The Car Ride Home: Important Car Seat Information
It's finally time to bring your new baby home! With such precious cargo, it is important for that you use a proper car seat. You can't leave the hospital without one! In fact, every state requires you to have a child safety seat before you leave the hospital. It is never advisable to hold your baby in your arms, even for short trips, the risk is just too great.
There are two basic types of car seats for your child. First, infant only seats, which must be replaced when your infant reaches the weight limit that is set by its manufacturer; and second, convertible seats that can be adjusted to fit children as they grow.
Infant only seats are rear-facing and have been shown to fit infants better than convertible seats. Car seat safety laws vary from state to state; to find the laws in your state, look here. Although laws are state specific, they all require infants to remain in a rear facing car seat. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggest here, that babies should remain in a rear facing car seat until they reach the age of two or until they reach the car seat manufacture's indicated weight and height limit.
Convertible seats can be turned to face forward after the aforementioned milestones are met – two years of age or the set weight limit.
“Travel Systems” include a stroller and an infant-only car seat, which can be attached to that stroller. Parents find this system useful for transferring their baby from the car to their stroller (especially when they are sleeping) and this might be a good option for you if you are a family on the go!
Never place a car seat in the front seat. Most accidents that occur will harm the front of the car; and a deployed airbag would be bad news for an infant in the passenger's seat. It is also safest to put your baby’s car seat in the middle of the back seat as long as there are seatbelts or LATCH available in that location.
Also, if it is cold, make sure to strap your child in securely first, and then place any blankets over the baby.
The most common problem involving car seats is improper installation (according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the majority of all car seats are installed incorrectly). In recent years, new LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) car seats have become standard in the United States, but a large percentage of these seats are improperly installed too. Don't trust illustrations or store displays. Follow the manufacturer's instructions – and hang on to them. Ask your child's doctor or nurse about local resources where your car seat can be checked by someone specifically trained to evaluate car seat installations. Many hospitals, police and fire stations, and even car dealerships offer this type of service for free. Make sure that someone trained and experienced does the evaluation.
If you are purchasing a used car seat, or if you are renting one, it is important that you make sure there are no tears or cracks. Also, manufacturers provide an expiration date on every car seat, so be sure to check that it isn't past the recommended date of use. Even if it looks okay, it might still be structurally unsound. If you are looking to rent a car seat, you can check at your prenatal class or ask your doctor, hospital, or healthcare provider (before your due date).
If your child has special needs, you should bring the car to the hospital ahead of time to make sure it will work for your child, or ask your child's physician for advice on the best car seat for them.