From the moment your baby is born, a good quality car seat is an essential purchase. Thankfully, due to stringent safety legislation, any new car seat must meet certain quality controls, so you can be sure that, if it’s available, then it’s safe.
However, it is the responsibility of a child’s legal guardians to ensure that an appropriate car seat is available for their age. After all, an infant car seat designed for a newborn will never be suitable for a ten year old child!
Beginning with newborns, a rear facing car seat is essential. For the most dangerous accident risks (a head-on collision), facing your baby towards the rear of your car prevents their head from being thrust forward, and therefore greatly reduces the risk of severe spinal damage, or even death.
Conventional wisdom holds that, once your baby reaches 20 pounds, they can move to a forward facing seat. Safety experts contend that this rule of thumb is no longer valid. Instead, they recommend that all babies remain in a rear facing seat until after their first birthday, and if they’re small, to wait until they have outgrown their baby seat. Nowadays, rear facing seats are available in larger sizes, so it’s not unusual to keep your baby in the same seat for longer. Once the top of their head is within an inch of the top of the seat, then it’s time to move on.
The next stage is a forward facing seat with its own harness. Unlike an adult seat belt, the integrated harness on a child’s car seat usually has three straps: one for each shoulder, and the third between their legs, to ensure they don’t slip out underneath the belt in the event of an accident. Often, the straps are padded for comfort, and the whole seat offers a great deal of support and protection. This type of seat will usually suffice until your child is around 4 years old, but always check the manufacturer’s weight and height recommendations before replacing it.
Booster Seats and Cushions:
When your child has outgrown the forward facing car seat, it is time to move on to the next stage. They are now ready for a booster seat, which will see them using an adult safety belt for the first time. At first, the booster seat they use will most likely have a back on it, as this adds better support, and often includes some degree of side protection too.
In time, probably when they’re around 6 or 7 years old, a booster cushion will suffice. This is like a booster seat without the back, and indeed, some booster seats allow the back to be removed, prolonging your investment. This will be enough for your child until they outgrow it, probably sometime between 10 and 13 years old.
All the ages given in this article are approximate. Generally, manufacturers will specify both a weight and height range for their products, and you should always pay special attention to this information. Increasingly, there are more child car seats available that will last longer, due to a larger size, or because they can convert to a car seat suitable for the next stage up. Such seats may cost a little more up front, but often provide better value over time, so you should weigh up your options carefully.