What are the stages of car seats?

As parents, we witness many milestones in our children’s lives. Some are wonderful, some just happen, and some we are naturally apprehensive about. When it comes to child passenger safety, four steps will take a child through their entire time from birth until they can begin to ride in the front seat after their 13th birthday.

Progressing from any of these steps should not be rushed. When it comes to child passenger safety, it’s best practice to put off those milestones by using your safety seats to their maximums.

We’ll cover the basics of those four stages here.

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Stage 1: Rear-Facing Car Seats until at least Age 2

Start your child in a rear-facing car seat in the back seat. Rear-face until at least age two and until they reach the upper weight and height limits of the seat (even up to age 4). If your child outgrows their car seat before age 2, change to a seat with higher rear-facing weight and height limits. Keep rear-facing as long as possible. Leg crowding is expected and does not harm the child.

Rear-facing seats are the safest place for your child to be because they distribute the impact of a collision along the back of the car seat, which protects your child’s fragile head and neck. We strongly recommend keeping your child rear-facing until they reach the weight and height limit of their rear-facing seat, as your child’s head and neck are still developing.

Many rear-facing infant seats are part of a bucket carrier and base combination, which allows parents to install a base in the car permanently, but remove and install the seat with the baby still in it.

  • Check your car seat for specific height/weight limits as well as your provincial/territorial laws
  • Keep your child rear-facing until he or she grows out of the seat
  • The car seat must be installed in the back seat of your vehicle
  • Must be at a 45-degree angle
  • The car seat should not move more than one inch in any direction (besides the top of the seat, which is supposed to move)
  • Make sure there is at least 2.5 cm (1 inch) of space between the top of your child’s head and the top of the car seat
  • Make sure the chest clip is at your child’s armpit level and closed properly
  • When buckled, the strap should be snug, but you should be able to slip one finger between the strap and your child’s collarbone

Stage 2: Forward Facing Car Seats with Harnesses until Age 5+

When your child outgrows the rear-facing seat, use a forward-facing car seat with a harness and leash in the back seat until at least age 5. Remember to keep rear-facing until at least age two before turning forward. Use a car seat with a harness and leash until age 5, or until they reach the upper height and weight limits for the harness.

Once your child reaches the weight or height limit of their rear-facing seat, they can move into a forward-facing seat. The harness straps in a forward-facing seat are designed, so the impact is taken where your child’s body is strongest – the shoulders and chest, and then directed down to the hips.

Once children have grown out of their infant seat, they can move into a larger car seat like the one pictured at the top of this article. Many manufacturers now produce convertible seats, which allow your child to sit rear-facing for a longer time period, before turning forward later. (Most experts now recommend children face backward until they outgrow that position).

  • Check your car seat for specific height/weight limits as well as your provincial/territorial laws
  • The car seat must be in the back seat of your vehicle
  • Make sure the seat does not move more than one inch in any direction, even the top of the seat, which should be tethered down
  • The middle of your child’s ear should not be above the top of the car seat
  • The chest clip should be at your child’s armpit level and be closed properly
  • Keep your child in the forward-facing car seat until he or she grows out of it
  • When buckled, the strap should be snug, but you should be able to slip one finger between the strap and your child’s collarbone

baby to child car seat graph

Check out our range of the best baby car seats for your baby.

Stage 3: Booster Seats until the Seat Belt Fits (approx. 4’9″)

Kids are usually considered ready for booster seats when they are at least four years old and weigh at least 40 pounds but check with the laws in your particular state. Belt-positioning boosters are designed to properly position the vehicle seat belts on a child’s lap and shoulder. Vehicle seat belts are made for adult occupants, so children need the additional height — provided by a booster seat — to achieve correct belt placement.

Once your child reaches the weight or height limit of their forward-facing seat, they can move into a booster seat. Manitoba law requires children to remain in booster seats until they’re at least 4′ 9″, 80 lb, or nine years old. Without a booster seat, a seatbelt rides too high on a child’s stomach and neck and can cause serious injuries.

Boosters come in two varieties: high-back and no-back. A high-back booster is needed if your vehicle does not have a headrest for the seating position that your child will be using. They are also a good option when first transitioning a child to a booster from a forward-facing harnessed seat. No-back boosters work well for travel or for carpooling with booster-age children, as they are compact and easy to store.

When your child is at least age five and outgrows the forward-facing car seat with a harness, use a booster seat in the back seat. Use a booster seat until the belt fits correctly. A booster seat is often needed until 4 ft 9 in (145 cm) tall. Your child maybe 12 years old before ready for an adult safety belt.

