All parents in the market for a baby car seat have the same primary consideration in mind - their child's safety. However, because of the wide variety of choices available, choosing the best one for the baby is not an easy task. In reality, the best car seat for you is simply the one that perfectly fits your budget, your car, and of course the baby who will use it. Following are the things to consider when buying the best and safest baby car seats.
Safety - In the US, all baby car seats are required to hurdle a uniform set of federal crash tests. Some brands offer extra features that allow for convenient installation like non-twisting straps and integrated locking clips. As even the barest and cheapest units available may have passed the basic tests, and as such may be considered as generally safe, the extra features may offer added safety, albeit for an additional cost. Also be sure to check the history of any secondhand safety restraint you may be offered by friends or purchase from a garage sale, eBay etc. Never, ever use a car seat that has been involved in a crash! Safety Belt Safe U.S.A. has a form you can use for this called "Car Seat Checkup Online" Also the "Personal Stories" section is great to read.
Remember... When in doubt, don't!
Perfect Fit for the Baby - Choose the unit to buy with your child's age, weight, and height in mind. For example, infant seats that are rear-facing only are ideal for use with infants up to 30/35 lbs, the best model I have found that will take your child to 35 lbs is the Graco Snugride 35. While convertible models can be used in rear-facing positions until the baby is about 45 lbs, the only model I have found that will go to 45 lbs is the Diono Radian RXT convertible car seat. Although recent studies have shown that if a child is under 2 their neck is still not strong enough to support the head in the event of a crash. A child under 2 is 75% less likely to incur a serious injury or die when in a rear facing seat, so making sure the seat you purchase is suitable to be used rear facing until your child is 2 years old is an important consideration. Keep in mind that the best seat for your child is the one that can offer him the best protection while riding with you. You don't have to turn him around to a front-facing position just because he reached a certain age or weight. A lot of models today offer higher limits for the rear-facing position, which as stated above is generally considered safer.
Why bother with an infant seat when the options of a convertible seat are so much greater, of course the ultimate reason is safety, babies under 20 pounds are better off in an infant seat as the seats are contoured and have support to hold the newborn correctly in all the right places, they are also smaller and lighter and generally have a handle for easy carrying, so this saves waking your baby when taking him from the car. Experts agree that newborns are better off in an infant seat. Many parents have had to use towels, head rests and other cushioning to prop baby up safely as their newborn is swimming in the convertible seat, this is not necessarily a safe option. The disadvantage of course is financial and only you can decide if it is worth the extra cost of ultimately buying more than one baby seat. For a front-facing seat position, make sure to take into consideration the recommended limits. For the height, make sure that the child's head is at least an inch to two inches below the car seat top when front-facing, the top of the baby's ear should of course be under the top of the seat.
Once again there is some great detailed information on the Safety Belt Safe U.S.A. site, also "Helpful Handouts" is another great section.
Easy to Install - Without knowing how it works, even the most expensive seats packed with safety features will do nothing to protect your baby. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration stats show 3 out of 4 car seats are not installed correctly. So make sure that you read the instructions and properly install the seat prior to use. Or alternatively you could get it professionally installed at a car seat inspection station. This is to guarantee that the device will work as intended. If installing yourself and the instruction manual is not clear you can always call the car seat manufacturer or the automaker of your car, or both, this way you will make sure that it has been done correctly. Its law that all vehicles manufactured after 2002 must be made with the tether system (LATCH - Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) these are anchors permanently attached to the vehicle, this is the best system for anchoring your baby seat. You can have your car retrofitted if it is an older model. It is important to get the angle of recline correct so make sure you carefully follow the directions in the instruction manual, this applies to both rear and forward facing seats. Also make sure the harness has been adjusted in a way that will best secure the baby in his seat. Just follow all directions step by step and you should be fine.
Perfect Fit for Your Car - With the numerous styles of seats available, not all of them are appropriate for use in your car. Find one that will fit snugly and tightly when installed. Make sure that there is proper angle and with no side to side wiggle. The safest place for both rear and forward facing seats is the center of the rear seat, in a position where it fits securely is most important.
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