Guide to buying a baby car seat from nine months
So, your baby is starting to look a little squashed in his first car seat. At around nine months it may be time to move him on to a bigger car seat.
As with your baby's first car seat, there are various things you need to consider before you part with any cash, so we've listed them here.
The when-to-move-on question all boils down to weight category of the car seat you bought originally. If you opted for a Group 0+ category car seat (suitable for babies up to 13kg), you should be able to get at least two or three more months out of it.
If you bought a Group 0 car seat (up to 10kg), though, things might be getting a little snug by nine months and you'll be needing to get a new car seat pretty soon.
Don't be in any rush to change car seats if you don't need to: it's safest to keep your baby in her rearward-facing infant car seat as long as possible (and absolutely until he weighs 9kg and can sit up unaided).
When the time for change comes, though, you'll probably find you're faced with a choice of forward-facing car seats.
It is arguably safer to put your older baby in a new rear-facing seat: in Sweden, for example, children are routinely kept in rear-facing seats until they are four years old. But rear-facing seats for this age/weight group can be harder to find in the UK (although you can find popular models in our On The Move reviews section).
• Baby car seats from birth
• Baby car seats from nine months
• Booster seats from four years
Rear-facing seats also tend to be pricier and complicated to fit, but you may feel it's worth the extra effort and money for what the Swedes, at least, believe to be top-notch child safety.
Whichever direction you want your car seat to face, you need it to have an E Mark (confirming that the seat conforms to all the officially required safety standards) and you may also want to consider a car seat that has additional side-impact protection.
It's really not wise to buy/accept a second-and car seat unless it has a E mark, its original fitting instructions and you're 100% certain it's never been involved in an accident. Any previous accident (however small) could weaken the car seat's effectiveness should you then be involved in an accident yourself.
Also, as before, you'll need to be sure the car seat you buy fits safely into your car. Many car-seat manufacturers now provide a list of car models their seats will fit, but the only way to be certain is to try the seat out in your car yourself.
Most retailers should let you try before you buy (if they won't, insist they allow you to return the car seat if it turns out not to fit) and the best ones will actually help you put several in your car and advise you which ones fits best.
Remember that (supremely unhelpfully) child car seats are categorised into groups by numbers and symbols, rather than by weight of the baby they should contain. So, this time round, you're looking for a Group 1 category seat, which is suitable for children from 9-18kg. This should last your child until she is about four years old.
If your first car seat was a Group 0+/1 seat (a 'combination' seat, bridging the baby and small child categories), you can now smile smugly.
If you're kicking yourself for not choosing a combination seat last time, you could splash out a little extra cash this time and get a Group 1/2/3 combination seat, which can be converted, when your child's about four, to a booster seat that'll see her through to about the age of 11.
If you're expecting (or planning) another baby, though, it may be cheaper just to buy a booster seat at four and pass the Group 1 seat on to the younger sibling.
This type of car seat doesn't come with a carry handle, so it's really meant for keeping in the car. If you're going to be shifting your seat between two cars, though, or using the seat regularly in other people's cars (remember to check it fits safely), do make a point of looking for one that is both lightweight and easy to install.
You may remember that sinking feeling you had when you opened the instructions manual of your first car seat. The bad news is the second one is likely to be just as tricky. The good news is that you probably won't be taking this in and out of the car nearly as often as you did with the first seat.
When choosing a car seat, note how fiddly it is to strap your baby into the seat. As he gets older and stronger (and potentially tantrum-prone at the prospect of car travel), the last thing you want is to a wrestling match to get him in.
For long journeys, seats with head rests are essential to prevent your baby's head from lolling about or falling forward. If your regular car runs tend to coincide with nap times, you might find a seat with a 'recline' button rather handy.
Some car seats sit higher up than others, which is great for your child to get a good view out of the window and can help prevent car sickness. Again, it's important to test the seat in your car before you purchase - some models were found to be too high for certain cars.
According to the car-seat law regulations that came into force in 2006, it is the driver's responsibility to check that children travelling in her car are "correctly restrained". You should know, then, that:
- It is illegal to travel with a child under three in your car, unless the child is strapped into car seat that is suitable for his or her size. The only exception to this rule is travel by taxi or licensed hire car where there is no appropriate child restraint available (and, in which case, the child must travel in the rear of the car).
- It is illegal to place the car seat of a child under three on a front passenger seat where there is an active air bag fitted. (If you can deactivate the air bag - and have done so - then that's fine.)
- It is illegal for a child over three and under 12 (or 1.35m tall) to travel in the front or back of a car, unless the child is strapped into car seat that is suitable for her size. The only exceptions to this rule are: travel by taxi or licensed hire car where there is no appropriate child restraint available (in which case, the child must wear the adult seat belt); a short, unexpected but important journey where there is no appropriate child restraint available (in which case, the child must wear the adult seat belt); the presence of two other occupied child car seats on the rear passenger seat that prevent fitment of a third seat (in which case, the child must wear the adult seat belt); and travel in a car with no adult seat belts fitted (in which case, the child should travel unrestrained in the rear).
In other words, the legal regulations are slightly different for children under the age of three and children over three (find them here) but all children must still travel in an appropriate car seat until either their 12th birthday or they are 1.35m tall.