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Using a car seat the right way could save your child’s life.

At first glance, using a car seat may seem straight forward, but when you have your first child, you suddenly realize it’s not as self-explanatory as you’d once thought. There are so many questions you’d never before considered: Which type of car seat should you use? Which direction should the seat face—and for how long?

These are common questions for new parents. And as car seat designs are changing and crash tests are becoming more sophisticated, the conventional guidance on car seat usage is also getting revised. In today’s post, we discuss two new pieces of safety advice regarding car seats:

Seat type

You probably never realized until you had your first child that there are actually different types of car seats. The infant carrier makes transporting your baby inside and outside your car easy. But is it safer that getting a convertible car seat?

Studies show that for young babies, the infant carrier is the safest option. However, transitioning your baby out of the infant carrier and into a convertible car seat at the right time is critical. Convertible car seats have longer shells than carriers—offering better head protection for babies as they get taller. Consumer Report conducted crash tests using 22-pound dummies (representing one-year-old babies) in both infant carriers and convertible car seats. In 53 percent of crashes with carriers, the dummy’s head hit the front seat back, while only 4 percent of dummies in convertible car seats sustained head injuries. Experts recommending moving your baby into a convertible car seat no later than their first birthday—earlier if they’ve outgrown the height specifications of the carrier.

Orientation

The other big question surrounding car seats is orientation. You probably know that your new baby’s car seat should face towards the back of the vehicle. But at what point should they be turned forward? Until recently, the guidance has been to move your child’s car seat into a forward-facing position at two years of age. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics has recently modified its advice on this subject. After further study on car seat safety, it found that small children are safest when they face backward. Therefore, parents should keep their child in a rear-facing position for as long as possible—until they outgrow the height and weight restrictions of this orientation. This means that some children may not face forward until they are four years old.

When a car crash involves a small child, trauma to the head is a leading cause of injury and death. However, the right precautions can help prevent an unfortunate accident from resulting in disaster.

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