Choosing an Infant Car Seat - How to Help Ensure Your Child's Comfort and Safety
Infant car seats are designed for the comfort of newborns, and can be used from an infant's birth until the infant reaches a weight of approximately 20 pounds (depending on the model of the car seat). These car seats are designed to be used in a rear facing position, with the infant riding in a lying down position, and with the car seat, itself, secured either by the car's seat belts or a special anchoring system, and the infant secured in the car seat by a harness. This arrangement provides the infant with the best protection while riding in a vehicle. Infant car seats come in a variety of designs, colors, and patterns, and their cost and available features vary by brand and model. Child car seat manufacturers are bound by very strict guidelines, and you may be surprised to find that some of the more expensive car seats don't provide any better level of protection than those which are more moderately priced.
There are also 'convertible' infant/toddler child car seats available. These car seats can be used for children from infancy (with the car seat in the rear facing position), into their toddler years (with the car seat turned around and used in the forward facing position), until they are ready for a booster car seat. In the rear facing mode, these types of car seats can typically be used with a child up to about 25 lbs, and then used in the forward facing position until the child reaches about 40 lbs. These types of car seats have a larger seat than an infant only car seat, and many come with padded inserts for use when the child is still small.
Whichever type of child car seat is used, the car seat's harness should fit the child snugly, but not too tightly, and the harness straps should be easily adjustable. Many of the newer models feature a 'five point' harness to keep the child secure. The straps should be long enough both to allow room for the bulkier clothing that the child will wear in colder weather, as well as to allow for the child's continuing growth, so that he or she will not outgrow the car seat prematurely.
There are a variety of accessories available for many models of car seats for infants. A common accessory is a head rest for the infant. This is a small inverted U shaped piece that helps keep the infant's head secure, and prevents him or her from slumping over in the car seat while riding.
Some child car seats have a detachable base that stays in the vehicle, and to which the part of the car seat that the child sits in can be locked. With this type of car seat, the base must be set properly in place before the other piece is locked to it, or the combination will not provide the child with the highest level of protection. Extra bases may be available for purchase to allow the same carrier to be used in multiple vehicles without having to keep shifting the base between the vehicles. Also, some car seats are compatible with strollers, to create a convenient infant travel system.