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Having a new baby to take care of means that you, as a new parent, have an endless number of big lifestyle changes to deal with - along with an even larger amount of smaller ones. It's important, under the circumstances, to keep your focus on the most important things in your life, like your child's safety.

Any time you leave the house with an infant, you are required the use of a car safety seat. But which one is the most likely to keep your child safe in the event of an accident?

Fortunately, the government's partnership with watchdog group Consumer Reports has resulted in an authoritative and easy-to-understand five-star rating system. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also maintains a comprehensive website at www.nhtsa.gov, though it does not directly provide safety ratings.

Consumer Reports lists some of the features it considers in assigning its ratings in a detailed guide to buying a child safety seat posted online. One of the most important is the Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH) system, which is a requirement on all safety seats sold since September 2002. This allows parents to attach special connectors on the bottom of the car seat to anchor points in properly equipped vehicles.

The two types of LATCH system - "hook" style and "push-on" style - offer similar safety performance, according to Consumer Reports, but the publication notes the "push-on" type connectors are frequently easier to attach and detach from cars with difficult-to-reach LATCH anchors. If you've got an older car - i.e. one without LATCH anchors - you might be forced to do things the old-fashioned way, using the vehicle's existing safety belts to secure the child seat.

An adjustable five-point harness is an important feature for modern child safety seats, Consumer Reports says.

"A five-point harness system is more secure than a three-point system, with two shoulder straps that come together at a buckle in the shell or a crotch strap. The extra straps spread the forces of a crash more evenly across a child's body. The thigh and crotch straps also help prevent 'submarining,' or sliding out of the harness in a crash (as is possible with a three-point harness)," according to the news source.

The decision to buy a forward- or rearward-facing safety seat depends in large part on how big your child is. Most experts recommend parents of infants go for the rearward-facing seat, since it effectively cradles the child in case of a crash, according to car-safety.org. However, once your baby grows to around 22 pounds and up, it's probably time to get a larger forward-facing model, since he or she will no longer be able to fit in the other type.

While it may seem like a lot to have to consider all this information now, count your blessings - at least this means your baby isn't a teenager itching to get behind the wheel themselves, with the heartache and car insurance rate hikes that generally entails.
 
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