Yesterday, my partner’s sister came over with her daughter, who was born a few weeks ago. While they talked, I was watching Isabel, who was sleeping in her car seat. Of course, within five seconds of being under my care, she woke up and started to cry, so I thought picking her up and comforting her would be a good idea. I unbuckled the little seat belt, pulled the straps to the side, and reached in.
And then I stopped.
She is just so little. I was scared to pull her out of the seat for fear her noggin might go the way of the Headless Horseman’s. I froze and looked to her mom for help, who of course swooped in and effortlessly picked up Isabel.
Obviously, I don’t have any kids, but I can’t be the only one who would be terrified to put a newborn in a vehicle, even if just for the ride home from the hospital. So, how do you protect something that is so little and fragile in something as large and unpredictable as a vehicle?
Best Car Seats
First of all, always, always, always put your newborn in a rear facing car seat.
Now, with that out of the way, here are some other things to consider. There is no perfect car seat. Some are more comfortable for the baby, while others are more practical for the parent (like a car seat that can fit in a grocery cart or that doesn’t weigh a million pounds). All car seats must meet certain specifications and they all must pass the same crash tests, so none are truly dangerous. Many of them are just a matter of taste, convenience, and affordability. As with any important purchase, do your research.
The Graco SnugRide infant car seat seems to be the favorite among parents and safety experts. It installs easily, has performed well in safety tests, and also transfers to a stroller, so your baby never has to be disturbed. Also, you don’t need the base to fasten the seat belt, which is perfect for families with two cars. $80–$150
Although one of the most expensive car seats on the market, the Britax Chaperone is one of the best out there, especially for taller or heavier infants, though it can accommodate babies as small as four pounds. The Chaperone has extra safety features, like an internal anti-rebound bar that better protects baby in a crash, but is hard to install and won’t fit well in smaller cars. $200
Chicco KeyFit 30 Infant Seat
Chicco is all about safety and its KeyFit system includes a five-point safety harness and a center-pull LATCH adjustment for security. The seat comes with a newborn insert to ensure a proper fit for smaller babies and also has removable seat padding and a removable head support so you can further customize the seat to fit your baby. $150
- Read your manuals. Read the one for the car seat as well as the one for your particular vehicle.
- When putting the car seat into the vehicle, climb into the car, put your knee in the seat, and then put your full weight onto it as you tighten the seat belt. This will ensure the tightest fit. If the car seat moves forward or side to side, it’s too loose.
- The car seat should rest at a 45-degree angle—if the seat stands too upright, the baby’s head may pitch forward. If the seat won’t rest that way against the seat back, put a rolled-up towel under the car seat and flush with the seat back. This should adjust the angle.
- Be sure that the straps are tight; they should only be one or two finger-widths from the shoulders. Babies like to feel snug, so don’t worry about the straps being too tight.
- If it’s cold outside, avoid putting your baby in a puffy snowsuit that will prevent a snug fit under the car seat’s straps. Instead, strap the baby into the seat and then swaddle him or her with blankets.
- Don’t be so quick to put your baby in a front facing car seat. Children who remain in rear facing car seats up until their second birthday are 75 percent less likely to become seriously or fatally wounded in a crash.
Now, if I can just figure out how to get her out of the car seat!