Booster seats, designed to work with lap-and-shoulder combination seat belts, raise the child so that adult seat belts work effectively. Never use just a lap belt with a booster seat.

  • Check your car seat for specific height/weight limits as well as your provincial/territorial laws
  • If the booster seat has a seat back, the top should not be lower than the middle of your child’s ears
  • If there is a seat belt guide, it should be at or above your child’s shoulders
  • The shoulder component of the seatbelt should rest on your child’s shoulder, not on his or her neck or arm or behind his or her arm
  • The lap component of the seatbelt should be on your child’s hips, not on his or her stomach
  • Booster seats are designed for use in the back seat of vehicles

Stage 4: Seat Belts (and Use the Back Seat until Age 13)

Children should ride in an adult seat belt in the back seat once they outgrow a booster seat. Kids are ready for a seat belt when: (1) The shoulder strap crosses the centre of the chest and rests on the shoulder (not the neck). (2) The lap belt fits low on the hips touching the upper thighs (not the stomach). (3) Knees can bend when sitting all the way back in the seat, and feet are flat on the floor. Use the back seat for kids under 13.

For your child’s safety, Manitoba law requires children to remain in booster seats until they’re at least 4′ 9″, 80 lb, or nine years old. It’s important not to rush to using a seatbelt alone because it’s not designed for a child – the shoulder strap rides too high and could cause serious injuries.

  • Your child is ready to be without a booster seat when he or she can sit with his or her back against the seat and have his or her legs hang over the front of the seat without slouching
  • The shoulder belt should rest on the shoulder, not the stomach or neck
  • The lap belt should be on your child’s hips, not his or her stomach
  • Kids under 13 years of age are the safest travelling in the backseat

stages of car seat

Convertible car seat

Convertible car seats allow for use in both rear-facing and forward-facing positions in the vehicle. Many convertible car seats may provide an appropriate fit for newborns or young infants so that they could be used immediately with newborns in place of an infant car seat. Generally, these seats will have higher weight and height limits in rear-facing mode than infant car seats, allowing the child to remain rear-facing longer.

The ability to switch to forward-facing extends the lifespan of the seat and potentially saves you money on additional car seat purchases. However, parents who choose this option need to be absolutely sure their little one is ready to face forward. A good rule of thumb is not to rush. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends keeping your child rear-facing until age 2. “When considering your child’s turnaround time to forward-facing, just make sure your child is ready.

Many families turn their child around too early, and this puts your child at additional risk of injury or death,” says Bob Wall, car seat expert and global advocate for Nuna Baby Essentials.

Combination car seat

Combination car seats are forward-facing seats that can be used with a harness and in a belt-positioning booster mode. These seats are sometimes referred to as harnessed boosters. Some combination seats even offer three modes of use: harness, a high-back booster and no-back booster modes. Using a car seat with a higher weight rating for use with the internal harness (over 40 pounds) will help delay your child’s transition into a booster seat.

All-in-1 car seat

As the name suggests, all-in-one car seats can be used in rear-facing, forward-facing and booster modes. Like convertibles, many models could provide an appropriate fit for newborns or young infants so that they could be used in place of an infant car seat. These seats often will have higher weight and height limits in rear-facing mode, allowing a child to remain rear-facing longer. Because they can also be used in forward-facing harnessed and booster modes, these seats have the potential to be the only seat a child will need.

My Baby Nursery has a wide range of baby car seats to help you choose.

How to identify the right stage?

Your little one will progress through several car seat stages from the time he is born until adolescence. To ensure you’re using the safest option, double-check that your child meets the minimum height and weight requirement for a seat and is approaching the maximum measurement for his current car seat. “For all types of seats, weight and height limits will vary by model and manufacturer — always follow the guidance provided on the car seat labels and in the instructions for the seat your child will be using,” says Sarah Haverstick, a safety advocate and certified child passenger safety technician for Evenflo. “Every car seat fits in every vehicle differently, so it is a good idea to ask the store if you can test for fit with your vehicle and child before you make a purchase.”

Knowing which car seat to use at each stage of your child’s development can be confusing. The most important thing to remember is to not rush your child from one car-seat stage to the next. Children should remain in their current car-seat stage, whether it’s a rear-facing, forward-facing or booster seat until they reach its weight or height limit. This information can be found in the car-seat manual or on the car seat itself.

 

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