. These seats can be used rear-facing, forward-facing and as a booster later on.  

Ensure a correct install

Remember to install your rear-facing seat in the back seat by following the instruction manuals for both your car and car seat. A few tips:

  • Use either the seatbelt or your car's LATCH system, which uses special anchors, to secure the car seat. 
  • You shouldn't be able to move the seat more than 1 inch side to side or front to back.
  • The harness straps should come through the car seat's slots at or just below your baby's shoulders. The harness should fit snugly over your child's shoulders (check that you can't pinch any slack).

If you need help installing your car seat, ask your provider or the hospital to connect you to an expert who will help you. Many local agencies do this. 

When can baby face forward?

Remember, baby should ride in a rear-facing car seat for as long as possible. First, move your baby to a larger rear-facing seat when he or she outgrows the car seat's height and weight limits. 

Your little traveler may not be ready to face forward for two or more years. 

More pregnancy news

It's not just your car that needs prepping for baby. Take a look at these tips for babyproofing your home

Additional source: Safe Kids Worldwide

Reviewed 1/22/2024

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