When you have a baby, you need a car seat. That’s just a fact!
But knowing which seat is right for your child can be a challenge. Car seat recommendations for children vary according to physical factors. You need to pay attention to your baby’s weight, height and build while also considering their age and even psychological factors.
Fortunately, I’ve tried to think of everyone with this guide, and I have recommendations for basically all types of car seats. I want you to find what you’re looking for!
What Car Seat Does My Child Need?
Looking for a basic car seat on Amazon or anywhere on the Internet will give you so many options. It’s understandable that you might be confused upon your first glance.
But it’s really not so complicated once you break things down. In general, there are four different types of car seats.
It’s important to note that in some cases, it is possible to purchase combination seats as well, so you will likely see these as you shop. Don’t let them confuse you. For example, a 3-in-1 seat simply means a car seat that can be adjusted between a rear-facing seat, a forward-facing seat and a booster seat. In this way, it is three seats in one, which is just what the name implies. A convertible seat is a car seat that can be adjusted between a rear-facing and a forward-facing seat. These can cut down on costs and make transitions easier on parents.
Below, I’ve outlined the four basic types of car seats, which babies should be seated in each type of seat and my recommendations for the best seats in each category.
As a final note, always remember that the guidelines presented here about when to transition between seats should not be taken as gospel. In all cases, you should first refer to the detailed guidelines that come with your seat’s manufacturer instructions. These instructions should be your go-to guide, and they will be able to tell you the best times to transition seats.
Rear-Facing Car Seats
Rear-facing seats may one of two types of seats. First, they can be simple infant seats that will only face toward the rear of the car. But rear-facing seats may also be convertible seats, which can be transitioned to forward-facing seats after your child has grown.
Infant Rear-Facing Seats
An infant rear-facing seat is what your baby will ride in on the way home from the hospital. This seat only faces to the rear. It has a carrier handle that can be adjusted. The seat itself can be carried at your will, and when you put it into your car, you can attach it to the base, which will always remain in your car.
Convertible Rear-Facing Seats
For slightly older infants, turn to a convertible rear-facing seat, which can easily transition a child from rear-facing to forward-facing. Parents generally purchase these once their child has outgrown their infant rear-facing only seat but before they are ready for a forward-facing seat. The convertible rear-facing seat is truly the most versatile, and it’s good for babies who are slightly bigger but still need to face the rear. It’s always safest to keep your baby facing the rear of your car, and you should leave them rear-facing for as long as you can.
Transitioning From Rear-Facing to Forward-Facing
The biggest challenge that parents face where rear-facing car seats are concerned is when to switch to forward-facing car seat. The truth is that the forward-facing car seat age will vary depending on the height and weight of your child. But in general, you can follow the guideline that when your child reaches the age of 2, they can transition to a forward-facing seat.
Forward-Facing Car Seats
Once a rear-facing seat has been used for the maximum amount of time and it’s time for a forward-facing seat, parents start asking what kind of car seat for a 3 year old is best.
Again, remember that you should keep your child in a rear-facing seat for as long as possible. This is the safest way for little ones to ride in the car. When your child is ready to transition to a forward-facing seat, they should be at least 2 years old. Some guidelines recommend not transitioning to forward-facing seats until children 3 years old.
Other guidelines that refer to proper height and weight for a forward-facing seat will depend on the manufacturer and the specific car seat model. For example, a given car seat will recommend that a child is between 22 and 65 pounds in order to face forward.
Booster Car Seats
Booster seats are the car seats that come after forward-facing baby seats. These are also known as “big kid” car seats, so your child may be excited to transition into one of these seats.
Booster seats are different from typical car seats because they no longer cradle your child, and they do not use a special harness system. Instead, they make your child taller in a regular car seat, and they utilize the seatbelt in your car.
A booster seat has this name because it is essentially acting as an upward boost for your child. Because children are not as tall as adults, they need this boost in order to have the safety belt hit them in all the right places.
If a child were to sit in a regular car seat without a booster seat, the standard seatbelt would come across their body around their neck or even on the face. This is not good, and using a seatbelt in this way will not protect your child.
Instead, a standard car safety belt should come across a child at the chest and across the lap. With a booster seat, this is possible.
There are two main types of booster seats, and each caters to different types of children. For example, a 4 year old car seat booster will be different than a booster seat for 7 year old. Basically, when you’re choosing a booster seat you need to choose between a backless booster and a high back booster.
High Back Booster Seats
A high back booster is the safest option for most parents. A high back booster has a padded seat where the child sits and a slightly cradling seat back. These seats are heavier and bulkier, so they’re slightly harder to remove and install, but they do ensure the safety of your child’s head and neck at all times, which is key for comprehensive safety.
Backless Booster Seats
Backless boosters are simply padded seats that your child sits on. These are nice because they are easy to transition between cars, but they should not be used if there are no headrests on the car’s seats or if the back of the seat does not adequately cover the back of your child’s head while they sit in their booster seat.
Transitioning From Forward-facing Seat to Booster Seat
The great thing about booster seats is that they’re super easy to use after you’ve been using car seats. There are no harnesses to adjust or clips to snap into.
But even if this is true, you should never transition your child into a booster seat before they are ready. It’s still much safer to keep your baby in a car seat with a 5-point harness system until they have outgrown that forward-facing seat and are ready for a booster.
This usually happens when your child hits the age of 4, but some taller 3-year-olds may be ready for a booster seat. Depending on height, a typical booster seat can usually accommodate children from 40 to 120 pounds.
When Can a Child Stop Using a Booster Seat and Use a Regular Seat Belt?
Booster seats are usually used up until your child is tall enough for the safety belt in your car to hit their body in the right places. Naturally, this means that changing from a booster seat to a regular car safety belt will depend on how tall your child is.
Generally speaking, children need to be at least 4 feet and 9 inches tall to use a regular car seat safety belt. This usually happens when children are between the ages of 8 and 12.
All-in-One Car Seats
All-in-one car seats can transition from rear-facing seats to forward-facing seats to booster seats, which makes them great for your growing babies. Many parents prefer these types of seats because they cost less in the long run, and once you become accustomed to how they operate, you can stay with one brand and model. Getting the hand of a brand new seat after only a few months of using the last one can be challenging and rather annoying!
When it comes to transitioning between the rear-facing position, the forward-facing position and the booster position, just make sure that you again pay attention to the guidelines that are associated with your all-in-one seat. The instructions will tell you the weight, height and age limits for each car seat position.
The truth is that everyone is looking for something different when it comes to finding a car seat. For example, you may be looking for the best car seat for 4 year old or perhaps an appropriate car seat for 3 year old while someone else is searching for the best all-in-one seat or the best infant seat.
What I recommend doing is looking at what your baby currently needs as well as what they’ll be needing in the near future. In addition, always put safety first, and don’t forget about comfort and ease of use.
Following these tips and using the advice in this guide will ensure that you pick the best car seat for your child and give them the best possible safety and comfort.