Infant car seats
The law says you must have an infant car seat, or safety seat, to bring your baby home from the hospital. And you must use the seat any time you take your baby in the car. You can find out more about car seats and car safety at Consumer Reports.
- Buy a new infant car seat, if you can. You can choose an infant-only seat, which is always used rear-facing. All infant seats in the United States now have a minimum weight limit of 22 pounds. You can also choose a convertible seat. These start out rear-facing but can change to a front-facing seat when your baby gets bigger.
- Look for a model with a five-point harness (two shoulder straps, two leg straps, and one crotch strap).
- Try the seat in your car before you buy it. Not all car seats work in every car. Also, make sure the car seat does not move more than 1 inch in any direction once installed.
- If you want to take your baby out of the car in the seat or use the seat with a stroller, buy an infant seat that clicks into a separate base. You can leave the base in the car. If you use more than one car, you can buy a base for each car.
- Send in the registration card. That way, you will be told if the seat is recalled for safety problems.
If you get a used infant seat, make sure:
- It is not more than 6 years old. Look for a label on the seat that indicates the date it was made.
- It has never been in a crash. It’s important to know the history of the seat.
- It has not been recalled. You can check at recalls.gov.
- It has labels explaining proper installation and the seat’s weight and height limits.
- It has the instruction manual.
Installing the car seat in the car
- Read the owner's booklets for both the seat and your car before you install the seat.
- Install the seat rear-facing for an infant.
- Check the strap adjustments for your baby’s size.
- Get a free inspection to make sure the seat is installed right. Go to nhtsa.gov to find an inspection center near you.
Putting your baby in the car seat
- Place your baby in the seat and fasten the harness.
- Make sure the harness straps are straight and snug.
- For rear-facing seats, use the harness slot at, or just below, your baby’s shoulder. The chest clip should be at the same level as the child’s armpits.
- If your baby needs a blanket or thick coat, put it over or on her after she is strapped in.
More car safety tips
- Put loose items in the trunk, or strap them down with cargo anchors. Loose items can fly around in the car and hurt your baby if you have to stop suddenly or you are in a crash.
- Replace the car seat right away if it is in an accident.
- Never leave your baby alone in the car. A car can get very hot, even on a cloudy day.
- To help you remember that your baby is in the car, put a soft toy in the front seat. Or secure something you need, such as a purse or backpack, in the backseat near your baby as a reminder.
As your baby grows, you will need to change his car seat.
Copyright 2011, Consumers Union of United States, Inc. All rights reserved. No redistribution allowed.
Most common questions
What is the safest crib for my baby?
A full-size crib is best for your baby. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is reviewing safety standards on cribs and urging parents to avoid drop-side cribs (cribs with sides that move up and down). Many of these kinds of cribs have been recalled. It's best to have a crib with sides that don't move. Other things to keep in mind:
- Crib mattresses should be firm and tight-fitting. Otherwise, a baby may get trapped in the space between the mattress and the crib.
- You shouldn't be able to put more than two fingers between the mattress and the crib frame.
- Sheets should fit snugly.
- Don’t use bumper guards on cribs because they pose a suffocation risk. Newborns and small infants aren't able to pull themselves free if they become stuck between the bumper pad and the side of the crib.
- If you have a used crib, check the CPCS website to see if it's been recalled.
- Make sure corner posts are less than 1/16 inch. Otherwise, clothing could get caught and your baby might strangle.
- There shouldn't be more than 2 3/8 inches between crib slats so a baby's body cannot fit through.
What kind of car seat is safest for my baby?
If possible, buy a new car seat. That way, you're sure that it's never been in a car crash. If you're using a used car seat, be certain it is not more than 6 years old, has never been in a crash and hasn't been recalled (check the Consumer Product Safety Commission for recalls).
Look for a model with a five-point harness (two shoulder straps, two leg straps and one crotch strap). It's the safest for baby. You can choose an infant-only seat, which is always used rear-facing. You can also choose a convertible seat. These start out rear-facing but can change to a front-facing seat when your baby gets bigger. Other tips:
- Recline a rear-facing car safety seat at about 45 degrees or as directed by the instructions that came with the seat.
- Get a free inspection to make sure the seat is installed right.
- If you have a baby who is premature or has a low birthweight, look for a car safety seat with the shortest distance between the crotch strap and the seat back. Ideally, pick one with a crotch-to-seat back distance of 5 1/2 inches.
- Pay close attention to the lower weight limit of the car seat. The typical car seat is only suited for newborns that weigh more than 5 pounds. Look for infant seats that can accommodate a baby who weighs 4 pounds or less. Some manufactures sell inserts to attach to a regular infant car seat for preemies or low-birthweight babies.