The American Academy of Pediatrics Released New Car Seat Guidelines That You Need to Read

Car seats have changed a lot since I first became a parent almost ten years ago. There were so many straps and buckles, I felt like I needed a Ph.D. to install the damn thing. Luckily for all of us, car seats have become a lot simpler (I’m now a car seat pro). But even grizzled car seat vets like me need to read the American Academy of Pediatrics revised car seat guidelines. They’re boiled down and easy for anyone to learn from and understand.

For those who are flummoxed by all the different kinds of car seats out there, the AAP created this handy chart.

car seat guidelines
Image: Healthy Children / AAP

The chart breaks things down by age. Infants and toddlers under 2 should only be in rear-facing seats. Toddlers and preschoolers should face forward once they’ve outgrown the rear-facing weight limit. And if you’re like me and always wonder when your kid should move to a booster seat, they have that covered, too. Something I didn’t know? All children younger than 13 years old should sit in the back seat.

The car seat guidelines are incredibly thorough and include tips on purchasing and installing car seats. They also dispel common myths ”” no, your child won’t get a leg injury by rear-facing ”” and answers frequently asked questions.

When it comes to rear-facing seats, parents should keep the following guidelines in mind:

  • Place the harnesses in your rear-facing seat in slots that are at or below your baby’s shoulders.
  • Ensure that the harness is snug (you cannot pinch any slack between your fingers when testing the harness straps over the baby’s shoulders) and that the harness chest clip is placed at the center of the chest, even with your child’s armpits.
  • Make sure the car seat is installed tightly in the vehicle with either LATCH or a locked seat belt. If you can move the seat at the belt path more than an inch side to side or front to back, it’s not tight enough.
  • Never place a rear-facing seat in the front seat of a vehicle that has an active front passenger airbag. If the airbag inflates, it will hit the back of the car seat, right where your baby’s head is, and could cause serious injury or death.
  • Make sure the seat is at the correct angle so your infant’s head does not flop forward. Check the instructions to find out the correct angle for your seat and how to adjust the angle if needed. All rear-facing seats have built-in angle indicators or adjusters.

Forward-facing car seat guidelines were also updated.

  • Move the shoulder straps to the slots that are at or above your child’s shoulders. On some convertible seats, the top harness slots must be used when facing forward.
  • You may have to adjust the recline angle of the seat so that it sits more upright in your vehicle.
  • If using a seat belt, make sure it runs through the forward-facing belt path and that the seat belt is locked and tightened.
  • If using the lower anchors, make sure that the weight of your child plus the weight of the seat does not exceed 65 pounds. Most seats now state the maximum child weight to use the anchors in the manual and on the stickers on the side. If the child weighs too much, families must use the seat belt to install.
  • Always use the top tether when you can. A tether is a strap that is attached to the top part of a car seat and holds the seat tightly by connecting to an anchor point in your vehicle. Tethers give important extra protection by keeping the car seat and your child’s head from moving too far forward in a crash or sudden stop.  A tether should always be used as long as your child has not reached the top weight limit for the tether anchor.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a study that found car seats reduce the risk of death in car crashes by 71% for infants and 54% for toddlers ages one to four. Booster seats reduce the risk for serious injury by 45% for children ages four to eight years. And? Between 1975 and 2014, child restraints saved an estimated 10,673 lives of children ages 4 and younger. That is amazing. Car seats FTW!

(Image: iStock / galinast)

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