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Investing in your child’s health and safety is always a sound investment. One key element that parents often forget to learn about is the humble car seat. This important staple of childhood is always changing, and manufacturers are learning new ways to improve upon old designs. The fact that a car seat of some form should be with your child for a good portion of their childhood means that it’s important to know the basics when it comes to car seat safety.

The Importance of Car Seat Safety

Did you know motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death among children in the U.S.? Children aren’t just small adults. A seat belt might be enough to prevent a car fatality for an average adult person, but due to their size, children need a seat that will fit them. In fact, a child sitting in a properly installed car seat is up to 80% less likely to sustain serious injury in the event of a car accident.

Kinds of Car Seats

Not all car seats are created equal. In fact, there are several different types to choose from, and the decision-making process can be a little overwhelming. However, each kind of seat serves a different purpose. Some car seats are designed with a specific position in mind, but many these days are convertible models designed to grow with your child. When making a decision, think of it as a long-term investment.

Rear-Facing Car Seat

Because infants and toddlers are at greater risk for a spinal cord injury during a car crash, it’s important (and in many states the law) to ensure you’re using a rear-facing car seat for at least the first two years of your child’s life. The reasoning for this is that in the event of an accident, the momentum pushes a child’s body against the seat, rather than snapping them forward as it would an adult. Choosing a convertible model means that you won’t have to worry about your baby quickly outgrowing their car seat as they get older.

In some cases, your child may reach the height or weight limit recommended by a car seat. Remember, the height limit is when your child’s head is just one inch below the top of the car seat, not when their feet touch the back of the vehicle’s seat. Alternatively, the weight requirement usually maxes out at around 40 to 50 lbs. Check your specific car seat manual for details.

rear facing vs front facing car seat

Forward-Facing Car Seat

Before you know it, your toddler will have outgrown their rear-facing car seat and you’ll wonder where that little baby you brought home from the hospital went! When your child graduates to a front-facing car seat, they should sit in this seat for as long as height and weight requirements allow. Front-facing car seats are usually equipped with a harness that you can easily strap your child in and out of and are safe to use up to around 80 lbs. But again, every child is different and may meet the height or weight requirements at different times. If your child’s shoulders reach the top slots for the harness, it might be time to consider the next stage.

Booster Seats

Ah, the booster seat, or as we like to call it: The Big Kid Seat. When your child is ready to transition into a booster seat, it’s important to discuss normal car safety with them. Your child should be tall enough, weigh enough, and be mature enough to sit normally in their booster seat while using your vehicle’s normal seat belt. That means sitting up straight and keeping their hands off of the release latch or button the entire ride. You’ll probably want to consider a booster seat around age 5 giving that they weigh at least 40 pounds.

When is it Safe to Use Seat Belts?

Seat belts are safe beginning at around age 8, or when your child reaches a height of around 5 feet. You’ll be able to tell that they’re ready to ride without a booster seat because the car’s seat belt will sit normally between their neck and shoulder, and the lap strap will rest across their waist as it would an adult. However, we still recommend that non-teenaged children continue to ride in the back seat.

Our Memphis Pediatricians Can Help

Looking for more information on car seats? Our expert providers are ready to help you determine which car seat might be best for you. If you have questions or concerns about whether or not your child is ready to transition between car seat stages, call and make an appointment today!