Buying your first car seat is a scary process, and car seats can become a real minefield once you start looking into all the different options. So, do you just get whatever goes on your pram, or is there more to it?
Let us have a look firstly at putting your baby’s car seat on your pushchair wheels. This is a super handy feature to have, but it should only be used for very quick short trips – newborns should be in their car seat for no more than half an hour whether in the car or on the pram. The only real exception to this, is if your car seat lies flat.
If your car seat is coming as part of a package, ensure the car seat is compatible with your vehicle, and that you know how to fit it.
Lie Flat systems
Some car seats have a feature where they can be reclined so baby is lying flat. Some lie flat seats are true car cots, such as the Maxi Cosi Jade – this seat fits laterally in the vehicle. If you know you are going to have a premature baby, or will be doing long journeys with your newborn, you may want to consider a system that allows baby to be flat in the car – such as the Maxi Cosi Jade, Jane Matrix or Joie iLevel.
Some lie flat systems, such as the Cybex Cloud Z must only be laid flat outside of the vehicle.
Other types of baby seats
The most common seat for a newborn is a portable infant carrier that usually clips to your pushchair, and can be carried from car to house.
You can also purchase multi stage seats for newborns. There are ISOFIX or belt fit options, and some last from birth right the way through to 12 years old approximately. Some seats rotate, which is very helpful for getting baby in and out of the seat easily (particularly when they’re older!)
Whether you buy a dedicated baby seat, or a multi stage seat is your choice, baby seats have the benefit of being easily portable, whereas multi stage seats will last longer and remain fitted in the car.
Are all car seats as safe as each other?
No, is the simple answer! How well seats perform in collisions can vary widely. There is a test done by ADAC, which tests seats above the legal requirements of the regulations, and they also perform a side impact crash test. Not all seats perform well in ADAC. Not all car seats are selected for testing, so if you can't find an award for your seat, it may not have been chosen by ADAC yet.
Look out for seats which boast a good ADAC score (the lower the number, the better the score!), or they may carry an award from the German Stiftung Warentest. You can also look at WHICH for reviews – as with any external testing, be sure to read all the information so you can make a fully informed choice.
Fitting of seats
Most infant seats can be fitted with the vehicle 3 point seatbelt, although there are exceptions to this (for example, the Joie iLevel must always be used with the ISOFIX base). It is perfectly safe to fit a seat with the 3 point seat belt (if your car seat has a belt route) – however it is essential the seat belt is routed correctly. An incorrect fitment of the seat belt on your child seat can prevent it performing in a collision.
It is always advisable to buy your car seat from an approved specialist retailer – they will ensure the seat is compatible with your vehicle, and that it fits safely. If you are buying online, then be sure to visit a car seat library or keep an eye out for car seat checking events, so you can get the seat fitment checked.
When fitting your car seat, whether using ISOFIX or the seat belt, it is also important to ensure the carry handle is in the correct position – this is usually upright, but it can differ between seats, so be sure to read the manual.
Strapping baby in
Baby car seats will come with either a 3 or a 5 point harness, and it is vital that baby is always strapped in safely. The harness straps must be at the right height for their torso, and the straps must be tight enough.
Even when it is cold outside, children should never wear thick, puffy clothing when in the car seat. They should only be wearing what they would have on indoors – you can add a thin cardigan or jumper if you wish. To keep little one warm in the colder months, you can:
The car seat is generally lined with polystyrene which is an insulator - there is a very real risk of baby overheating. If you are going on a longer journey, remember that the car will heat up, so baby may then be too hot with their blanket
Depending on the regulation your seat is approved to, it will have a weight and height limit:
R44 approved seats: these are usually outgrown at 13kg, or when the top of baby’s head is level with the top of the car seat – whatever comes first.
R129 iSize car seats: these have a stated weight and height limit; the seat is outgrown when either the weight or height limit is reached – whatever comes first.
We hope that you have found this introduction to your baby's first car seat helpful!