Throughout much of the United States, it’s hard to get anywhere without a car. As such, if we need to take a newborn somewhere, whether that somewhere is a pediatrician, a relative’s house, or nothing more than a grocery run, we need to know that our children will be safe and secure in an infant car seat. And since not every child car seat is created equal, finding the right one is a significant decision that you should probably make even before your child is born.
Some child seats are rear-facing only and designed for infants, some face forwards and are for toddlers only, and a few are “convertibles” and can adjust to fit just about every child too small to use a booster seat. Convertibles are more expensive but you can use them longer, but on the other hand, you might want to have multiple child car seats depending on how many children you’re planning on having (and how long you plan to wait between each one).
LATCH, or Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children, is a series of anchor points usually hidden in the base of the back of a seat which a compatible child seat can use to secure itself. These anchors are required in every car made since 2002 and sold in the United States, so the odds are decent that your car has them (and if you can’t find them, check your owner’s manual). However, not every child seat uses the LATCH system: instead, some use the car’s seat belts to secure them in place, and if your car is a model made in 2002 or older a seat belt seat may be your only option.
Different automobiles have different dimensions, particularly when you’re looking at the difference between a four-door sedan and a full-size SUV or a minivan. Some child car seats are designed for bucket seats (bucket seats in the back, that is), and some are designed for bench seats, and even beyond that distinction there can be a lot of variation in sizes. If the seat you’re looking at doesn’t tell you its dimensions or the range of models it’s best for, then you should hunt around for reviews and measure your backseat yourself to figure it out.
Children can be very crafty, and they can be very messy, and so a child seat should be designed with these facts in mind. That means things like complicated restraints so the child won’t figure them out easily and smooth fabric that’s easy to clean.
Choosing the right infant car seat can be incredibly important. Car crash injuries are the single deadliest kind of injury in children from 5-19, and that’s why it’s so important to pick something that’s appropriate for your child’s age and size. Take your time in deciding which seat is right for you, and remember that its foremost function is to protect your child’s life.