With so many car seats on the market, parents often ask me how to determine which car seat is right for them. As a baby planner, I am not choosing the car seat but offering a simplified framework guiding each client towards two or three best choices based on their budget, lifestyle and needs. The guiding principles that I use for determining which car seat is the right choice are:
- JPMA Certification – Just because a car seat is being sold at your local baby store does not mean that it is JPMA Certified (www.jpma.org) . JPMA certification is the gold standard and I would never recommend any product that does not have this seal of approval. JPMA provides a process for testing and ensuring that industry best practices are met.
- Buying the appropriate car seat for the present – Don’t buy what you think you might need in the future. When coaching expecting parents, I always recommend purchasing an infant car seat with a removable base that will then be easier portable and transferable into a stroller with a car seat attachment. Infant car seats are considered safest for infants and often provide the most comfortable environment for your new bundle. I strongly encourage waiting to buy a convertible car seat until a child is near outgrowing an infant seat (6-18 months of age depending on the seat). With technologies and standards improving in car seats each year, it makes the most sense to buy what you need at the moment.
- I strongly recommend against buying 3 in 1 or 4 in 1 carseats that range from birth to early adolescence. The lifespan of a carseat is only 5 to 7 years. Most children will be in a booster seat until they are in their pre teen years depending on their height and weight but it just doesn’t make sense to buy a single car seat with the expectation that you will be using for 10 years or more.
- The size of your vehicle – This is pretty important since some carseats do not fit comfortably into compact vehicles. If this is your 2nd, 3rd, 4th or even 5th child, it can be a pretty complex math equation to figure out which seats fit appropriately and sensibly in your vehicle. Finding the appropriate car seat solution for my clients is much easier and cost effective than purchasing a new vehicle.
- Comfort – The biggest difference between $50 and $300 car seats is comfort for your child. These car seats often have varying softness and comfort of fabrics and materials. Your child will be spending quite a bit of time in that seat and this may be an item worth spending a little bit more on and adjusting other items in your budget.
- Safety – I rely heavily on Consumer Reports and research to guide which picks are best.
Car Seat Safety Tips to Remember
- The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends rear facing until 2 years old.
- Always make sure that your car seat is appropriately installed.
- Do not insert extra blankets or padding into the seat itself. This interferes with effectiveness of the car seat.
- A child should be in a 5 point restraint in a booster seat until at least 40 lbs or as long as the child fits or tolerates being in the 5 point restraint.