Mention car seat shopping to any parent and they will visibly wince. The recommendations, the ratings, the options, the prices! Not to mention how some will turn what seat you have your child(ren) in as a direct reflection of your parenting abilities (or lack thereof apparently).
Newborn & Rear Facing, Travel system, infant car seat or convertible seat?
When your baby is born, you can select: A newborn seat, A newborn seat as a part of a travel system or A convertible seat
A travel system is a colour coordinated set with an infant seat that snaps into a matching stroller. Quick and easy, this is often the first choice of first time parents. The seat snaps into the base (rear facing) in the car or snaps to the stroller just as easily. The nice thing is that you can strap baby into the seat in your home, bundle them up and carry them out to the car. If baby falls asleep, you don’t have to wake them to get them out of the car. Unsnap the seat and most babies are happy to continue to doze. Common complaints are that the car seats are bulky and awkward to carry. Sometimes they’re quite heavy. The strollers limiting (handling various terrain, steering, options in general) or unfriendly to use. Keep in mind of course that an infant seat is just that, an infant seat. Once your infant outgrows it (check the manufacturers weight and height limits for the specific seat), you must purchase another seat.
Sometimes parents can’t find a ready-made travel system to their liking. For them, they may opt to pick up an infant seat and a stroller independently of each other. Challenges for this crowd are that their seat and stroller may not be compatible, in which case they won’t snap together. Tracking down the various adapters out there to make them compliant can be a chore. Again, being an infant seat, your infant will outgrow it and require you to get the next stage.
Many parents will also opt to go directly to a convertible seat. These seats are anchored in your vehicle. From birth until they are the size to turn around to forward facing, these seats will give you a much longer duration of use as they cover both stages (although not the booster stage). However it means carrying your infant out to the vehicle and strapping them in. This may cause inconvenience to those who live in regions with inclement weather. Some may argue that they’ll have to face that scenario anyway. Others would say that there’s a big difference between dealing with a newborn or infant than there is with an older baby. It really is personal choice and choosing your battles.
Rear and Forward Facing
This is a hot button issue that new parents should be warned of before they wade into these troubled waters. An unknowing parent can easily be caught off guard. Studies show that under all circumstances, children are safer rear facing than they are forward facing. This is a fact that cannot be argued.
Why is it safer? Body proportions, development and upper body strength. The image of body proportions on this site and the detailed description of why it’s safer cannot be denied: Why Rear Facing Is Safer Lacking strength and development throw their very heavy heads forward, putting undue strain on their necks and spines.
What makes it such a contentious issue? WHEN to turn around your child. Minimum requirements of most seats say 1 year of age. However, age has nothing to do with it. It’s about using your car seat in the safest manner possible. If the seat can be left rear facing until your child is 35lbs, it should be left rear facing until your child is 35lbs (or whatever the maximum for your seat is). The longer, the better.
Parents read the minimum requirements and see turning the child to forward facing as a rite of passage. It’s more about them wanting to see baby and chat to them through the rear view mirror. The impression is that babies aren’t happy rear facing and that they’ll be happier forward facing. The reality is that they’ve never been forward facing so they don’t know any different. Surely safety overrules some sort of perceived level of unhappiness?
If you have a convertible, your child will outgrow it and you’ll need to purchase a booster. Or, you may have purchased a 3-in-1 after your infant seat in which case it will include your booster. There’s no seat that goes all the way from newborn to booster. Either way, at a minimum, you’ll need to car seat shop a minimum of twice, possibly more! Again, the switch should only occur when the maximum weight limit has been reached before progressing to the next stage (harness, shoulder straps, with a back, backless).
5-Point Harness Vs. Shoulder Strap
A 5-Point harness is always safer than the vehicle shoulder strap seat belts. If you have an option to extend the time of your child in a 5-point, do it!
Once you’re expecting, you begin to notice other parents and babies. The baby gear and their labels. Previous to baby it may have been purses, shoes, sunglasses and cars. Now it’s strollers, diaper bags, teething toys and car seats. There’s no end to the amount of money you can spend on your child. If you have it, feel free. However if you’re on a budget, be honest about your needs. There’s no sense in spending hundreds of extra dollars for ‘all terrain’ if you’re only going through shopping malls and down sidewalks. Keep in mind that ALL car seats must pass safety standards before they are on the market.
There are opportunities to purchased used or to take a hand-me-down car seat. There are several things to consider. Once a car seat has been in a car accident, it is no longer safe. The energy absorbing contents of the seats become permanently compressed. The shock absorption is compromised and no longer protects your child. The same thing may occur if the seat has been mishandled (you’d be surprised at the amount of abuse car seats take when they’re being constantly transferred between vehicles). You’ll need to trust that those selling you the seat (or handing it down to you) would inform you of any accidents or mishandling.
Keep in mind that all car seats have expiry dates as well. There should be a sticker either with the expiry date or the manufacture year, in which case you can look up the expiry online via the manufacturer website. If you cannot verify the expiry date, do not purchase it. You will be ticketed if your seat is expired.
In the end, if you don’t feel like you can fully trust the source of the seat, don’t do it.
After Market Products
Post about an ‘after market product’ online and you’ll receive a screaming response. No after market products! Anything between the child and the seat or between the child and the straps will put them at risk. These products cause slack and when compressed in a crash, allow the child to be ejected. There is the Consumer Information Notice about third-party after market products.
Note: This is not a replacement for official recommendations, manufacturer requirements, safety ratings or lawful requirements where you live. It is however a heads up that purchasing your car seats is much more than cup holders and colour patterns. Know what you’re getting into, research first, ask questions and make sure that any decision you make in regards to your car seat is made with safety as your first consideration.