It is a well known, and strictly enforced rule that you cannot leave the hospital with your brand new babe without a properly installed car seat. Obviously, because of the other option (not leaving the hospital) infant car seats are often purchased and used in the beginning. Now, fast forward about one year. You are amazed at how quickly, and how much your little one has grown. That fact should help you understand why it is now time for them to graduate to a CONVERTIBLE CAR SEAT. Compiled here is some information that will help your decision making process a bit smoother.
WHY AND WHEN TO UPGRADE
You just bought a perfectly good car seat no more than a year ago, so why should you spend another chunk of money on the same baby gear product again? Simply put, the height and weight limits for car seats aren’t just a loose guideline. They are there to protect your baby, they have been researched and tested over and over again. Car crashes are the leading cause of injury and death among children. So following the set car seat guidelines exactly, is the best way to keep that little one safe as can be in the car.
So how do you know when to upgrade? The height and weight limits of your infant car seat, and your baby. As soon as baby outgrows either the height or weight limit (doesn’t have to be both, whichever one comes first.) The height and weight limits will be listed in the user’s manual, and can always be found through the manufacturer of the car seat. It is a common mistake to refer only to the weight of the child and forget the height all together. But, the height is often the limit reached first.
Let’s use the UppaBaby Mesa as an example. This infant seat has a weight capacity of 4-35 pounds and 32” high. If baby got one of those extra tall genes in their mix, you will likely be hitting that 32” mark before 35 pounds. Move them on up! Another very important thing to consider is a long torso. If your baby does not measure 32”, but their head sits one inch or less away from the top of their infant carrier they also need to be transitioned.
Some new reports and testing urge parents to move their child to a convertible car seat at age 1, even if they have not reached the height and weight limit of the infant carrier. This recommendation is not necessarily enforced by the American Academy of Pediatrics. At this point in time, the AAP still stands by the car seat’s height and weight limit as your guide. If you choose to move your little one into a convertible car seat before, or at one year of age, that is perfectly acceptable as long as they are within the correct height and weight ranges.
WHAT IS A CONVERTIBLE CAR SEAT
Convertible car seats get their name from their ability to be installed rear or forward-facing. A convertible seat is the step after infant car seats. These seats allow for a much higher weight and height than infant car seats. The Maxi Cosi Pria 85 is suitable for a child weighing all the way up to that 85 pound mark, and up to 52” tall. If you do your research, and buy right, you will be using the convertible seat for a good handful of years ahead.
Unlike infant seats, a convertible car seat does not have a base. So, the seat itself is strapped into your car using either the regular seat belt, or a LATCH system on the convertible car seat. Obviously this means that the convenience of carrying the sleeping baby in their car seat into a store, or clicking it right into the stroller, is no longer an option. But at this point, who really wants to lug around that car seat with a growing babe strapped inside anyways?
Like an infant seat, convertible car seats should still have a 5-point harness system built into the seat. Children should be in a 5-point harness until 4 years old and at least 40 pounds, or have grown too tall for their convertible car seat (when their shoulders are higher than the top harness strap slots in the car seat’s back.) That 5-point harness isn’t there to give you two options of buckles. Both the chest clip, and between the legs buckle should ALWAYS be buckled and tightened correctly.
Lucky for you, so many companies out there are making their convertible seats to accommodate every little bit of growth your child will experience during the period that they are in the seat (typically at least three years or more!) The Nuna RAVA has ten seat recline positions, ten different adjustments for head support and harness height, and a no re-thread dual position between the legs buckle. That is a lot of growing and adjustment within one seat! Remember that when reclining and adjusting your seat’s ”settings” be sure to refer to the user’s manual to ensure that you have the seat set-up to protect baby as efficiently as possible at their stage.
CAN I JUST START WITH A CONVERTIBLE CAR SEAT?
There are a large number of convertible car seats on the market today that are made to accommodate infants from birth perfectly safe and legally. There is nothing wrong with starting straight into a convertible, as long as that seat is suitable for their size. If you are leaning towards taking that route, here are a few things to think about.
- If baby falls asleep in the car seat while driving, will she or he stay asleep if you get them out? Does it matter to you if you have to wake them up?
- Do you have a new stroller in mind like the Baby Jogger City Select? These seats will not click into your stroller. Much too big.
If those details don’t deter you, then perhaps starting with a convertible car seat works for you!
CAN I JUST USE OR BUY A USED ONE?
Whether you purchased the seat from a garage sale, or it is a hand-me-down from your older siblings, a used seat poses multiple safety concerns. These concerns are:
- A used seat is likely to not have the manufacturer's instruction booklet. This is needed in order to install and use your car seat correctly.
- The seat could be expired, and not up to current safety standards.
- Could have possibly been recalled within the time that you did not own the seat.
- Could be missing important parts (internally, or externally.)
- The seat could have been involved in an accident, which would likely compromise the integrity of the seat.
- Plastic gets brittle over time. Even if the seat looks perfectly fine, if involved in an accident, the plastic could shatter. Those sharp shards can easily cause baby more harm than the accident. (Yes, those expiration dates are legit. Definitely not just a ploy to get you to spend more money.)
If your only option is to use a seat that isn’t brand new you should follow these guidelines:
- Contact your manufacturer: check for recalls, expiration date, and request an instruction manual if you didn’t get the original one.
