Shopping for your baby’s first car seat can be an overwhelming task, especially with so many makes and models from which to choose. The following information is designed to help you make an informed decision when purchasing a car seat for your new baby.
There are three (3) types of car seats that can be used rear-facing – Infant-only seats, Infant/Child seats (also called Convertible seats) and Infant/Child/Booster seats (also called 3-Stage seats). The most popular car seat for a newborn is the Infant-only seat. If you choose an Infant/Child seat or Infant/Child/Booster seat for your baby, check the position of the harness. If the lowest harness slot is above the infant’s shoulders, the seat should not be used until the baby is bigger. The baby in the picture on the right is too small for this car seat.
These seats are designed to be used rear-facing only. Current models of infant-only seats start at 1.8 or 2.3 kg (4 or 5 lb.) and have an upper weight limit of 10, 13.5 or 16 kg (22, 30 or 35 lb.), depending on the model.
It is time for your baby to come out of an infant-only seat when he or she is over the seat’s upper weight limit OR when the top of the head is within 2.5 cm (1 in.) of the top of the seat.The child should then go into an Infant/Child or Infant/Child/Booster seat, used rear-facing, until it is safe for him or her to travel facing forward, at 2 or more years-of-age.
These seats can be used rear-facing for children weighing up to 13.6-20 kg (30-45 lb.), depending on the model. When the child has reached the seat’s maximum rear-facing weight OR the top of the child’s head is within 2.5 cm (1 in.) of the top of the seat, the seat can be turned forward. In the forward-facing position, these seats can accommodate weights up to 18-30 kg (40-65 lb.), depending on the model.
These seats can be used rear-facing for children weighing up to 13.6-22.7 kg (30-50 lb.), depending on the model. When the child has reached the seat’s maximum rear-facing weight OR the top of the child’s head is within 2.5 cm (1 in.) of the top of the seat, the seat can be turned forward. In the forward-facing position, these seats can accommodate weights of 18 to 30 kg (40 to 65 lb.), depending on the model. When the forward-facing upper weight or height limit is reached, the harness is removed and they can be used as a Booster seat with the vehicle lap and shoulder belt up to 45 to 54.4 kg (100 to 120 lb.), depending on the model.
The most popular car seat for a newborn is the Infant-only seat. They are smaller and have a harness system that is designed to fit the newborn’s body. Infant-only seats have handles for easier carrying.
They also come with a base that remains belted in the vehicle when you remove the seat. You do not have to adjust and tighten the seat belt or Universal Anchorage System every time you put the infant seat in the vehicle. You can buy an additional base for some models to use in a second vehicle.
There are also Travel systems – an infant-only car seat and stroller combination. Assess the car seat and stroller separately. Remember, babies often outgrow their infant-only car seat between 5 and 10 months-of-age. You will use the stroller much longer.
The price of a seat is not an indicator of a seat’s safety. All seats must pass strict Canadian standards. Some features, however, may make the seat easier to use, therefore, increasing the likelihood of it being used correctly. Manufacturers put an expiry date on their seats or in their instructions. Check the expiry date to be sure that the time period will cover your baby’s needs.
When looking to purchase an infant-only seat, you will notice a round sticker indicating that the seat meets the Canadian Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (CMVSS). Only seats that meet the standard are legal for use in Canada.
Look at the manufacturer’s instructions, both on the seat itself and in the instruction manual. Are they easy to understand? Do they give you clear directions with helpful diagrams? If not, it might not be the right seat for you and your baby.
For safety and comfort, it is very important to ensure the harness can be easily changed to different levels as your baby grows. The harness must come through the back of the seat at the level of, or slightly below, the baby’s shoulders but never above.
The various models of infant-only seats use different harness mechanisms. It is important that you, or anyone else who may put your baby in the car seat, are comfortable with how to adjust the harness. If it is a struggle, you may be tempted to not bother adjusting it properly. This can result in the baby not being correctly restrained in the event of a crash.
Not all car seats are compatible with all vehicles. If possible, try the seat in the back of your vehicle(s) to make sure that it fits. If you are unable to do this, make sure that the store will allow you to return the seat for a full refund if it cannot be properly installed.
Check the infant seat manual to see if the carry handle should be up or down in the vehicle. If the carry handle must be down, is there enough room to properly position the handle when the seat is installed?
Check that no more than 20% of the base of the infant seat overhangs the front edge of the vehicle seat. If all rear seating positions are required, due to family size or car pooling, is there enough hand clearance, or access, to fasten the belt?
Your vehicle owner’s manual will have information on correctly securing a car seat with your seat belts or the Universal Anchorage System (UAS). When tightening the seat belt or UAS, push the infant seat or base down and into the upholstery.
The seat should not move more than 2.5 cm (1 in.) toward the front of the vehicle, or directly side-to-side, where the belt is attached. It is acceptable (and normal) to be able to lift the top of the seat toward the rear of the vehicle or pivot it side to side.
Click here to download a pamphlet on Shopping for Baby’s First Car Seat