We all try to prepare for our child’s journey even before they arrive. Come on, who isn’t guilty of that? Not me!
Car seats are one of the numerous preparations we make that continue for a few years. Your child can use a car seat up until they’re 12. My kid transitioned to the last stage of car seats at about 11 years old.
Well, let’s take a look at all you need to know concerning these stages.
Do I Really Need An Infant Car Seat?
A lot of parents contemplate whether or not they should get a car seat. I was in this boat once upon a time, but I did adequate research and learned how important a car seat is for travel.
The main reason you need to get a car seat is for the protection of your child. It is unsafe for your little one to sit in the actual car seat, whether in the back or front.
A car seat will hold your little one in place and, when properly installed, offer adequate protection to the delicate parts of their body. This is especially true if an accident ever happens.
If you want to be sure of your child’s safety regardless of the situation, your best bet is to invest in the right car seat for your child.
4 Different Stages Of Car Seats
There is a little more to using car seats than just buying one. There are four different stages of car seats depending on your little one’s age, height, or weight.
- Rear-facing car seats
- Forward-facing car seats
- Booster seats
- Adult seats
Rear-Facing Car Seats
I’m sure you can already guess what this stage entails from the name. Here, the car seats are made to face the back seat.
This was the first car seat I used for my newborn immediately after we were out of the hospital. That’s right, you can use it from that early and up to 2 years. However, this can vary according to the manufacturer of your car seat.
The minimum weight for rear-facing car seats ranges from 4–5 pounds and the maximum is 40–50 pounds. While, as soon as your baby reaches a height of 35 inches, it’s time to move to the next stage.
There are a few options to choose from for rear-facing car seats, which are:
- Rear-facing-only car seats: These seats are used solely for the rear-facing positions. So, you can use it only for the first few years, which can be a downer for some parents.
- Convertible car seats: These seats can be used in both the rear and front-facing positions. In this case, you would be using it as a rear-facing car seat.
- All-in-one car seats: These car seats can be used for the first 3 stages that actually require car seats. three! They can be used as rear-facing, forward-facing, or booster car seats.
Forward-Facing Car Seats
This stage of car seats is mostly for toddlers up to the age of 5. At this stage, the car seats are arranged to face the front of the car. It allows for a clear view of your little one in their seat.
The weight and height limits for the car seats used here depend on the manufacturer. So, you want to use it for as long as the manufacturer specifies.
If your child hasn’t reached the weight limit but is over 5, you may continue with the forward-facing car seats. Alternatively, if your child crosses the weight or height limit before the specified age, you can consider a seat with higher limits.
The types of forward-facing car seats you can use are:
- Convertible seats: I already told you about how this type of car seat cuts across two stages. It’s now time to utilize this convenient feature for your toddler.
- Integrated Seats: When your baby has exceeded the weight and height limit for rear-facing seats, you could use the in-built forward-facing seats in your vehicle, if any. Ensure you refer to the manual for proper guidance on its use.
This seat is used when your child is a little too big for a forward-facing car seat and a little too small for adult seats. That’s why it’s called a booster since it, well, boosts your little one.
This stage of car seats applies to children that are below 4 feet 9 inches and are aged 8–12 years. Remember that children under 13 years should always sit in the back seat regardless of whether they are using booster seats or not.
With these seats, you want the top harness spots to be below their shoulders and the top of the seat to be level with the top of their ears.
Like the previous car seat stages, the booster seats also have types.
- High back booster seats: These have a back that wraps around your child’s neck and head. It is especially useful if your car doesn’t feature headrests. It protects and at the same time gives comfort to your child.
It is a great start when transitioning from forward-facing seats to booster seats.
- Backless Booster Seats: You guessed it! These booster seats feature no backs. They basically just elevate your little one so they can properly use the vehicle’s seat belt.
Regular Adult Seats
The last stage of car seats for your kid is the actual car seat. Your child has to be at least 4 feet 5 inches tall to use a car seat belt. We don’t want the seat belt resting in awkward places, as it may result in injuries to your child.
You want the strap to lie across your kid’s shoulder and chest and the lap belt to rest on their upper thighs. A good rule of thumb is to ditch the booster seat when your child can sit comfortably against the vehicle seat with their knees bent and their feet flat on the car floor.
I would talk about the types here, but it’s basically a car seat, nothing else!
When Is It Time To Switch Car Seats?
