What you need to know about your baby's car seat

Keeping up with car seat regulations is no easy task. Here’s the latest news.

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Photo: NHTSA Image Library

 

Every time Transport Canada updates the regulations for infant car seats, parents confront some head-scratching lingo: three-point or five-point harness? Convertible or combination? Rear-facing or forward-facing? And what does the maximum allowable weight for a car seat actually tell you, anyway? The latest changes came into effect January 1, 2012.

While in the service of kids’ safety, this can be exasperating. “I can barely keep track of the number of car seats we’ve gone through,” says Heather Ann Matheson-Rakita, a mother of four. Her family has gone through several phases of regulations (and, by her estimate, 12 or 13 car seats). The 2012 regulations increase the weight limit for infant seats to 22 pounds (up from 20). But don’t panic about your current infant seat — there’s no need to replace it unless it has expired or been damaged in an accident. The Canadian car seat industry has had more than 18 months to roll out the changes, so most seats for sold in 2011 already met the new rules.

When making your first big car seat purchase, consider a convertible model that accommodates children from five to 45 pounds (2.3 to 20 kilograms) rear-facing, and then flips to front-facing until your child reaches 65 pounds (30 kilograms). However, buying this kind of convertible means you forgo the smaller, more standard bucket seat for infants only, losing the convenience of being able to carry your often-snoozing baby in and out of the car.

As for the reasoning behind the updates to the rearfacing versus forward-facing guidelines, Chris Becker, of Toronto’s Canadian Car Seat Installation Centre, explains: “The new standards are designed to keep kids rear-facing longer. Walking is a good indicator of head and neck strength.” Because babies have underdeveloped shoulders and necks and their heads are so large, their spinal cords are very vulnerable in an accident. Studies show rear-facing seats reduce the risk of death by 71 percent — in Sweden, rear-facing seats are mandatory until age four.

As your baby grows older, keeping him rear-facing may get more difficult.

“I know my 13-month-old son is supposed to be in a rear-facing seat because he doesn’t walk yet,” says Leslie Stanley. “But he’s 22 pounds and he seems really uncomfortable — his legs are all crunched up. He’s also a much happier passenger when he can look out the window.” Becker says this is a common concern. “As a blanket rule, we tell parents to keep their kids in rear-facing seats as long as they can. Yes, your baby will start losing legroom by a year and a half; some parents get anxious about it around nine months.” But, he says, bent legs in a rear-facing seat don’t pose a serious safety problem. “I always say, that’s why they have knees! They can bend them.”

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