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How To Choose A Child's Car Seat

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Car accidents happen. You can be the world’s safest driver and it won’t guarantee a teen on his phone won’t plow his car into you in the middle of the highway. And if your child is in the backseat, she will be significantly more at risk of severe injury than you.

Car seats can reduce a child’s risk of injury in a car crash by more than 80 percent. This makes them an invaluable tool in protecting your child when you drive. It’s critical that parents use the appropriate car seat for their children. Don’t assume that your child should be strapped into the regular car seat as soon as he can sit up.

But not just any child’s car seat is appropriate for your child. Children need different kinds of protection as they age, which means you can expect to use 2 to 3 seats as your child grows up before you can finally place them directly in the car seat. Here’s a guide to choosing the most appropriate car seat for your child.

Choosing the right seat by age

Newborns and infants under the age of 2 should be in rear-facing seats in the middle of the car. These have a weight limit of 35 pounds, which means that when your child reaches that size, it’s time to switch over. This seat supports a child’s neck and spine, crucial for an infant still developing neck muscles, and can protect your baby’s breathing.

Once your child reaches 2 years of 35 pounds, it’s time to switch to a front-facing seat. He can support his head and sit up on his own now, and the harness will provide more secure protection for him than a seatbelt will. Keep him in this seat until he reaches the weight limit, which tops at about 65 pounds for the strongest front-facing children’s seats.

Once your child outgrows that weight limit, it’s time to use a booster seat until they are at least 4’9”. Booster seats are used to lift your child up to the appropriate height for the seat belt to work in order to minimize injury during car accidents. Seat belts can cause serious damage in a car accident (although the damage will absolutely always be worse without one) - anything from broken bones to a damaged spleen to paralysis can occur if a child is too short for their seatbelt. It’s important to ensure your child is correctly positioned with the booster seat in order to minimize potential injury.

Picking the right car seat

Only one in five Americans correctly install their car seats, which means you’re probably going to want to double check all specifications before you make a purchase and read all instructions when you install. Before you buy a car seat, it’s important to measure the size of the seats in your car. Not all car seats and child’s car seats are the same, and you can purchase one that’s too big to be installed properly if you’re not careful.

In addition to measuring the size of the car seat, you should also make sure that the seat fits into the stroller you will be using. Making sure these match up ahead of time can save you a lot of headaches once you realize the two items you’ve purchased aren’t compatible. You can buy a system that gives you both pieces, or buy individuals, but you’ll have a harder time matching them up.

Evaluating safety standards

Finally, you want to make sure that your car seat meets all the necessary safety standards to keep your child safe. This means making sure your child fits comfortably and snugly in the seat, that it has a five-point harness, comes with side impact protection, and is safely installed in your car. You should always use the middle seat, because it’s the least likely spot for your child to be impacted by any accidents, and you should try to keep them in a seat for as long as possible. Don’t skimp out and buy the cheapest car seat you can find, but you don’t necessarily need to purchase the most expensive car seat around.

Your car seat is going to protect your child every time you get in the car with them. It’s going to be a valuable tool, which means you should spend some time figuring out what the best choice will be for your child. When you do get one, read the instructions carefully before installing it to ensure you’ve done it correctly. When installed the way it should be, a car seat can save your child’s life.

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