As a new parent, it can be easy to get caught up in the day-to-day of keeping your baby fed, safe, and entertained. As you move through life with baby, strapping your baby in and out of their car seat can become somewhat of a habit that you don't think twice about.
But if you chose to purchase an infant car seat for your baby, it's important to know when it's the right time to move to a larger and safer seat as they grow.
Why do new parents choose an infant car seat?
Many parents choose to buy an infant car seat for their new baby for both the convenience and travel benefits. Infant car seats have a secure base that stays inside the car, making it easy to take in and out of the car and ultra-portable. (Pro tip: most infant car seats can also be installed without the base, too!)
Because of their lightweight design, parents and caregivers are able to take the infant seat out quickly and attach it to the stroller or carry it themselves, wherever they are going. It's a great choice for parents who need to take baby with them and are always on the go!
But eventually, every baby will outgrow the infant car seat and will need a larger seat to ensure proper safety. This happens at different times, depending on their individual height and weight so you'll need to do a few things to check if it's time to upgrade.
3 Checks for Car Seat Safety:
1. Start with the manufacturer's guidelines
As a ballpark, most infant car seats are designed for infants who weigh up to about 32 lbs. and still have at least 1” of the car seat shell above their head.
But in reality, every manufacturer has created their own seats for a specific weight and size that they have safety-tested. So it's always best to check the manufacturer-provided guidelines to know where to start. You can often find this information on the car seat itself, or it will always be provided in the manual that came along with it. If you lost the paper copy, you can always google your model number to find a PDF version of it.
Here's an example of where to find this information on the car seat sticker.
Image Source: safekids.org
If you're unsure of how to find this for your car seat, you can contact your manufacturer or visit their website. They will always have this information available and can help you find the right weight and height limits based on your seat's model number.
2. Weigh Your baby, often
On your last visit to the pediatrician, your doctor may have weighed your baby and that number may be what's still in your head. Remember that babies grow quickly, so you may need to weigh your baby again to make sure he or she hasn't surpassed the recommended weight limit.
Don't have a baby scale? Not a problem. You can easily do this by taking your baby onto the scale with you, and then weighing yourself alone. Subtract your own solo weight from the combined weight, and you'll know how much baby weighs!
3. Don't forget the height, too
As a CPST, most often we find that babies will actually outgrow the height limit before the weight limit. As such, we recommend keeping up to date on how tall your baby is and if it looks like their head is getting close to the top of the seat, it's time to take baby out and measure him or her.
The bottom line is that if your baby has outgrown EITHER the height or the weight limits of the car seat, it’s time to upgrade!
BONUS TIP: In case you didn't know, all car seats have expiration dates! This ensures that the materials used in your seat are performing to the highest safety standards as when they were crash-tested. If your car seat is expired or is expiring soon, discontinue use immediately!
But you don't have to throw it away, you can cut the straps off to prevent it from being used and take it to a large retailer like Target for a trade-in discount.
Don't forget, installation is key!
Choosing the right size car seat for your child is only part of the equation for ensuring that you are transporting your child as safely as possible.
No matter which car seat you're using, it must be installed properly in your vehicle, and your child must be harnessed properly.
- Always make sure the straps are pulled taught (you shouldn't be able to "pinch" any extra strap material at the shoulders)
- For rear-facing car seats, the shoulder straps should be at or below the shoulders.
- The chest clip should be parallel to your child's underarms, not up by their chin or near their waist
Be sure to read both your car seat manual and your vehicle manual, as both will include important safety information about installing and using your car seat in your vehicle. And many of the popular car seat brands have their own YouTube Channels so that you can follow instructions with video as well.
Know where to get help
If you're struggling to install a new car seat or need a second set of eyes to make sure it's installed correctly, there are plenty of resources for you to use. In addition to reaching out to your manufacturer for help, you can find a CPST near you, many of whom offer car seat checks for no cost!
Becca Davison is a nationally certified Child Passenger Safety Technician (CPST) and co-founder of UnbuckleMe. Their online store includes smart, safe car seat products for traveling in the car with kids, including their flagship car seat buckle release tool (recently seen on Shark Tank). Use PROMO CODE "curious15" for 15% off your purchase for a limited time.