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Which type of car seat is right for your baby?

Infant Car Seat

If you're pregnant or have an infant, you have two choices in a baby car seat. The first, which most parents opt for, is an infant seat. This seat is designed specifically for use with infants generally from 5 pounds to 22 pounds and is always used rear-facing in the car. An infant seat provides features that offer convenience for you and comfort for your baby. For example, this type of baby car seat is lightweight and has a carrying handle so you'll find you can transport your baby from one place to another without disturbing her sleep. Many offer a separate base which allows the parent to snap the seat easily in and out of the car, and you can get more bases for additional vehicles.

Your other choice of car seat for an infant is a convertible car seat, which is used in the rear-facing position for infants, then converted to the forward-facing position for toddlers. Although convertible seats lack most of the convenience features common to infant seats, they're an economical way to provide protection, as one seat can generally accommodate your child from 5 to 40 pounds.

Convertible Car Seat

If an infant seat doesn't meet your needs, the alternative is a convertible seat, which accommodates both infants and toddlers through a single purchase. That's because a convertible seat, which is required for children over 22 pounds, can accommodate infants from 5 to sometimes as high as 35 pounds when used in the rear-facing position.

Unlike infant seats, convertibles cannot be used as carriers or rockers, and are not compatible with stroller systems.

Note: Pediatricians and child care advocates recommend that you keep your child rear-facing from their first ride home from the hospital up to at least one year of age and at least 20 pounds.

When your child outgrows her infant seat, the right car seat for your child is a convertible car seat. Convertible seats are so called because they can generally be used rear-facing for infants from 5 to 35 pounds, then converted to a forward-facing position for use with toddlers 20 to 65 pounds.

Booster Car Seat

When your child reaches about 40 pounds, it's time to move her out of a convertible car seat and into a booster car seat. Most booster car seats are designed to accommodate children from 30 to 100 pounds.

Although some parents choose not to purchase a booster seat, as they feel the auto's seat belts alone are adequate protection. Others consider buying a booster car seat only because it allows the child to see out the window. An automobile's seat-belt system is designed for adults, not small children, and most likely will not fit your child properly. A booster car seat is designed to use your car's seat belts, but makes important adjustments to provide better fit and comfort, which encourages your child to wear the seat belt properly. A booster car seat raises your child so the car's lap belt goes over his pelvis and hips, not his abdomen. In addition, many boosters provide an adjustment clip to ensure that the shoulder belt does not cross your child's face or neck. (If the shoulder strap crossed his neck or face, your child might be tempted to move it out of position, which could be dangerous in the event of a collision.)

Many states have laws that require children older than 4 and/or weighing more than 40 pounds to be in a child car seat. Click here to see your state's child car seat laws.