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Which car seat is best for your child?

Car seats come in all different sizes, styles and colours and choosing one can seem like one extra headache when dealing with the stresses of the imminent arrival of a newborn. However, their sole purpose is to keep your baby safe, so knowing how to choose the right one should make the task a little easier.

The main factors to consider are the weight, size and age of your child, for specific information you should refer to manufacturer instructions on each product, but here is a quick guide to the different types available. Only EU approved child seats can be used in the UK, these have a label showing a capital E in a circle.

Rearward-facing baby seats (Newborn to 13kg)

According to RoSPA (Royal Society for the Protection of Accidents) rearward-facing seats provide greater protection for the baby's head, neck and spine than forward-facing seats; for very young children this is the safest seat available.

As the name suggests, this type of seat is rear-facing. The baby is strapped in with an adjustable safety harness and secured with the car's adult seat belt. The carrier will fit on the back or front passenger seat; never fit to the front seat if the car is fitted with a passenger airbag. In the event of an accident, the expanding airbag is liable to cause fatal injury to the child.

Infant carriers are now available from some manufacturers as part of a travel system, which is compatible with a pushchair.

Remember, because infant carriers don't lie completely flat, new babies should not be left to sleep in them for longer than 2 hours. So keep that journey short!

Combination seat (Newborn to 18kg)

The baby faces rearward from birth to 13kg, on the front passenger seat (unless there is an airbag fitted) or on the back seat. It then faces forward up to 18kg.

This seat is not designed to be taken in and out of the car all the time, and is not suitable for carrying the baby around.

Forward facing seat (9kg - 18kg)

A forward facing seat is used on the back seat and can only be used in the front if there isn't an airbag fitted or if the airbag is turned off.

The child is restrained by the seat's harness, and is fixed on the car's seat by an adult seat belt.

Booster and backrest seat (15kg - 36kg)

These raise a child so that an adult seat belt can be used effectively. Some have guides to ensure the belt fits correctly. Both the booster seat and the child are secured by the adult seat belt. These seats are not designed for use with just an adult lap belt.

Booster seat (22kg - 36kg - roughly from 6 - 11 years)

These can be used in the front or rear of the car, but it is safer to put them in the rear, especially if there is a passenger airbag in the front.

Booster seats do not have an integral harness to hold the child in place, so it's important that the seat belt is correctly adjusted.

ISOFIX

  • ISOFIX is a standard for installing child seats into cars. It is intended to make fitting child seats quick and simple, and was developed as a high proportion of all child seats are not fitted securely enough
  • When cars are manufactured, ISOFIX points are built into them. Child seat manufacturers build ISOFIX fitting points on their child seats. This will enable ISOFIX child seats to be simply plugged into the ISOFIX points in the car
  • To find out if your car has ISOFIX points, contact the manufacturer or dealer or click here

The basic points to note are:

  • The belt should be worn as tightly as possible
  • The lap belt should go over the pelvic region, not the stomach
  • The diagonal strap should rest over the shoulder, not the neck

When fastening your child into the seat:

  • Allow yourself plenty of time to check the seat and secure your child every time you travel
  • When using a seat with a harness check that the harness is sufficiently secure, you should only be able to fit one or two fingers between the child's chest and the harness
  • If you are using a booster seat the adult seat belt should rest on your child's shoulder, not neck and from hip bone to hip bone - never tuck the diagonal seat belt under your child's arm

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