If you ever plan to drive or ride in a car with your new baby, you absolutely must have a car seat. It is the law. A car seat is one of the most important pieces of equipment you will get to protect your baby in her first few months of life. Gone are the days of children sliding around in the back of mom and dad's station wagon. Today's babies are strapped down into a five-point harness piece of equipment that rivals the safety gear found in the military.
Types of Car Seats
There are several different options when it comes to finding a car seat for your baby. Infant car seats are made specifically for a new baby's first year of life. They are designed to be used in the rear-facing position only. They also typically have a handle, making them easy to carry around, and some models are even compatible with strollers so that a baby can be transported easily from car to stroller without removing, or waking, him.
Infant car seats are tremendously useful for the baby's first year, but cannot be used after a baby meets the age and weight requirements (twenty pounds and one year) to be turned around in her seat.
As their name implies, convertible car seats can be converted from a rear-facing infant seat to a forward-facing toddler seat. These seats can be used from infancy until well into a child's toddler years. However, without the handle and stroller compatibility, they are not nearly as convenient to use as other infant seats.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that all infants should ride in rear-facing car seats starting with their first ride home from the hospital until they have reached at least one year of age and weigh at least 20 pounds. It is even better for them to ride in rear-facing car sets until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by their car safety seat's manufacturer.
Going for the Green
Most conventional car seats are made with plastics and fabrics that have been bathed in chemicals throughout the manufacturing process. So if your car seat is new, it is very important to make sure that it has an opportunity to air out for as long as possible before the baby is born.
Another way to avoid the off-gassing of chemicals is to purchase or borrow a gently used car seat that has already had the opportunity to air out. But be careful here. A gently used car seat is a wonderful thing for the planet and the baby, but only if it comes from a trusted source. A used car seat that has been involved in a car accident may have suffered structural damage that weakened the safety of the equipment. Only accept or purchase a used car seat from a close friend or family member who can assure you that the seat is accident-free. It is also a good idea to check with the U.S. Consumer Product Commission to make sure the car seat has not been recalled since it was first purchased.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, as many as 80 percent of all car seats are improperly installed and used. Follow the installation instructions for your car seat carefully, and for an extra measure of precaution, have the installation inspected at your local fire station.