- Ask the previous owner the right questions (has the seat been involved in accidents, has anything fallen off, have you experienced issues that were not resolved with the manufacturer.)
- Check the expiration date before purchase. This should be stamped somewhere on the seat, or you can contact the manufacturers.
REAR AND FORWARD-FACING GUIDELINES
Not taking into account the few outliers, convertible car seats generally all have a similar height and weight limit. Of course, since these seats have the ability to be used rear-facing and a forward-facing there are going to be a few different numbers to keep in mind.
The AAP states that a child should stay rear-facing until they are two years old or 20 pounds, whichever one comes last. Many parents are eager to turn baby forward as soon as they hit the “correct” weight because milestones are fun to reach, and it seems that forward-facing is so much more comfortable/enjoyable for baby. But, the AAP urges parents to keep kids rear-facing until two years of age no matter their height or weight. They have even suggested that you keep your child rear-facing until they have reached the maximum height and weight limit of their convertible seat (if that comes after their second birthday.) Average limits on the market today for rear-facing capability are 40-50 pounds.
We know that it may look uncomfortable for their legs, or that they might not enjoy staring at the seat as much as they would like looking out the front windows; but, both of those things are small in comparison to the importance of the life of your child. Pediatric physicians all over the world have confirmed that sitting with their legs bent cannot cause them detrimental discomfort, but facing forward too early surely can. They haven’t ever faced forward before, so they haven’t known anything except for looking backwards while driving. Save yourself the pain, and don’t introduce them to forward-facing until they actually get to stay that way. Even just trying it out for a day could create stress when you try to turn them back around.
Most all convertible car seats have a forward-facing weight limit starting at 20 pounds. Even though the AAP advises against turning baby forward-facing anytime prior to their 2nd birthday. Even for children of the same age, facing forward may come at different times, if parents decide to keep their child rear-facing until they outgrow the car seats rear-facing capacity. The control that your child has of their head is also an important factor to address, it isn’t always just about the numbers. If your little one struggles to, or cannot sit and hold their head up on their own, they should definitely stay rear-facing as long as the car seat allows. Those little necks just can’t withstand the weight of their heads if they were to be in an accident. Like the RAVA, the Chicco NextFit Zip has 9 different recline positions. This is especially nice because you have multiple options of safe recline while forward facing, to accommodate growth and development there. Lucky for you, there is a guide right on your seat to tell you which positions can be used when.
HOW TO PICK THE RIGHT SEAT FOR YOU
So, what in the world should you be looking for in a convertible car seat? The following list is a really great resource to get you started, and thinking about the other things that may be important to you.
- Crash Test Performances: All new car seats being sold from reliable sources, have been tested and meet all the guidelines for a car seat to be deemed legal and safe to carry your precious cargo. There are, however, car seat brands that have ratings that are above and beyond the necessary minimums. Those are the seats that get our vote.
- Will it Fit in Your Car: Every car model and every car seat model are different in shape and space. Make sure you find a compatible pair. If you are in Utah, you can come in to The Baby Cubby and actually take our model seats out and put them in your car. If you're not local, we highly recommend that you find a store in your area that will allow you to do this.
- Does Your Baby Like the Seat: Along with making sure that the car seat will fit the car you need it to, you should make sure that your baby is comfortable in it. While you are testing seats to make sure they fit in your car, pop the little one in them as well.
- Will it Fit Your Lifestyle: Do you live in an urban area and use taxis all the time? Do you have to transfer your seat between multiple family vehicles often? Can you wash the car seat fabric? Those are obviously just a few things, but they are valid things to consider as you read about different car seat brands and models. What works perfectly for your sister across the country in New York, might not be your first pick. The weight of the car seat is also something to consider if you will be moving it frequently.
- How Long Will it Fit Your Lifestyle: Is this a seat that you can use completely through this child? Or when this child grows out of it, can you use it for a younger child? (assuming the car seat hasn’t expired, of course.) Might as well plan to get the most out of that money you are going to spend.
- Can I Put Other Seats Next to It: Do you have other children that are in car seats or booster seats as well? If so, you will want to make sure you take those seats and the arrangement in your vehicle into consideration. Clek car seats are great for a multi car seat situation due to their slender bases.
- How Easy is it to Install Correctly: A shocking 95% of all car seats are installed incorrectly. You should look into how the car seat you want to purchase is installed into your vehicle, and how easily and effectively you can do so. Even with the LATCH systems (which are supposed to help eliminate user installation error) more seats are installed incorrectly than correctly. The Britax Click Tight Marathon, Boulevard and Advocate were designed to help you install that seat quickly and without error. Check out the technology of it here!
This boat load of information is a really good start to your research, but there is always so much more you can learn. We know they can be expensive, and aren’t as “fun” as a lot of other baby items. BUT a good car seat is the greatest investment you can make in your child’s safety on the road. The first step is buying a great seat, and the second step is to make sure that you are using that seat exactly as it should be. Follow instructions exactly as you install, and then install baby into the convertible seat correctly too.
If you would like some direction on correct installation and harness use, call or drop into our Utah store to see one of our resident CPSTs (Child Passenger Safety Technicians) they are very passionate about car seat safety! If you are not local you can almost always have your seat installed or checked at your local Health Department, or you can look for a CPST in your area through this system.
All in all, we just want every child to be as safe as possible when they are out and about. We are sure that anyone close to a child can agree with that! Good luck on your convertible car seat quest!