When you’re pregnant, the world will tell you that you need all kinds of things for your baby. Special blankets, special diapers, special gadgets — the list goes on for days.

However, as a loss parent, you might hear a negative voice in your head, saying, “What if those clothes are never worn?” You may find yourself wanting to buy only the absolute necessities. If that’s the case, one of the baby items you will definitely need is a car seat. In fact, your birthing facility won’t let you leave unless you have one that is properly installed.

Person shopping for a car seat - Car Seat 101: Five Simple Lessons to Help You Make the Best Choice for Your Family


As with most baby items, there are many car seat options, ranging in size, cost, and features. How do you know which one will work best for your family?

To help you decide, we’ve broken down Car Seat 101 into five simple lessons. Buckle up because here they are.

1. Safety

When it comes to car seats, safety is often the top concern for expectant parents, especially those who’ve experienced loss. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), car crashes are a leading cause of death for children ages 1 to 13[1]Traffic Safety Facts,” National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Revised January, 2021.. A car seat offers protection for infants and children in a crash, but it’s crucial that the seat is installed and used correctly every time the child is in the car.

The NHTSA website has a car seat finder that can help you determine which seat is going to be best for your family. There are also companies and publications that test and rate car seats for safety, so you can search for that information online when you’re deciding on a car seat.

2. Style

For newborns, there are two car seat options: An infant seat or a convertible seat[2]Choosing the Best Car Seat,” Consumer Reports, Last Updated April 28, 2021.”. Each type has pros and cons. Infant seats are compact and only rear-facing, and most children grow out of them by their first birthday. At that time, they have to move to a convertible seat, also rear-facing, and can switch to forward-facing when they meet the height and weight requirements for that position, which is typically around age 2. One advantage of the infant seat is that it attaches to a base in the car, making it easy to move to a stroller that fits the seat without waking or moving the baby.

Convertible car seats are larger than infant seats and are made to switch from rear-facing to forward-facing. They grow with your child, from newborn to toddler to preschooler, allowing you to adjust the harness straps as necessary. Because you can use a convertible seat longer, they are usually more expensive than infant seats.

3. Size

Before selecting a car seat, you have to consider the size of your vehicle, or vehicles if your partner or another caregiver will be transporting the baby. Car seat measurements are available when you’re browsing online. If you’re shopping in a store, check out the box of the car seat or ask an associate to help you with measurements.

You also need to take measurements inside your vehicle. Measure the seat where the car seat will be installed, recording the length, width, and height. In addition, make note of the distance between rows. For example, in a standard sedan, measure how much space is between the front seat and the back seat. These numbers can help you with your car seat decision as you consider where in the car you will install the car seat. Dimensions also are really important when you have multiple car seats in the vehicle. If you have older living children or are expecting twins, make sure you can fit all the car seats properly.

4. Preferences

For example, will the baby be going to daycare or a babysitter during the day, and will the drop-off and pick-up people be different? If so, the infant car seat, with a base in each vehicle, may work best for your situation.

5. Installation

No matter which car seat you choose, remember — the car seat does not provide optimal protection unless it is installed and used correctly. In fact, NHTSA data shows that 59 percent of children killed in car crashes were not secured properly[3]Car Seats and Booster Seats,” National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

All car seats come with paperwork that gives installation instructions, and it’s best to install your car seat by the 36th or 37th week of pregnancy. If you are able, have a certified passenger safety technician (CPST) look at the car seat before the baby is born[4]Car Seats: Information for Families,” American Academy of Pediatrics, HealthyChildren.org, last updated December 22, 2021.). The NHTSA website maintains a database of technicians, so you can find one in your area. In addition, most police and fire departments have technicians, and many children’s hospitals do as well.

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