Figuring out which car seat is best for your kid often feels like an endless cycle of confusion. With a plethora of brands, styles, and types, which is the best and safest for your kid? I remember being pregnant and combing through review after review, site after site, trying to decide which infant car seat was right for my baby. Then, after he turned 1, I had to research all over again. What kind of car seat should my toddler be in? I had no idea. And, when it came to safety, I didn't want to take any chances.
According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration's (NHTSA) resource on child car seats, CarSeat.Gov, an infant under the age of 1 should always ride in a rear-facing car seat that's appropriate for their height and weight. But, as the NHTSA encourages, after they pass their first birthday, they should continue to ride rear-facing as long as possible, until he or she reaches the top height or weight limit allowed by your car seat’s manufacturer.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends all children be rear-facing until at least age 2, and this can be done safely in a convertible car seat, which has higher height and weight limits than the infant car seat you likely brought your baby home in. As the AAP mentioned, convertible seats can be used rear-facing until your toddler outgrows the rear-facing height and weight limits, and then can be switched to forward-facing.
As for when your toddler can kiss the forward-facing car seat goodbye? According to both the AAP and NHTSA, children should remain in a forward-facing car seat with a five point harness for as long as they can. Many of the newer seats have weight limits up to 85 pounds, which should ensure your toddler's safety well past toddlerhood.
If you're confused about whether or not your child is in the appropriate car seat for their weight, height, or age, consulting with your local police or fire department is always a good option. Most precincts have someone on staff who is certified to install your car seat safely in your car, show you how to harness it properly, and answer all of your pressing concerns.