You'll need to buy a baby car seat before your baby is born. It's important to buy one that fits your car and is suitable for a newborn.
If you have your baby in hospital or a birth centre, you will need the car seat to drive your newborn home safely. It's a good idea to practise fitting the seat before your baby is born.
Tips for buying a baby car seat
- When buying a car seat, it's best to try a few in your car before making a decision. Try to find a retailer who is willing to help you with this. Ask whether staff have been trained in fitting car seats.
- Check whether your car has Isofix connectors built into it. These are designed to make fitting baby and child car seats simpler. Most modern family cars have them. They may be hidden in the cracks between the padding of your car seats.
- Some car seat manufacturers have online guides showing which cars their seats will fit in. If your baby is likely to travel in another car regularly - for example, with other family members - check the car seat fits their car, too.
- Always choose a baby or child car seat that's right for your child's current height and weight - see What size car seat? for more.
- Don't buy a secondhand car seat. It could have been damaged in an accident, and may not have all its parts, including the instructions. It may also not be the safest and most user-friendly model, plus it may not fit your car properly.
- Only accept a car seat from friends or family if you know its history, it's not too old and it comes with instructions.
- Think about how you will be using the car seat. If you'll be lifting your baby in and out of the car a lot, for example, you may be better off getting a lightweight seat with a base that stays in the car.
- All car seats in this country should be EU approved. Look for the "E" mark label on the seat.
What are i-Size car seats?
i-Size is a new European safety standard for baby and child car seats. It's part of regulation ECE R129, which will eventually replace the old safety regulation R44/04. The idea is that all car seats will eventually meet the tighter i-Size safety standards.
Your car must have Isofix connectors for you to be able to use an i-Size car seat. At the moment there are only a few i-Size seats on the market in the UK and not all cars have Isofix connectors.
There's no deadline for the old regulation - and car seats - to be phased out yet, but it won't be until at least 2018.
Visit the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) child car seats website for more on i-Size car seats.
What size car seat?
Car seats are divided into three main groups, depending on your baby or child's age and weight:
- group 0+ - rear-facing car seats suitable for babies aged up to about 15 months or who weigh up to 13 kg (29lb); some can be clipped on to a pushchair frame and are known as travel systems
- group 1 - forward-facing seats suitable for children who weigh 9-18kg (20-40lb) or who are aged from about 9 months to 4.5 years
- group 2/3 - high-backed booster seats suitable for children who weigh 15-36kg (33lb-5st 9lb) or are aged from about 3 to 12 years
You can also buy combination seats that cross over these groups, such as group 0+/1 seats, which are suitable from birth until your child weighs about 18kg (40lb) or is aged about 4.5. These can be more economical, but may not offer the same level of protection.
Baby or child car seat fitting
- It is dangerous and illegal to carry a baby in a rear-facing baby seat in a front passenger seat that has an active airbag. Forward-facing seats in the same position, while not illegal, are not ideal. It's always safer for children to travel in the back of the car.
- Make sure the seat is fitted properly in the car, following the manufacturer's instructions.
- Look out for safety days where experts demonstrate how to fit baby and child car seats safely. These often take place in supermarket or shopping mall car parks.
Using a baby or child car seat
- Make sure you always put your baby into their car seat from the pavement side of the car.
- Make sure your baby is securely strapped in according to the manufacturer's instructions. When you buy your car seat, ask the retail staff to demonstrate how to strap your baby into it.
- Use a rear-facing car seat for as long as your baby fits into it, as these offer better protection in the event of a car accident.
More help and advice on car seats
- The road safety officer at your local council can give you detailed advice about child car seats.
- You should be able to get advice from any good car seat retailer or the manufacturer.
- You'll find lots more advice on the RoSPA child car seat safety website.
- Visit GOV.UK for information about baby car seats and the law.
- See tips on choosing the right car seat for your baby on the Which? website.
Article provided by NHS Choices