Choosing a Car Seat for Your Baby's First Drive Home

by Sinead Stubbins

Becoming a new parent is an exciting and overwhelming experience - and that's all before you bring the baby home. That first drive home from the hospital can be a nerve-wracking journey, but it doesn't need to be if you prepare.

All you need to do is a little research and your ride home will be as smooth as can be.

  • Choose the right car seat

    Finding the right car-friendly baby capsule for your little one's first months can be a daunting exercise. Don't just assume that the most expensive one is the safest, or that it meets Australian safety standards. Do some research on different brands and talk to friends who have been through the process themselves.

  • A few things to bear in mind

    • 1. Children's car seats are categorised by the child's age and weight (often age is thought to be the only indicator of the correct seat type, but this isn't always the case). Be sure to check your local state and territory laws about the right baby seat for your child.
    • 2. For a new-born, the correct car seat is a rearward-facing baby capsule with a built-in five or six-point harness (in the backseat of the car - it's illegal for children under four to be in the front seat of a car, unless there are no backseats). Almost all capsules will accommodate your baby until they are about six months old.
    • 3. This capsule is required by law up until six months and comes in three types:
      • Type A1: For children up to 70cm tall (about 6-9 months)
      • Type A2: For children up to 80cm tall (about 12 months)
      • Type A3: for children up to 2-3 years of age

      When your baby outgrows their rearward-facing capsule, they have to sit in a forward-facing seat with a built-in five or six-point harness until they're at least four years old. The next seat is the booster seat which utilises the car's existing seatbelts and is required until your child is at least seven years old. But there's a fair while before you need to think about that!

    • Ensure the seat is fitted properly

      Studies have shown that around 70 per cent of children's car seats are fitted incorrectly. Remember this easy rule: if your car seat is very difficult to fasten into place or doesn't seem to fit your car properly, it's not the right one for you. When you hook it up, the car seat should have very little sideways movement and be held tightly by the seatbelt.

      It's actually very common to have your child's car seated fitted professionally, especially if it's the first time you've tried to fit one. To find a professional fitting station, just type your suburb into the search engine on childcarseats.com.au.

      Once the seat is installed, there are a few things to remember when strapping in your baby. With each trip, make sure to test that the straps are firm but comfortable (a good test: you should be able to fit two fingers between your child and the strap). Also make sure that there are no twists in the strap, which may impact their restraint.

      There are many factors to consider when it comes to car safety and your family. With advancing technology, it too can become overwhelming. Check out our tips and tricks on car safety made easy for the low down on navigating today's tech space.

    • Before your first ride home:

      • Choose a car seat that is easily cleaned and avoid textured fabrics that are tougher to spot clean.

      • Consider a capsule or infant carrier: these have handles that allow you to move your baby in and out of the car without waking them and also come with pillows which stop your baby's head wobbling about.

      • Don't be pressured to move up to the next car seat if your baby hasn't grown out of it - age isn't always the best indicator.