Infant Car Seats

The law says you must have an infant car seat, or safety seat, to bring your baby home from the hospital. Learn how to choose a car seat for your baby.
The law says you must have an infant car seat, or safety seat, to bring your baby home from the hospital. And you must use the seat any time you take your baby in the car. You can find out more about car seats and car safety at

Shopping Tips tell you what to look for when you buy an infant car seat.
Safety Tips tell how to use an infant car seat.
Looking Ahead tells you what you will need as your baby grows.

Shopping Tips

  • Buy a new infant car seat, if you can. You can choose an infant-only seat, which is always used rear-facing. All infant seats in the United States now have a minimum weight limit of 22 pounds. You can also choose a convertible seat. These start out rear-facing but can change to a front-facing seat when your baby gets bigger.
  • Look for a model with a five-point harness (two shoulder straps, two leg straps, and one crotch strap).
  • Try the seat in your car before you buy it. Not all car seats work in every car. Also, make sure the car seat does not move more than 1 inch in any direction once installed. 
  • If you want to take your baby out of the car in the seat or use the seat with a stroller, buy an infant seat that clicks into a separate base. You can leave the base in the car. If you use more than one car, you can buy a base for each car.
  • Send in the registration card. That way, you will be told if the seat is recalled for safety problems. 

If you get a used infant seat, make sure:

  • It is not more than 6 years old. Look for a label on the seat that indicates the date it was made.
  • It has never been in a crash. Itís important to know the history of the seat.
  • It has not been recalled. You can check at
  • It has labels explaining proper installation and the seatís weight and height limits.
  • It has the instruction manual.

Safety Tips
Installing the car seat in the car

  • Read the ownerís booklets for both the seat and your car before you install the seat.
  • Install the seat rear-facing for an infant.
  • Check the strap adjustments for your babyís size.
  • Get a free inspection to make sure the seat is installed right. Go to to find an inspection center near you.

Putting your baby in the car seat

  • Place your baby in the seat and fasten the harness.
  • Make sure the harness straps are straight and snug.
  • For rear-facing seats, use the harness slot at, or just below, your babyís shoulder. The chest clip should be at the same level as the childís armpits.
  • If your baby needs a blanket or thick coat, put it over or on her after she is strapped in.

More car safety tips

  • Put loose items in the trunk, or strap them down with cargo anchors. Loose items can fly around in the car and hurt your baby if you have to stop suddenly or you are in a crash.
  • Replace the car seat right away if it is in an accident.
  • Never leave your baby alone in the car. A car can get very hot, even on a cloudy day.
  • To help you remember that your baby is in the car, put a soft toy in the front seat. Or secure something you need, such as a purse or backpack, in the backseat near your baby as a reminder.

Looking Ahead
As your baby grows, you will need to change his car seat.

Up to 1 year and at least 20 pounds Use a rear-facing car seat. Though most laws and written advice indicate a 1 year and 20 pound requirement, infant seats are now typically rated to 22 pounds or more, and many convertible seats have rear-facing limits as high as 35 pounds. Itís best to leave children rear-facing as long as possible up to the weight and height limits for your seat.
From 1 year and at least 20 pounds to about 4 years and 40 pounds This is the point when you can transition to a forward-facing seat, but itís best to keep kids rear-facing as long as the seat will allow (see above). With a forward-facing safety seat, use it with a five-point harness and attach the top tether strap. Check the weight and height limit for your seat.
From about 40 pounds to at least 80 pounds and 57 inches tall Use a booster seat with the carís safety belt. There are some seats in this weight range that still allow you to use the five-point harness.
Up to age 13 The child should ride in the back seat using a safety belt. Front-seat air bags can injure children.
June 2008

Copyright 2008, Consumers Union of United States, Inc. All rights reserved. No redistribution allowed.

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