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The Informed Parent

Car Seats: Essential Information

by Shanna R. Cox, M.D., F.A.A.P.
Published on May. 17, 2004

The evidence on the safety benefits of child car seats is strong and indisputable. The law regulates that all children less than six years of age or less than sixty pounds at any age must be supported by a car seat. New families are required to have an infant appropriate car seat to take their new bundle of joy home in the family car. With such clear-cut health benefits and specific laws in place, it is essential for parents to educate themselves about this piece of equipment that will literally companion their child through the first few years of life.

Purchasing a car seat can be a daunting process with many styles and manufacturers to choose from. First, let’s go through the different types of car seats available along with their particular pros and cons.

Infant Car Seats

These are appropriate for the newborn or preemie until they reach a weight of approximately 20-22 pounds. They are always used rear facing. Many are available as a set with a detachable base that stays hooked up in the car, with a portable infant carrier. This increases the convenience of moving the baby, since the infant carrier is less cumbersome to maneuver than a full car seat. The carrier snaps into the base and should place the child at an approximately forty-five-degree angle. This way one carrier might be used in multiple vehicles that have a base installed. The downside of the infant car seat is its limited time of use. It will only be good at the maximum for a year, perhaps less if a child’s weight exceeds twenty pounds or his height exceeds that recommended for an infant car seat.

Convertible Seats

These may be used both rear and front facing and, thus, are convertible. Therefore, they are appropriate for a newborn until the maximum limits identified by a particular manufacturer. These are available with multiple harness systems, buckles and shield varieties. They are a more flexible option and, therefore, will last longer. But they may not be quite as fitted for the newborn and are not as compact as the infant car seat.

Forward-facing Seats

As the name suggests these may only be used in the front facing mode. Therefore, they are only for children greater than one year of age AND over twenty pounds.

Combination Seats

These may be used as a forward facing seat and also may be converted to a booster seat. They are only for children over one year of age AND over twenty pounds Models differ on the type of support offered. Some have a harness system as part of the set that provides additional support over a traditional lap or lap/shoulder belt combination.

Booster Seats

These are only appropriate for a child that is over four years or forty pounds. In general both pediatricians and motor safety officials recommend that children remain in a full car seat until they outgrow the maximum specifications allowed for that particular seat by the manufacturer. Belt positioned booster seats are the only approved model for children forty pounds or greater. Shield varieties have not received the proper certification for use in heavier children.

Integrated Seats

These are seats that come installed as part of a new car. They are forward facing and therefore are only appropriate for children over one year AND over twenty pounds. The height and weight specifications on these are not standard form car-to-car, and may vary with manufacturers influencing the longevity of their use.

Next month we will address the basics of car seat use, installation and inspection. In the meantime, look in your local store and compare the above seat types and their specific features and’s only the beginning of your education!

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