Your baby and child car seat worries answered by the experts

We speak to the car seat manufacturers and safety expert RoSPA about what you find most confusing when it comes to baby and child car seats.

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With the overlapping car seat Groups, the age and weight guides and a other baffling car seat jargon, making sure your child is safe in their seat can be confusing.

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Making sure your child is as safe as possible in the car is obviously very important. But many of you have told us that information about car seat safety isn’t so clear and accessible.

We talked to some of the major car seat companies – Britax, Kiddicare, Jane and Maxi-Cosi – and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) for their expert advice and answers.

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When should you move to the next car seat Group?

Car seats are divided in Groups and each Group covers a specific weight range. But because the weights covered by each Group are overlapping, some of you are confused about whether or not to move car seat Group as soon as your child has reached the starting weight of the next Group.

It’s important for you to know that young children and newborns should travel rear facing for as long as practically possible. According to RoSPA, it is safest to keep a baby in a Group 0+ seat until they reach 13kg, which is the upper weight limit for the seat.

Even though the Groups are broadly suggested for different age Groups, you shouldn’t go by age. “It is the weight and height of the child that is most important when deciding what type of child restraint to use,” says Duncan Vernon, road safety manager (England) at RoSPA.

So use the car seat to the maximum weight before you move to the next Group.

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“It’s far better to keep the baby rear facing all the way to 18kg then it is to change it at 9kg,” says Mark Bennett, safety expert at Britax. And this applies to all Groups. “Stay with a Group 1 seat until the child’s weight exceeds 18kg, don’t move at 15kg where the start of the next Group overlaps,” says Mark.

According to Kiddicare, a baby must be able to sit up properly without help for at least six to eight weeks before they start to use a forward facing car seat. “If your little one still struggles to sit up, don’t worry if they surpass the age limit of the seat they’re in, it’s better to hang on and make the change to the next stage car seat later,” says Kiddicare’s team of car seat experts.

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What to do if your child is too tall for the seat but is the correct weight

According to RoSPA, you should only move your child up to the next Group of seat when he or she has exceeded the maximum weight for that Group or the top of their head is higher than the top of the seat.

“It does not matter if a baby’s feet dangle over the end of the seat. However, if a child’s head definitely extends above the back of the seat, it is probably time to move them up to the next type of seat,” says Duncan, from RoSPA.

Britax agrees with RoSPA on this advice. “Once the baby’s head reaches the top (of the infant carrier) or is above the top then they need to move on to the next seat,” says Mark.

“But imagine the baby is still not ready to go to the next seat I would look at something like a combination seat, that gives you a rear facing capability up to 18kg then turns around to become a forward facing seat,” Mark adds.

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Ways to tell if your child has genuinely outgrown their first car seat

As well as waiting until your baby has exceeded 13kg in weight, according to Kiddicareanother way of checking if your baby has grown out of their Group 0+ car seat is by placing your hand on top of the seat. If the top of your baby’s head touches your palm then it’s time to move to the next stage.

Doing a ‘shoulder straps test’ is also good for checking if your child needs to be moved to the next Group, says Jané. “If the shoulder straps are level with the shoulders then the child fits okay, but when the shoulder straps have to come up and over the child’s shoulders, this is when the child should be moved to a forward-facing Group 0+ car seat,” says David McCullough, spokesperson at Jané

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What all parents should know about rear facing and forward facing car seats

The car seat manufacturers all agree it is safer to keep your child facing the rear of the car for as long as possible.

“Rearward facing has a lower risk of injuries compared to front facing positions, because the back and neck of the child are better supported during frontal impacts. In fact, it is safer for everyone to travel in a rearward facing position, irrespective of their age,” says Neil Oakley, Maxi-Cosi’s sales training manager.

However, even though evidence shows it’s safer for children to travel rear facing for as long as possible, that doesn’t mean forward facing seats are dangerous, explains Duncan, from RoSPA.

RoSPA says that you can turn children around to be in a forward facing child seat when they have reached 13kg in weight, unless they are too tall for their seat.

