Car Seat Safety: Which Car Seat Should You Buy?

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car seat safety which car seat to buy

My little guy in his infant car seat

All week long, the Daily Buzz parenting bloggers are writing about car seat safety -- come back to Pregnancy Buzz later in the week for tips on installing your new baby's car seat, and check out Baby Buzz, Toddler Buzz, and Big Kid Buzz for need-to-know car seat safety info, too. Also -- don't forget to enter to win the Evenflo Symphony we're giving away!

If you don't win this fabulous car seat (but one lucky mama will! good luck!), what kind of car seat should you buy? The big question is: infant vs. convertible. Read on to find out.

I went with an infant car seat that has a base that fits into the car and a seat (with a handle) that snaps in and out -- and I bought an inexpensive stroller frame to use with it when running around the neighborhood. We have a car, but we live in the city so I walk a lot. The stroller frame had a big basket underneath that was great for shopping -- it worked well for my lifestyle and I loved it!

But what should you buy?

I spoke to several experts about what type of car seat pregnant moms should buy for their newborns -- an infant seat or a convertible (rear to forward-facing)? Is there really a "best seat" or are they all equally safe?

Here's what I found out.

The good news is, it's largely a matter of choice. According to a Certified Child Passenger Safety Technician I spoke with at the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, all child restraints have to meet the same government safety standards in order to be sold. The “best seat” is the one that fits into your car, is easy for you to use, and makes the most sense for your lifestyle.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has an “ease of use” rating system that you can check out. Just keep in mind that these are not safety ratings -- they simply reflect how easy the seat is to use.

So, should you get an infant seat first and then switch to a convertible seat (one that can be rear-facing and then turn around to forward-facing)?

Again, it's largely a matter of lifestyle and budget (choosing an infant seat means you have to buy two seats instead of just one.) But Jen (carseatmom), a Certified Child Passenger Safety Technician with eight years of experience, says that infant seats tend to fit newborns a little better than the convertibles.

The Center for Injury Research notes, though, that one advantage to a convertible seat is that they generally have higher rear-facing weight limits, and the American Academy of Pediatrics encourage parents to keep children rear-facing as long as possible, per the limits of the seat.

MacKenzie (carseatmama), also a Certified Child Passenger Safety Technician, says, whatever you choose, make sure you buy it new -- never buy a used car seat. And don't be swayed too much by looks. MacKenzie admits that, before she became a technician, she purchased an infant car seat for her first child based solely on which one had the cutest fabric pattern. Now that she's a pro, she says to look for the following in an infant seat:

  • A front adjusting harness
  • EPS or EPP foam (it best absorbs impact in a crash)
  • Multiple harness heights
  • A base with adjustable height (to create a 45 degree angle to protect baby's airway)
  • Included infant padding or support (you absolutely should not add extra padding to get a better fit for your newborn, so buy one that meets your needs right out of the box)
  • Proper fit in your vehicle (not all seats fit every car, so make sure the one you're looking at fits before you buy it. Most stores will let you test it out -- note that the seat base should not move when installed properly.)

Come back later in the week for tips on installing your new baby's car seat.

*** (This information is intended as general guidance -- you should read your auto and car seat manuals, and consult a certified technician if possible, to ensure the proper use and installation of your baby's passenger seat.)

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