Everyone likes options when shopping. Man, it would be a bad shopping trip if there was just one pair of heels, one pair of boots and one pair of flats to pick from. Sometimes though, there are so many options that things can get confusing. So is the case when it comes to car seats…do you need an infant carrier? What exactly is a convertible car seat? Are booster seats really needed for children? Read on to learn about each of these options that you will encounter while shopping the car seat aisles.
Infant car seat
Typical weight range: 5 lbs up to 22lbs (although some seats go up to 35lbs)
Direction in the car: Rear-facing only
As the name suggests, this type of car seat is intended for newborns and infants. These car seats have a carrying handle, and the entire seat clicks into a base that is fastened into the car. There is a five-point harness buckle system which includes straps that originate at each shoulder, at each hip and one between the legs.
Pros: For newborns and young infants, being able to move your sleeping baby from the car without having to wrestle with all of those straps and buckles and simply just “lift” them out of the car is a huge benefit (as any parent knows, if at all possible, let sleeping babies lie). Also, many infant carriers can be snapped into various stroller and swing bases.
Cons: For many families the next “level” of car seat will be needed somewhere between 9-12 months of age. In my mind, there is really no reason to purchase infant seats with the higher weight limit (like 35 pounds) as by the time your child weighs 35 pounds, I can almost guarantee they will have outgrown an infant carrier, and let’s face it…who wants to carry a 35 pound child in a car seat that weighs another 5 pounds?
Convertible car seats
Typical weight range: 5 lb up to 60 pounds
Direction in the car: Rear or forward-facing
These car seats are designed for use from newborn all the way until your child no longer needs a car seat. A convertible car seat has the five-point harness buckle system (just like the infant carriers), and these seats have variable reclining positions based on if the seat is forward or rear-facing.
Pros: Depending on which convertible seat you choose, it might be the only car seat you have to purchase (as long as it can transition into a belt positioning booster seat as well…see below).
Cons: These seats tend to be rather bulky so make sure they will fit in your car in the rear-facing positioning if planning to use them in that position. Also, these might not be ideal for infants as they cannot be taken in and out of the car with the child strapped in. For families with multiple cars, you will need a different convertible car seat for each car unless you plan to move the entire car seat each time your child rides in a different car.
Belt Positioning Boosters
Typical weight range: once your child has outgrown their convertible car seat weight limit (most booster seats require children to be at least 40 pounds)
Direction in the car: forward-facing only
The entire purpose of booster seats for children is to elevate them a bit so that the seat belt will fit appropriately. Seat belts in cars are designed for adults, not for children, and as you can imagine a seat belt would fit very differently on an 8 year old child versus a 30 year old adult. Without a booster seat, a seat belt would typically sit across the stomach of a child (rather than on the upper thighs) and the shoulder part of the belt would hit on the neck area (rather than the shoulder and chest). Consider for a moment what would happen in a car crash if a child was wearing an improperly positioned seat belt…there is risk for trauma to the internal organs in the abdomen such as the liver and spleen as well as risk of injury to the head and neck.
Belt positioning boosters come in two varieties- high back or backless. High back boosters provide head and neck support in addition to elevating the child, while backless seats just provide the elevation. Backless booster seats should only be used in cars that have headrests that will provide head and neck support to the child. All booster seats require the use of combo shoulder and lap seat belts and not just lap belts.
It is recommended that children remain in booster seats until the car seat belt fits them appropriately which typically occurs when children are at least 4 feet 9 inches. Check out these five questions below to see if you child is ready to ride without a booster (any answer of “no” means the booster is still needed).
- Does your child sit all the way back against the seat?
- Does your child’s knees bend comfortably at the end of the seat?
- Does the belt cross the shoulder between the neck and the arm?
- Is the lap belt as low as possible and touching the thighs?
- Can your child stay seated like this for the entire trip?
Now that you know what type of seat you need for your child at each stage of life, it is time to go shopping. When it comes to car seats, more expensive does not always mean better. The best car seat for your child will be the one that fits not only your child but also your car the best and can be used correctly at all times. If you are looking to compare several different brands of car seats, check out Car Seats for the Littles by clicking here.