Written By Julie Monson
Occupational Therapist & Certified Car Seat Technician
WHAT ARE THE CAR SEAT STAGES FOR CHILDREN?
Throughout the first 10 to 12 years of your child's life, you will need 3 car seats to accommodate them through the various stages of their development. These car seats are designed to protect your child as they grow older, taller and heavier.
During these critical first 10 to 12 years, your child will need the following:
- Infant car seat
- Toddler car seat
- Booster seat
- And lastly, the adult seatbelt
In this article, we will explain each stage and why each type of car seat is crucial in keeping your child as safe as possible.
1) INFANT CAR SEAT
Your baby needs an infant car seat from their very first ride home in order to protect them in the event of a crash.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN AN INFANT CAR SEAT AND A MULTISTAGE CAR SEAT?
A good infant car seat is specifically designed to accommodate the delicate postural needs of a newborn, and they should recline sufficiently to avoid babies' heads falling forward and potentially occluding (restricting) their airways.
A multistage seat is approved from birth to 25 or 36kg, depending on the model. These are marketed as a more economical and longer lasting option, as you would only need to purchase one car seat to last 7 to 12 years.
Although there are many multistage seats available on the market and they are indeed very appealing, we find that most do not recline sufficiently in order to keep a baby's airway open, and many of their harnesses cannot be tightened sufficiently in order to strap a newborn in securely.
A seat that is not able to achieve a 45 degree recline for a newborn can result in head flop. If a baby's head were to fall forward before they have sufficient head control, it could pose a risk of positional asphyxiation i.e where their trachea ("wind pipe") is closed, which would restrict their breathing or where their chest is unable to fully expand, and they cannot get out of that position.
A multistage seat's harness may not be able to be tightened sufficiently to achieve a snug harness fit over your baby's torso. A loose harness can result in ejection in a crash.
Good infant seats achieve a safer harness fit and better recline, compared to multistage seats. Infant seats are also convenient for quick trips to the shop, where you can click the car seat into the pram without having to wake your baby.
It is important to note that babies should not remain in their car seat for prolonged periods of time, and their car seats should only be used on the pram for short durations.
IS IT WORTH BUYING AN INFANT CAR SEAT WHEN THEY ONLY LAST A YEAR?
It is true that infant car seats do not last long. And financially, we understand that it seems like a lot of money to spend for one year's use. However, the infant seat is designed to keep your baby safe in the car for the first 12 most critical months of their life, when they are the most vulnerable to injury.
Infant car seats are designed to form a cocoon around a baby and fit them snuggly, in order to provide maximum protection in a crash. The harnesses are usually lower and shorter, in order to allow them to be tightened sufficiently over a newborn's tiny body.
Furthermore, good infant car seats have a more reclined backrest and good padding, in order to prevent their heads falling forward.
WHAT IS THE BEST INFANT CAR SEAT?
A good infant car seat is one that meets the following criteria:
- It is specifically designed for newborns i.e. rear facing from 0 to 12/13kg rather than a multistage car seats
- It has a good recline to prevent your baby's head falling forward. This is especially important if your car has a steep back seat or bucket seat
- It has good padding to reduce the size of the seat when your baby is still very small.
- It has high crash test safety ratings
- It is compatible with your car (isofix or seatbelt installation)
For more information on the safest infant car seats, please read our comprehensive blog.
2) TODDLER CAR SEATS
When your baby outgrows their infant car seat, they will need to move to a toddler car seat. A toddler car seat is a Group I car seatsand is approved from 9 to 18/25/36kg, depending on the model. They can be rear or forward facing. They typically last average sized children from 1 to 4 or 5 years. They have a 5-point harness or an impact shield to keep your toddler restrained and to distribute the crash forces evenly across the torso.
SHOULD MY TODDLER BE REAR OR FORWARD FACING?
Although it is still unfortunately legal to forward face a toddler from 9kg in South Africa, rear facing car seats have been proven to provide MUCH better protection than forward facing car seats.
We strongly advocate for keeping children rear facing until 4 years, if not more, as studies how that rear facing is 500% SAFER than forward facing.
WHAT IS THE BEST TODDLER CAR SEAT?
A good toddler car seat is one that meets the following criteria:
- It is specifically designed for toddlers i.e. Group I.
- It allows extended rear facing to 18kg or 25kg. 25kg is ideal if your toddler is bigger than average. There are now also 2 seats approved to rear face to 36kg
- It has sufficient recline. Although head flop is not a safety concern in healthy babies over 6 months, it is frustrating if their head falls forward while napping and wakes them.
- It has high crash test safety ratings
- It is compatible with your car (isofix, top tether and/ seatbelt installation)
3) BOOSTER SEATs
WHAT IS A BOOSTER SEAT?
Once your child outgrows their toddler car seat, they require a booster seat. Booster seats are essential to keep older children, aged between 4 to 12 years, as safe as possible in the event of a collision. Children need to be at least 15kg, 100cm an 4 years old before they can safely move to a booster seat. They also need to be mature enough to sit still and upright, ALL the time.
A booster seat positions the adult seatbelt safely across your older child's torso in order to achieve a safe seatbelt fit. The cushion of a booster raises a child up on the vehicle seat, in order to guide the lapbelt over your child's hard hip bones, rather than over their soft tummy (where their viral organs are!). The red/green seatbelt guides on highback boosters' headrests position the shoulder belt into a safer position across your child's shoulder and ribcage rather than close to the neck (where their spinal cord and arteries are).
what is the difference between a highback and backless booster?
A highback booster has a cushion, backrest and head support, whereas a backless booster just has a cushion that the child sits on.
In a highback booster, your child's torso is protected by the side wings of the booster. Their head and neck are protected by the headrest of the booster. Highback boosters offer much better protection than backless boosters.
Backless boosters simply raise a child up to get a better laptbelt fit over the hips, but they provide absolutely no side impact protection to the spine or head. Backless boosters never have, and never will, score well for safety. Children need to be at least 22kg, 125cm and 7 years old before even considering a backless booster.
Highback boosters are proven to provide much better protection than backless boosters. For this reason, it is safest to buy a booster that will last all the way to 150cm; approximately 10 to 12 years old.
WHAT IS THE BEST BOOSTER SEAT?
A good booster seat is one that meets the following criteria:
- It is specifically designed as a booster seat i.e Group II/III
- It is approved as a highback booster all the way to 150cm
- It is approved to 36kg or 50kg (i-size approved). A booster approved to 50kg or an i-size approved booster is ideal if your child is bigger than average
- It has a reclinable headrest or backrest for naps. This helps to prevent children falling forward (and out of the protection of the booster) while napping
- It has high crash test safety ratings
- It is compatible with your car. ALL boosters require a full 3-point seatbelt. Isofix is preferable but optional.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Car seats stages require 3 car seats over your child's first 12 years. Each stage of car seat is specifically designed to meet their developmental needs. As economical and sensible as multistage car seats seem, they do not always work well across all the stages and it is therefore best to buy a separate car seat that is specifically designed for your child's stage.
The best car seat for your child is one that meets the following criteria:
1) Is suitable for your child's age, weight and height
2) Fits your child correctly
3) Is compatible with your car
4) Can be used correctly every trip
5) Has high safety ratings
We are qualified Healthcare Professionals and certified Car Seat Technicians. At Precious Cargo, we provide expert advice based on best practice guidelines and the latest research. We offer thorough in-person / online assessments and professional installations to help you choose the safest and most suitable car seat to keep your child safe. We only sell car seats that pass and exceed the highest safety standards in Europe. All our car seats have been independently crash tested and receive the highest safety ratings.