Car seats are not one-size-fits-all baby and child gear. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that using a properly fitting seat can reduce your baby's risk of death from a car accident by 71 percent and your toddler or preschooler's risk by 54 percent. Your growing child needs a specific model that fits her height and age when you buy the seat, says safecar.gov, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's website.
All infants must sit in rear-facing car seats, says the American Academy of Pediatrics on its website, HealthyChildren.org. While the academy recommends that you keep your child in a rear-facing seat until he is 2 years old, some states allow you to move your child to a forward-facing position after his first birthday. Depending on the manufacturer and model, rear-facing-only seats have an upper weight limit between 22 and 40 pounds.
Whether you have a 10-pound baby or a 30-pound toddler, convertible car seats provide parents with the option of keeping the same model after the child can sit facing forward. A convertible car seat may also have a higher weight limit for rear-facing use. This makes it an option for heavier babies who aren't old enough to switch to facing forward yet, says the American Academy of Pediatrics. Convertible seats could have a rear-facing weight limit that ranges from 40 to 50 pounds
After reaching 2 years old your child may be ready to move to a forward facing position. That said, every child grows at a different rate and may not meet the weight requirements under your state's laws or the seat manufacturer for safe riding while facing forward. If you have a convertible car seat and your child'ws weight and age meet the manufacturer's recommendations, you can turn it around. Another option is to pick a forward-facing-only version. These are typically for kids who are between 2 and 7 years old, says safecar.gov. Most forward-facing seats that have built-in harnesses fit children who weigh from 40 to 80 pounds.
Just because your child is school age doesn't mean that you should ditch the car seat. When your little one outgrows his forward-facing seat, you'll need to pick a booster seat to use until he is big enough for the seat belt to fit him without assistance. A booster seat uses the car's own seat belt system instead of a harness to strap your child in. The shoulder belt should cross the middle of your child's chest and not touch his neck, says the American Academy of Pediatrics. Most boosters go by height and not weight. Some children need to use a booster seat until they are between 8 and 12 years old.
Image via Thinkstock Images/Stockbyte/Getty Images