It’s a common parenting question: When should I switch my child from an infant car seat to a convertible car seat?
Unfortunately, there’s not a definitive answer; it all depends on the size and weight of your child. Most rear-facing infant seats can accommodate babies up to 22 or 35lbs and 29 to 32 inches tall. Your child could be nine months or 16 months when he meets those limits! My son, Levi, who was underweight for a while, stayed in his infant seat until he was 14 months old.
When your child eventually outgrows the infant car seat, it’s time to graduate to a convertible car seat. However, he should still be rear facing! According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “All infants and toddlers should ride in a rear-facing car seat until they are two years of age or until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by their car seat’s manufacturer.”
The beauty of convertible car seats, though, is that they work rear and front facing. When your two year old is facing forward, the harness will limit his forward movement during a crash. A five-point safety harness—with straps for each shoulder, each thigh, and between your baby’s legs—is the easiest to adjust, which also makes it the safest option. Just remember that the harness clip should be placed at mid-chest level to work properly.
Another important safety feature is the tether or strap that connects the top of the car seat to an anchor point in your vehicle (either on the seat back or rear shelf). Tethers stabilize the car seat, preventing both the seat and your child’s head from falling too far forward in a crash or sudden stop. Use your convertible car seat’s tether until your child has reached the top weight limit for the tether anchor. See your vehicle owner’s manual for more information.
So how do you choose a convertible car seat for your toddler? Don’t just go by price alone. A more expensive seat does not make a car seat safer. The National Highway Safety Traffic Administration offers an ease-of-use rating system that evaluates how easy certain car seat features are to use. Additionally, all car seats rated by the NHTSA meet Federal Safety Standards and strict crash performance standards.
And a final note of wisdom: Convertible car seats tend to be large, so check the the measurements before buying to make sure it will fit in your car’s back seat!