Car seats are one of the more expensive baby items you will need to get before your baby arrives, yet the most important. Car crashes are still the leading cause of death for children under the age of 12. Somehow, though, they also become one of the least considered items for many families. Why? I don’t know– because they aren’t fun, or because they are hard to use, or overwhelming to think about, maybe. And while many parents try to be cheap and get their hands on a used seat, this isn’t always a really good idea, as I’ve written about in a previous blog post.
I also know that conventional wisdom holds that you must buy an infant-only seat that has a handle and snaps into a base for your newborn. I’ve heard of nurses telling moms this. I’ve heard of store employees telling shopping parents this. And yeah, it seems like that’s just how it is. You have your baby, put them in a car seat to go into the car, then you take the seat out of the car when you get to your destination, and then your baby stays in the seat for hours on end. Not only is that a horrible idea because it causes their skulls to be flat in the back, but it might be a huge waste of money.
Hear me out.
When it comes to car seats, know that to do a good job of keeping your child safe every single time you leave the house in a vehicle, it’s important that you are using the right seat, installed properly, and with your child correctly secured. That means selecting the right seat, and not skipping a step. So, here’s what the full, complete, progression of what car seats your child will need could look like:
- Rear-facing in an infant-only seat
- Rear-facing in a convertible seat
- Forward-facing in a convertible seat
- Forward-facing in a combination seat, using the 5-point harness
- Forward-facing in a combination seat, using the seat as a high-backed booster
- High-backed or backless booster, depending on if the seat has a headrest
You could, in this scenario, potentially have to buy 4 seats for your child. If you figure an infant-only car seat will cost about $150 and another $50 for an extra base, a convertible seat can cost an average of $150, a combination seat can cost another $150, and a booster can run about $40….that’s a lot of money. And this is buying the lower-cost seats. When you buy seats that cost more, they are usually easier to use, more comfortable for your child, and can have additional safety features. Some more expensive seats have later expiration dates, with some of them expiring 9 years after the date of manufacture.
There’s another way.
You can, despite what popular opinion tells you, skip that infant-only seat. Yes, maybe it looks pretty, maybe it came with your stroller, but you don’t NEED it. Convertible seats are getting lower and lower weight limits, some as low as 4 or 5 pounds, and the car seat manufacturers are always adding ways to help make the seat fit small babies. You also can pay really close attention to height and weight limits, only buying seats that have really tall height limits. There are convertible seats on the market that have forward facing in a 5 point harness limits of 50-54 inches. For some kids, that will get them to 6-7 years old, then making it possible to skip a combination seat, and go to a booster–as long as you have a child who sits safely in a booster. In some cases, then, you can get away with only buying 1 or 2 car seats for your child.
What is an UNSAFE way to save money is to go from a convertible seat straight to a belt-positioning booster. Don’t skip a step. Preschoolers simply aren’t big enough, nor are they mature enough, to sit in a booster in a way that always has the belt going across their chests and the lap part of the belt staying on their upper thighs. Another UNSAFE way to try to save money is by buying this seat. It does not do well as a convertible seat, and it makes for a very poor booster seat.
And, a tiny rant: I need to call out the retailers who are confusing parents by lumping together combination seats with belt-positioning boosters and calling them all “boosters”. I get why parents are confused. Heck, if I saw that one seat was $150 and another was $30 and lumped (incorrectly) into the same category, I might go for the $30 seat too, despite the fact that it might not be a safe choice for my child. I’m looking at you, Target. It’d be nice if you got on board with the rest of us who are actually trained on these things.
Finally, if you do have questions, do what every single reputable car seat guide says to do: get help from a Child Passenger Safety Technician. We are certified and love to help! I’m one, and you can find one near you by going here.