The perfect time to switch car seats is whenever your kid reaches or exceeds a car seat stage. If you’ve paid attention, you’d see that I’ve talked about this already. However, for my skimmer moms and dads, these are the times to make that switch:
- When your baby reaches 50 pounds, 35 inches, or the product specifications, switch to forward-facing car seats.
- When your little one clocks 5 years or exceeds the manufacturer’s specifications, switch to a booster seat.
- Begin with a high-back booster seat to ease the transition, then move on to a backless car seat.
- As soon as your kid can comfortably sit on the vehicle seat throughout the car ride, it’s time for the big kid seat belts – at least, that’s what my kid called them.
You may also want to check the manufacturer’s recommendation for when to stop booster seats for a child.
Car Seat Safety Tips
Car seats are meant to protect your child in the event of an accident, but they can be hazardous themselves if not utilized well. But don’t worry, I have tips to help you use your car seats in the best possible way!
These are some tips recommended by the Mayo Clinic(1)
Investigate Properly If You’re Getting A Used Car Seat.
There may be instances where you’d need to get a used car seat. In that case, you should ensure that:
- It hasn’t been recalled.
- It has never been in any level of accident.
- It has no minor or major damage.
- It is not older than 6 years.
- It comes with a manufacturer’s label and instructions.
Place The Car Seat In A Convenient Spot
Generally, all car seats should be placed in the back seat. The specific spot it takes varies from car to car.
If possible, the best place is in the middle of the back seats. However, not a lot of cars can accommodate a car seat in the middle. If yours can’t, consult a child passenger safety technician for the best spot for your car seat.
If you’re riding in a vehicle that has no back seat, only use the car seat in the front when the airbag can be turned off with a key.
Ensure That The Car Seat Is Properly Installed
The best way to go about this is to follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Use a lock system that holds the car seat firmly in place –it shouldn’t move more than 1 inch (2.5 cm) when grasped on the attachment areas.
Make the car seat face the right direction. Never use a rear-facing car seat in place of a forward-facing car seat unless it is a convertible or all-in-one car seat.
Adjust The Car Seat To The Proper Angle
This is another tip in which the manufacturer’s instructions are key. You should have your baby semi-reclined in their rear-facing car seats so that their airways remain open.
You may also use angle indicators – included in your car seat package – as a guide when reclining the car seat. We don’t want our little one’s head to flop forward, now do we?
Don’t Switch To A Forward-Facing Car Seat Too Quickly
I really can’t sing this enough. There is no reason for you to be in a hurry to move to the next car seat stage. Every child grows differently, and their protection and comfort should be put first.
I know that the rear-facing stage can be uncomfortable since you can’t see your child. Still, you have to persevere as it is the best position for your little one at that time.
Remove Your Child’s Heavy Clothing
If you want the harness to fit snugly on your child, you should dress them lightly in their car seat. I’m not saying you should leave your kid to experience the cold, though. You can wrap blankets above the harness strapped to your child instead.
Don’t Rush To The Booster Seat Stage
You see what I said in step 5? It applies here too. Take your time, and let your child reach the weight and height limits before you transition to a booster car seat. Remember that these limits vary according to the manufacturer.
Use Your Booster Seat Correctly
Booster seats involve the vehicle’s seat belts, so you want to use the lap and shoulder belts. Make sure it fits properly on your child’s body and never use only a lap belt.
Don’t Switch To A Seat Belt Too Soon
I think by now you should understand that none of these car stages are to be rushed. Parents tend to get excited about moving on to their child’s next milestone, but patience is a virtue sometimes.
Only switch to a regular seat belt when:
- Your child can sit with knees bent and feet flat during the whole ride.
- Your kid is up to 4 feet 5 inches tall.
- The seat belt lies properly across your child’s shoulders, chest, and thighs.
For additional tips on car seat safety, check out the YouTube video on car seat safety teaching by a Registered Nurse RN.
You should never ride in your car with your little one in the absence of a proper car seat. This, coupled with a keen following of the stages I have listed, will ensure the highest level of travel safety for your little one.
What stage is your kid currently on? Let me know in the comments section, along with your thoughts!
- Mayo Clinic Staff, (2022, Feb 23). Car Seat Safety: Avoid 9 Common Mistakes. Mayo Clinic https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/infant-and-toddler-health/in-depth/car-seat-safety/art-20043939