Ask Dr. Su: How Do I Select The Safest Car Seat For My Baby?

Preventing injury before it happens is the best way to keep our children safe. Dr. Su advises parents about preventative measures they can take to keep play safe. Use his tips to choose the car seat that will best protect your infant during car travel.

“When we talk about child safety, we often focus on the rules and sports equipment that help protect children at play,” says Dr. Edward Su. “But no prevention conversation is complete without addressing motor vehicle safety. Car crashes remain a concerning cause of injury and death for children. Knowing how to choose the right car seat for your child can significantly reduce injury risks.”

When your child is a newborn, you have two different car seat options: an infant seat that faces to the rear, or a convertible seat. Convertible seats can save parents money because they can be used safely from infancy through toddlerhood, but there are drawbacks.

“When our son was born at Woodwinds,” says Dr. Su, “the hospital would not release our baby to us to bring home unless we brought an approved car seat up to the room first. This would have been somewhat awkward and unwieldy with a convertible seat, because it is very difficult to carry a convertible car seat safely with a baby in it. The infant seat has a handle specifically designed to make it easy to carry your baby in the car seat.”

A convertible versus an infant seat is a matter of budget and parental preference, but there’s one rule of thumb that Dr. Su insists on. “Whether you opt for an infant or a convertible model, always buy a new—not a used—car seat,” he says. “Safety technology improves rapidly; when it does, older car seats may be recalled. Also, materials deteriorate over time, so car seats do expire. A new seat ensures that your child will be protected by current safety technology.”

Here’s what to look for:

  • Make sure your seat has a five-point harness (two shoulder straps, two waist straps, and one strap between the legs). The straps should be adjustable without having to be rethreaded as your child grows.
  • Inspect the chair for side-impact protection. Look for extra foam on the sides, or cushions on both sides of your baby’s head.
  • Most new cars now are compatible with the car seat LATCH system, but older cars may not be. “The LATCH system hooks are designed to position the car seat on the right or left back seat of a car, and are a way to fasten the seat tightly without using the seat belts,” explains Dr. Su. “However, you shouldn’t use the LATCH system if you place the car seat in the center position in the back seat—which some consider the safest position for your baby. When we had our own car inspected, the inspector advised us to use the seat belt to correctly fasten the car seat in the center of the back seat.”

“Car seat installation can be confusing,” says Dr. Su. “Our experience with the LATCH system is just one example of why it is important to have your work checked by an inspector before your baby takes his or her first car ride.

If you want to locate an inspection station close to you, consult www.safercar.gov.

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  • Edward Su, M.D.

    “Driving, cooking, bathing, using tools, computers, and playing sports. We interact with the world largely through our hands, and I appreciate the importance of staying active and pain free.”

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