Important news: The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has issued a revised policy statement on car-seat safety. The new recommendations advise that toddlers sit in a rear-facing car seat until age 2, or until they reach the seat's maximum weight or height limit. Flipping the seat to face forward at the first birthday has long been viewed as a kind of milestone. “Most parents focused on the minimum of one year and twenty pounds for this switch, so the previous policy message of staying rear-facing until the child reaches the seat's weight limit was lost,” explains Benjamin Hoffman, M.D., an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of New Mexico, in Albuquerque, and a spokesperson for the AAP. The larger, convertible seats on the market now accommodate kids up to 35 pounds or more. There may be a few toddlers who reach the maximum height or weight limit before 2, but others who are smaller should remain rear-facing longer. Says Dr. Hoffman: “You lose a little safety each time you switch, from rear-facing to forward-facing, and later to a booster seat, so keep your child in the position he's in for as long as you can.”
The chest clip should sit at armpit level, not down near the belly. Don't attach covers to the straps—they'll just end up pushing the clip away from the chest.
If the seat's tilt is too upright (vertical), your baby's head will slump over and breathing might be constricted; too far back means her head could slide to the top of the seat's restraint and hit the back of the front seat during a crash.
If All Else Fails…
Let the pros help you install: Go to nhtsa.gov/cps/cpsfitting/ to find an inspection station in your area.
Buckling the harness belts—without any slack—is the next goal. “You should be able to slip just one finger between the strap and your child,” says Riedl. The baby's clothing will take up some room, but if you can get two finger-widths under the strap, retighten it.
Push your knee in the seat's center with all your weight and pull the straps hard, advises John Riedl, a car-seat expert at The First Years. It's installed well if you can't move it more than one inch in any direction.