Switch Car Seats Safely from One Stage to the Next

Time to switch car seats? This is one area where early graduation is NOT a good thing. Children are safer riding in each car seat until they outgrow the limitations of that car seat.

The 3 biggest concepts here are:

1. Rear face longer

2. Use a harness longer

3. Don't move to an adult seat belt until it really fits

Of course, you must stay within the manufacturer's size guidelines!

So Tell Me When it's Safest to Switch from...

An Infant Seat to a Rear Facing Convertible

Your baby will outgrow her infant seat and need to switch car seats when she reaches ONE of these 3 factors:

1. The weight limit of the seat, which could be a variety of weights including 20, 22, 30, or 35 pounds. Check the label on your car seat.

2. The height limit of the seat, which also varies. Check the label on your car seat.

3. Your child's head is within one inch of the top of the car seat. This one is less known, but just as important. If your child's head extends beyond the protection of the car seat during a crash possible brain injury could occur.

Extra Note: You don't have to start with an infant seat, but they are very convenient and many times newborns fit better in an infant seat than a convertible seat.

Because of this there is no minimum age or weight to switch car seats from an infant seat to a rear facing convertible.

Special Note: Low birth weight babies need special attention. If you have a baby who weighs less than 5 pounds make sure you check the minimum weight limit of your car seat before using it!

A Rear Facing to a Forward Facing Harnessed Seats

Rear facing is safer! Keep your child rear facing until 2 years of age (yes, I said 2 years old) UNLESS he has outgrown the rear facing limits of his convertible car seat. (See below.)

A recent article published in the professional journal, Pediatrics (2008) shows that children are five times safer riding rear facing from their 1st birthday until their 2nd birthday.

Chances are that your child will outgrow his car seat before then, but keep his risk of injury lower by rear facing him as long as possible.

It's time to turn forward facing when your child has reached at least one year of age AND 20 pounds AND ONE of these 3 factors:

1. The weight limit of your convertible seat, which could be a variety of weights including 30, 35 or 40 pounds. Check the label on your car seat.

2. The height limit of the seat, which also varies. Check the label on your car seat.

3. Your child's head is within one inch of the top of the car seat. This one is less known, but just as important. If your child's head extends beyond the protection of the car seat during a crash possible brain injury could occur.

Note: The EXTREME minimum age a child could ride forward facing is both one year AND 20 pounds. If the child has not met BOTH of these numbers, then (s)he is at a high risk of not surviving a crash or facing severe injuries.

A Convertible Seat to a Combination Seat

Not everyone needs to make this switch. The goal here, however, is to keep your child in a harness as long as possible...without going beyond the limitations of the car seat.

And since many kids outgrow their convertible car seat before they are ready to move to a booster seat, like mine did, they may need an intermediate step before switching.

This is where combination car seats come in. If your child has outgrown his convertible car seat, but is not AT LEAST 4 years old or is still fidgety (as many kids are) then a combination seat is for you.

Your child has outgrown his convertible seat and needs to switch car seats when he has reached ONE of these 4 factors:

1. The weight limit of the seat. Check the label on your car seat or owner's manual.

2. The height limit of the seat. Check the label on your car seat or owner's manual.

3. When his shoulders have reached the top harness slot of the car seat.

4. When the top of his ears have reached the top of the car seat.

A Car Seat to a Booster Seat

Your child is ready to move to a booster seat when she is mature enough to sit still for the entire trip (at least 4 years old... or older in many cases) AND she has reached ONE of the 4 factors below in her harnessed car seat.

***Harnessed car seats provide more protection for your child so don't be too quick to move to that booster!***

1. The weight limit of the harness in the car seat. You can now find convertible and combination car seats that have much higher weight limits, including 50, 55, 65 and even 80 pounds.

Special Note: Make sure you check your instruction manual for the weight limit of the harness on your combination seat. I've seen many parents leave their child in the harness too long because the box said the combination seat went to 100 pounds. (This is the maximum weight limit for the seat when used as a booster seat. Remember: the combination seat is a combination of a harnessed car seat and then a booster seat.)

2. The height limit of the seat. Check your label or owner's manual.

3. When her shoulders have reached the top harness slot of the car seat.

4. When the top of her ears have reached the top of the car seat.

A Booster Seat to a Seat Belt

Your child is ready for an adult seat belt when:

1. He can sit on the vehicle seat with his bottom all the way back (no slouching)

AND

2. His knees drop at a 90 degree angle (touching the floor is great)

AND

3. The shoulder belt does not cross his neck. The belt can be touching the neck, HOWEVER, if this cause him to put it under his arm or behind his back then he's not ready just yet. (Double check to see if your seat belt is adjustable at the top.)

This is typically around age 10 and somewhere around 4 foot 9 inches. Why isn't there a specific set of numbers?

WARNING...Don't Switch Car Seats Too Soon.

It Can be Hazardous to your Child's Health!