Infant seats should not be confused with infant or child safety seats (car seats). Regular infant seats simply allow young babies to sit up. They're not designed to protect a baby in a crash and should never be used to transport infants. Some child safety seats, however, can double as infant seats.
What to look for:
The base should be wider than the seat, and locking mechanisms should be secure. Push down on the unit to make sure it is sturdy.
The base should feature nonskid surfacing to prevent the seat from moving on a smooth surface.
The seat belt should be secure and the fabric should be washable.
If wire supporting devices snap on the back of the seat, make sure they are secure so that they do not pop out and cause the seat to collapse.
Never place your baby in an infant seat on a table or other elevated surface from which your child could fall, or on the washing machine or any other vibrating surface (the vibrations could cause the seat to move and fall).
Use the safety belt every time you place your baby in the seat.
Don't place the seat on soft surfaces (such as beds or sofas) because it may tip over and the baby could suffocate.
Child Safety Seats (Car Seats)
More children are seriously injured or killed in auto accidents than in any other type of accident. Using a child safety seat is the best protection you can give a child when traveling by car.
Never substitute any type of infant seat for a child safety seat. Only child safety seats — properly installed in the back seat — are designed to protect a child from injury during a collision.
What to look for:
Choose a seat with a label that states it meets or exceeds Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 213.
Accept a used seat with caution. Never accept a seat that's more than 6 years old or one that was in a crash (even if it looks OK, it could be structurally unsound). Avoid seats that are missing parts or are not labeled with the manufacture date and model number (you'll have no way to know about recalls). Also, check the seat for the manufacturer's recommended "expiration date." If you have any doubts about the seat's history, or if it is cracked or shows signs of wear and tear, don't use it.
Be sure that the seat you choose fits your child — a smaller baby can slip out of a seat that's too large.
Consider choosing a seat that's upholstered in fabric — it may be more comfortable for your child.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that infants and toddlers ride in a rear-facing seat until they are 2 years old or until they have reached the maximum weight and height limits recommended by the manufacturer.
Once kids are ready to transition to a forward-facing seat, they should be harnessed in until they reach the maximum weight or height for that seat. When they have outgrown their forward-facing harnessed seat, they need to be placed in a booster seat. Kids should use a booster seat until the car's lap-and-shoulder belt fits properly, which is typically when they've reached 4 feet 9 inches in height and are between 8 and 12 years old.
For more information on proper installation of child safety seats and how to harness your child, read our article on auto safety. You also can call the Department of Transportation Auto Safety Hotline — (888) DASH-2-DOT — if you have questions.