If there’s one thing everyone knows about babies, it’s that they grow quickly. And, of course, part of growing means needing a new car seat. So, how does one know when to change seats?
There are a few different factors to consider with changing baby car seats. The first few changes will be indicated by weight, but later, you will also have to consider height when deciding when to change baby car seats.
All baby car seats are required to have weight limits included with the seat, so that is often the best indicator of when to change seats.
There are, however, other important factors to consider when choosing the best time to change seats. These factors can include things like the size of your car and your child’s age.
Consumer Reports released a timeline in 2008 for when to change baby car seats, from infant car seats, all the way through booster seats. For an infant seat, you can expect your baby to need a new seat around 22 pounds, according to the timeline.
Newer research has also been published regarding the best kinds of seats for safety, so that will also have some sway in when you change car seats.
Infant car seats and when to change seats
All infant car seats should be rear facing as that is the safest place for a new baby and most are a combination of a carrier and a car seat base.
According to Consumer Reports, most infant car seats can be used until the baby weighs 40 pounds, however, the child will often be too tall before that point and the seat will cease to be safe for your baby.
When the top of the child’s head is less than an inch from the edge of the seat, it’s time to change baby car seats. The seat will often include a height range that it is safe for, but you should be able to tell by looking at where the crown of the baby’s head lands against the back.
When your child has outgrown the infant seat, you will move up to a convertible seat. The change will usually take place around when the child turns 1-years-old.
Convertible car seats and when to change seats
When a child graduates from an infant car seat, they will most likely land in a convertible car seat.
A convertible car seat is also rear-facing, but it has a higher weight limit which allows the child to sit rear-facing for longer. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends rear-facing seats as the safest option for children under 2-years-old.
One benefit of a convertible car seat is that, when your child is old enough, the seat can be turned around and made into a front-facing seat.
Many of the convertible seats are also weighted for infants, but Consumer Reports suggests that they are often not the correct sizing for infants. When a seat is the wrong size, it can lead to unsafe conditions.
The best way to know when to change baby car seats from a convertible car seat to the next stage is to follow the weight and height restrictions on your particular seat. Most seats are rated for up to 65 pounds.
Booster seats and when to change seats
After your child has outgrown their convertible seat, they will move up to a booster seat.
Booster seats come in two styles: high-back and backless. The backless seats tend to be easier to install in your car and also a bit more cost effective, but they cannot be used in cars with low backseats as the back of the seat needs to come up to the top of the child’s head for safety.
All booster seats work by raising the child off the seat so that the regular seatbelt crosses the child’s body in the correct places – over the sternum and collarbone and across the child’s upper thighs.
High-back booster seats will also provide a degree of impact protection during a car accident and prevent whiplash. They sometimes also position the seatbelt better across the body than a backless one will.
When your child has reached the maximum weight (usually around 120 pounds) and height (at least 4’9” by law according to Safe Kids USA), they can graduate from car seats all together and sit directly on the seat.
An alternative to changing seats
In recent years, some companies have released “all-in-one” baby car seats which can be used all the way from infancy to toddler years by converting the seat.
One issue you may encounter with the “all-in-one” car seat is that they are typically very bulky and rather unruly. For smaller babies, the seats may actually be too large and therefore unsafe, or they may simply be too large for your car.
While it may seem convenient and more cost effective to choose an “all-in-one” model, often times the seat is more cumbersome as it is meant to stay in the car at all times.
While most infant seats can double as a carrier, that is not an option with an “all-in-one” car seat.
Even though they may seem easier in the moment, “all-in-one” baby car seats are probably best used for a backup option or for a family member who does not transport the baby often.
When it comes to knowing when to change baby car seats, your best bet is to follow the weight and height restrictions included with your particular seat.
Based on recent crash test date conducted by Consumer Reports, the best option for your infant and young child is to keep them in a rear-facing seat until they are at least 2-years-old.
While there are alternative “all-in-one” baby car seats, the best option for a growing child is to buy car seats that are rated for your child’s particular weight and height to ensure the best fit and safety results.
Knowing when to change baby seats can seem daunting, but ultimately, your seat should come with specific guidelines for when to change to optimize your child’s safety.