RoSPA also claims that it’s noticed parents are confused about the larger Group 1 rear facing seats. These larger rear facing seats are suitable for children up to the weight of 18kg, not like the typical rear facing Group 0+ seat which only goes up to 13kg, and are available in the UK, although they are rare.

“RoSPA would like to see these seats more widely available in the UK because it would improve parental choice about the safety of their children,” says Duncan.

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What you should do if you need a car seat for the middle spot in the rear of the car

For mums with three children, squeezing more than two child car seats in the rear of the car can be challenging. It can be especially difficult to fit a car seat if your car has a lap belt in the middle spot.

Whether you have a lap belt in the middle or a 3-point seat belt, seek the advice of experts who specialise in car seat fitting, says Maxi-Cosi’s Neil Oakley.

“We would suggest that the mother goes to an independent retailer who can try fitting a number of different car seats so she can find the best ones for her needs,” says Neil.

More cars today have 3-point belts in the middle spot but if your car just has a lap belt in the middle.

If you’re trying to get three child car seats across the back seat, it will always be a tight fit. And, in some cars it may not even be possible to fit all three seats. RoSPA explains what to do if you’re in that scenario.

“One of the few exceptions to the law that children must use a child seat is when there are two occupied child restraints in the rear which prevent a third seat from fitting in,” explains Duncan.

“If you can’t fit three child seats in the rear and a child has to use a seat with a lap belt, put the tallest/heaviest child in this seat, and make sure the lap belt is worn correctly across the top of your child’s thigh and around his or her hips, not across the stomach,” Duncan explains.

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What to do if you have a heavy baby who can’t hold himself properly

If you have a heavy baby, they may have reached 9kg or more, but just not be developmentally ready to hold themselves and be forward facing. So what should you do?

Child restraints are tested and approved for your child’s weight and height, not age. But weight is not the only factor that has to be considered when it comes to choosing a child car seat, says Kiddicare. RoSPA backs this up.

“RoSPA recommends that he or she should remain in the rearward seat until the weight of 13kg is exceeded and he or she can confidently and comfortably sit up for a reasonable length of time – 30 minutes of more is a good guide,” says Duncan.

Don’t be tempted to move your baby into a forward facing seat as soon as he reaches 9kg – the starting point for the older and still currently legal Group 1 seats.

If your child is 9kg or more and not sitting up properly on their own, Kiddicare suggests using a larger rear facing seat suitable for children up to 18kg or a combination car seat, which span from birth to 18kg (approximately 4 years).

Britax backs up this sentiment, and recommends using Britax First Class Plus. “It would cover them rear facing because it’s a bigger seat and can take a bigger child’s weight but it would also turn to be their forward facing seat later on,” says Mark.

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The one piece of car seat information all mums should know

We asked the car seat experts if there was one nugget of advice a parent should have, what would it be? Here’s what they told us…

Remember that not all car seats fit all cars. Make sure that your child’s car seat is compatible with all the cars it will be used in. You can do this by checking with the seat and car manufacturer or a car seat fitting expert from a retailer, says RoSPA.

Maxi-Cosi also calls for parents to get advice from retailers on how to fit the seat and to always read the instructions. “A car seat is only as safe as it can be if it installed correctly,” says Neil.

Every family should have their seats checked by a specialised car seat fitter “as 80% of car seats on the road today are fitted incorrectly,” says Kiddicare.

David from Jané advises you to never buy a secondhand car seat because they are unsafe. “Also, replace your car seat with a new one when it has undergone violent pressure following an accident,” says David.

Mark from Britax says that it is vital for parents to think about how they intend to use the car seat. “If it’s a seat that gets switched between cars regularly or is taken in and out a lot then it needs to be so that you’ll find it easy to install,” says Mark.

RoSPA also agrees that regularly taking the car seat in and out the car is an important factor for you to consider.

“If you are taking a seat in and out of a car frequently then the chances of incorrectly fitting it back in increase, so make sure you go through the full process for fitting the seat every time,” says Duncan.

“We also encourage parents to check the seat is fitted correctly before every journey,” Duncan adds.

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