How to Buy: A Car Seat

From the 5-point safety harness to the energy-absorbing foam padding, here’s everything you want in the perfect car seat.

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By Paula Kashtan for The Bump

No matter how well your delivery went … how perfectly prepared the nursery is … how madly in love you are with your brand-new baby … there’s nothing quite as nerve-wracking as that first drive home with her. While nothing will totally take away your fears, having a car seat you feel comfortable with should make things at least a bit less tense. (You won’t be allowed to leave the hospital at all without one.) Here’s what to consider in a car seat:



Babies should ride rear-facing for at least the first year and longer if possible. If your car has active front passenger seat air bags, your baby needs to ride in the back.


Once you think you have your car seat installed correctly, get it checked out by an expert. Your local fire department or police station should have someone trained in car-seat safety who can make sure everything’s really in place. (Save time by calling ahead.) The most common mistake parents make is simply not installing the seat tightly enough. See if yours is properly in place by holding the seat where it’s connected to the seat belt and trying to move it back and forth – if it budges more than an inch to the left or right, it’s not tight enough. If the entire installation process proves too overwhelming to tackle on your own (it happens to even the best of parents), your local expert can walk you through the entire process.


All babies need 5-point harnesses. Look for one that’s easy to adjust – when you take baby out of the harness, it’s best to loosen the straps and open the harness entirely, rather than simply unbuckle and try to wriggle your baby out. While it might seem intimidating to readjust the harness every time you put your baby in, you’ll quickly become accustomed to it, and will find taking your baby in and out much easier. Also, when you set up a rear-facing car seat, make sure the shoulder harnesses are at or below your baby’s shoulder level. (The opposite holds true for front-facing car seats, so it can be easy to misadjust.)

Energy-Absorbing Foam

During an accident, this is what keeps baby safe and protected from impact.