One of the major decisions you can make before your little one arrives is the car seat that works best for you. There are many options, but the selection and options reduce when you consider your child's age and weight.
There are still considerations, so here's a checklist to help you choose the best car seat for your situation.
- Read your car owners manual to see how car seats can be attached. You'll find there are two options: LATCH and the seat belt method. LATCH is intended to be easier, and thus, some think it is safer because the chance of making a mistake is reduced. However, LATCH systems always have weight limits, so many parents just default to using seat belts to avoid the chance of forgetting to change later. A properly installed seat using a seat belt is just as safe. Find more at the "car seat detective".
- Newborns and Infants must be in rear-facing seats. In fact, read-facing is always safer, and you should keep your child rear-facing as long as possible.
- Decide if you want your seat to attach to a stroller (sometimes called travel systems). Graco, Britax, and others make "quick connect" systems that allow you to easily remove your baby from the stroller and connect them to the car seat base.
- Decide if you want an "all in one" seat that can mount read and forward. These are good values, but won't connect to a stroller (at least I haven't seen any that do). My wife and I ended up choosing a 'travel system' for the first several months, then transitioned to an "all-in-one" for the next couple of years.
- Consider the space you have in your car. It's best to place baby in the rear middle seat - will the seat encroach on other passengers? You can usually find the specifications of the seat, and try googling various forums to see what others have experienced with your seat and/or car. And if you already have a car seat and are shopping around for a car, test fit the car seat in the cars you look at.
- Make sure the harness is a 5-point harness (this is pretty much standard these days) and make sure it is adjustable.
- Make sure it is easy to clean. You WILL have to clean it...a lot...and often it will be gross messes that you want to clean well. Some "luxury" seats are actually more difficult to clean with more easily stained fabrics. Sometimes mid-tier IS better.
- Check for any safety recalls. Stores are usually good about pulling products from their shelves when recalls are issued, but it is always better to double check. safekids.org is an excellent resource to keep up with safety recalls on all kinds of children products.
- Get physical when installing your seat. We used the seat belt installation method, and I'll tell you - I'd get very physical to attach that belt as tight as possible. Don't worry - you can't break your seat belt, so get in the car, use your feet to anchor the seat down, and PULL on that belt as hard as you can. Of course, follow the install instructions of your car and the seat, but make sure you give it every once of muscle you have.
- Consider a car seat protector. Children spill things, spit up, and the pressure of the seat itself can damage your car, so you may want to consider a seat protector. However, make sure it doesn't affect the integrity of your installation of seat safety. They should also attach to the seat securely.