Ellie: There's only one piece of baby gear that's legally required …
Melissa: A car seat. And it doesn't matter whether you own a car or not …
Ellie: Most hospitals won't allow you take baby home without seeing the car seat first!
Melissa: It's a critical purchase…
Ellie: And we're here to help you make the best decision, step by step.
Melissa and Ellie: Car seats come in various sizes and styles designed to fit baby's current age, size and weight. Experts recommend those with a five-point safety harness for the snuggest fit and widest range of use.Everything must go
Melissa and Ellie: Because safety technology is constantly improving—never use a hand-me-down. Instead, buy the most up-to-date model available.
Ellie: The backseat is the safest place to install any car seat.
Melissa: Exceptions are minivans—where the middle row is safest—and certain pickups, where the front is the only option.
Ellie: In that case, air bags must be disabled—if you don't know how, ask a mechanic.
Melissa and Ellie: Newer cars and car seats are LATCH equipped—with built in anchors and tethers attaching directly into the car.New or old, it's best to let the local fire or health department inspect your car seat and show you how to buckle baby properly. Studies show seven out of 10 children are not buckled in safely.Infant seats are designed for the first six to nine months of baby's life. They are portable, with detachable bases – allowing you to move a sleeping baby without waking.If you have a second car, you can buy an extra base. Prior to the purchase, make sure the seat is light enough to carry – with or without baby!Newborns need extra padding to keep them safe and snug. But only use inserts made especially for the car seat you purchase.;Look for adjustable recline options that allow baby to sleep more easily in the car.;And consider an infant seat compatible with your stroller---just pop the car seat into the stroller base and off you go.By law you must install infant seats facing the rear of the car—not toward you. That's difficult for new parents—who want simply to glance over their shoulders to check on baby.Consider an accessory mirror to help keep you in contact. But the seat must stay rear facing until baby turns one AND weighs at least 20 pounds.Convertible designs are built to expand for use from infancy into the toddler stage. They save you money – but are not equipped with carrying handles or detachable bases.If baby goes directly from a standard infant seat to a larger, toddler-sized model, you may need to insert safe padding for a snug fit at first.For both convertible and toddler options, look for these features: Wide, twist free straps--and Front harness adjustments ---you'll be surprised how much easier it is to get baby in and out …;Two piece chest clips that snap—much more difficult for your child to detach; Tether straps that adjust easily for safety; And don't forget a washable cover!
Ellie and Melissa: For WebMD, we're Melissa and Ellie, the Baby Planners.