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When Should You Switch to a Convertible Car Seat?

When Should You Switch to a Convertible Car Seat?

As parents or caregivers of children, we want them to be safe and comfortable at all times.  While infant car seats are popular choices for young babies, you will eventually need to switch to a larger car seat as your child ages and grows, and a convertible car seat is a popular choice for many people.

Infant car seats are great when baby is young and falls asleep in the car.  You can quickly remove the car seat from the base and go about your way with little disturbance to your child.  But many children will outgrow their infant seat by the age of one.  Some will even outgrow it as young as 8 months or sooner, so before investing in an infant car seat, realize you will soon have to switch to a car seat that accommodates older children and toddlers, and a convertible car seat is the best option for many.  You can still purchase an infant car seat, too.  That’s totally up to you, however some parents prefer to just have one car seat for every stage of a young child’s life.  It’s all a matter of personal preference.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says that the safest position for babies in a car, is to keep them rear-facing until they are two years old.  Once they outgrow their infant seat, you can switch to a convertible car seat and face it to the rear for another 6 months to a year, if your child is not too tall for that position.  Many opt to face their child to the front at a year old, and that is OK, as long as they are secure and snug in a safe car seat.  Each child will be different, and you should always refer to the manufacturer’s guidelines for safety and installation at various ages, heights, and weights.

If you only want to have to purchase one car seat in your child’s lifetime, there are many convertible car seats than can be used from birth up to booster seat age, and they are terrific options for parents and other caregivers.  The only problem with most convertible car seats is that they remain intact in the car, and often can’t be removed easily when you have a sleeping baby.  They also tend to be heavier than an infant car seat, so you can’t haul them around as easily, though many come with a matching stroller, and you can place the car seat from the car to the stroller, which is very convenient when shopping, or walking anywhere with baby in tow.  This is a nice option for babies who can’t yet hold their heads up by themselves.  Until a baby can hold up his or her own head, they should not be placed in a sitting position in a stroller or a car seat.  Heads need to be supported in young babies at all times.

Here are some guidelines that will help you decide when to switch to a convertible car seat…

  • When your child exceeds the weight limit of a smaller car seat. Infant car seat often accommodate up to only 22-25 pounds, so for the sake of safety and comfort, once your child is heavier than the limit, it’s time to switch to a larger car seat.
  • When your child exceeds the height limit of a smaller car seat. Your child might be too tall once he or she reaches 29” in height.  If baby’s feet are smooshed against the back of the driver’s or passenger’s seat, it could become very uncomfortable for him or her, plus unsafe.
  • When your child exceeds the head height of a smaller car seat. Switch to a convertible car seat when your baby’s head is within 1” of the top of the car seat!  You need to made sure baby has adequate support for their head at all times.  If the head goes over the car seat, your child would not be protected well should an accident occur.
  • If you or your child are becoming uncomfortable with the infant car seat, it’s time to switch to a convertible one. Once your baby gets heavier, an infant car seat may become too heavy for you to lug around, or your child might simply be outgrowing it, which can make it uncomfortable for her or him.

If at any time you feel your baby has outgrown their infant car seat, it’s OK to make the switch to a convertible car seat, just make sure they are rear-facing until they are 1 or 2 years old!

Other things to keep in mind include…

  • You should always refer to each car seat’s manufacturer instruction booklet for weight, height, and other limits, and to learn how to properly install the car seat.
  • Remember that not every car seat will fit adequately in every car, so make sure the one you choose will fit your vehicle. Some places will let you try the seat in the car before you purchase it.  Also consider other cars that the car seat might have to be used in on a regular basis.
  • It’s best not to buy or use pre-used car seats. If it’s absolutely necessary, do your best to make sure it’s from a trusted source.  There are many factors than can compromise the safety of a car seat, such as past accidents, damage to parts of the car seat, and general wear and tear over the years.
  • Your child should ride in the back seat of any vehicle until they are older than 13 years of age. This is the safest place for them!

Transitioning from a front-facing car seat to a booster happens when your child outgrows the conventional car seat.  It typically is suggested that you switch to a booster by manufacturers when a child is between 40-120 pounds and 40”-57” tall.

The amazing thing about convertible car seats is that you can use them rear-facing, front-facing, and as a booster seat!  They grow and change as your child grows and changes.

A booster raises your child up, so that seat belt restrains are in the right place on their body, which ultimately keeps them safer and more comfortable than if they were not in a booster at all.  A 5-point harness car seat is still the safest option until they outgrow it in weight, height, or both!

While child car seat guidelines often change, and vary according to particular car seat manufacturers, if you follow the guidelines above, your child will be as safe as possible in your car.  Make sure you read instructions on height and weight limits, as well as instructions on properly installing every car seat you buy, and remember, if you need help, or you aren’t sure if the seat is installed properly, there are places that will do it for you, and that will check to make sure you have installed your car seats safely and correctly.

You can visit http://www.safercar.gov/cpsApp/cps/index.htm and put in your State and zip code to find sources that will check for properly installed car seats.  Better safe than sorry.  Don’t let your pride get in the way of making sure your child is as safe as they can be in their car seat!

You can also take classes such as the National Child Passenger Safety certification to learn how to properly install a car seat, and more.  If you own or work for a child care center, or you transport children in your vehicle, this is a terrific course for you to take.

Also, most fire stations will install or check your child’s car seat!  So you have no excuse for an improperly installed car seat.

Use these guidelines, read your instruction manuals, and keep track of your child’s growth, and you will know when to switch from an infant car seat to a convertible car seat.  Even if you use a convertible car seat through all stages, you will still need to know when to switch from rear-facing to front-facing to booster.

 

When buying a car seat, look for customer reviews, safety ratings, etc. to make sure you are getting a seat that is safe and reliable.  Look for head cushioning, proper protection around the body areas, etc.  Read about the features of any car seat before buying.  Know what to look for, and you’ll be able to make an informed decision on each and every car seat you purchase for your family or for others.

 

We all want to see every child safe, comfortable and happy no matter what vehicle they may be riding in, and no matter what age or size they are, too.  Know when to switch car seat sizes, positions, and more, and know how to install car seats properly, and you’ll be doing your part to ensure the safety of the children with whom you have been entrusted.