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Using a car seat (child safety seat) is the best way to protect kids when traveling by car. And you'll want to have your newborn's car seat all ready and checked for safety and proper installment before the big day. Every state in the United States requires that an infant or small child be restrained. And with good reason — unintentional injury is the leading cause of death in children, and most such injuries are from automobile crashes.
Child safety seats can greatly reduce the risk of a potentially fatal injury, especially for babies but also for toddlers. Yet many safety seats are used incorrectly. When choosing any car seat, following some general guidelines will help ensure a child's safety.
The best car seat is not always the most expensive one — it's the one that best fits a child's weight, size, and age, as well as your vehicle. Once you select a seat, be sure to try it out, keeping in mind that store displays and illustrations might not show the correct usage. It's up to you to learn how to install a car safety seat properly and harness your child for the ride.
If you need help installing your safety seat or would like a technician to check whether you've installed it properly, the federal government has set up child car seat inspection stations across the country. Also, many local health departments, public safety groups, hospitals, law enforcement agencies, and fire departments have technicians or fitting stations to help parents. (If you go to one of these locations, be sure to ask for a certified child passenger safety technician.)
Infant-only seats fit newborns and smaller infants best, so you will have to buy another seat as your baby outgrows it. Infant-only seats are designed to protect babies from birth until they reach up to 35 pounds (about 16 kilograms), depending on the model.
Infant car seats should always be installed to face the rear of the car. A child under age 2 is 75% less likely to die or be seriously injured when in a rear-facing seat because the back of the safety seat will cradle the baby's head, neck, and torso in a crash (at this age, a child's neck usually isn't strong enough to support the head in a crash).
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that infants and toddlers ride in a rear-facing seat until they're 2 years old or until they reach the maximum weight and height limits recommended by the seat's manufacturer.
So it's essential to follow the height and weight guidelines on the child safety seat and keep your child in a seat that faces the rear as long as it's possible and the seat still fits.
Infant-only safety seats are convenient because they're designed to double as carriers, chairs, or rockers when not used in the car. Many models detach right from the base, allowing you to leave the base installed in the car.
Try to limit the amount of time your baby spends in this type of seat while you're at home or while the baby is at childcare. Too much time in a car seat can limit a baby's movement and opportunities for stimulation, which are important for developing sensory and motor skills.
Before installing your baby's infant-only seat, read the product manual thoroughly. These tips can help with the installation:
How to harness your infant:
How to harness infants and toddlers:
Since September 2002, most new vehicles have safety seat anchorage points and most safety seats have anchor attachments.
One of the problems with installing safety seats properly has been incompatibility between the car seat and the vehicle. The Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH) system was devised to make installation easier because it does not require use of the car's seatbelts. Instead, a tether strap secures the top of the safety seat to an anchorage point either on the rear shelf area, the rear floor, or the back of the rear seat of the car, depending on the vehicle model. Lower anchors secure attachments on the bottom of the safety seat to a point located between the car's seat cushion and seat back.
You should use LATCH only in seating positions recommended by both the vehicle manufacturer and the car seat manufacturer. Never use both the seatbelt and LATCH to install a car seat. Choose whichever method secures the car seat best. Most forward-facing safety seats made after September 1999 are equipped with top tether straps, and most vehicles made after September 2000 have tether anchors. Since September 2002, most new vehicles also have lower safety seat anchorage points and most safety seats have lower anchor attachments.
If your vehicle or safety seat was purchased after these dates and didn't come with tethers or anchors, call the manufacturer.
When combined with safety belts, air bags protect adults and teens from injury during a collision. They have saved lives and prevented many serious injuries. But infants and children can be injured or even killed if they are riding in the front passenger seat when an air bag opens.
Air bags were designed with adults in mind: They must open with great force (up to 200 miles per hour) to protect an average-sized, 165-pound (75-kilogram) male from injury. While this force is appropriate for adults and bigger kids, it can be dangerous for small children, possibly resulting in head and neck injuries.
Protect your baby or toddler from air bag injury by following these rules:
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor. © 1995-2018 KidsHealth® All rights reserved. Images provided by Cook Children's, The Nemours Foundation, iStock, Getty Images, Veer, Shutterstock, and Clipart.com.