A sturdy, reliable, highly-rated infant car seat is one of the most important baby gear items you’ll need as a new (or experienced) parent. In fact, most hospitals won’t discharge you without completing a carseat safety check. But like it can so often be with baby gear, choosing the right one for your growing family can be overwhelming. There are a lot many options out there, and figuring out which car seat to purchase is a big decision.
Tips to Help You Choose the Right Infant Car Seat
But never fear! We’re here to help. We’ve done the research so you don’t have to and rounded up the best infant car seats available this year to help you make a confident decision.
Need help with the terminology? Check out our handy-dandy glossary!
What Is an Infant Car Seat, Exactly?
An infant car seat is designed specifically to safely hold and transport infants and younger babies, typically up to 35 pounds. They are always rear-facing (aka the safest position for babies and toddlers) and attach to a secure base unit. This component stays installed in your car, and the seat clicks in and out, making it easy to
An infant car seat is a seat made specifically for infants and younger babies. These seats always face the rear of the car and are designed to attach to a base. The base stays installed in your car and the seat clicks in and out, making it easy to get your baby into and out of your car. (Maybe even without waking them up!)
These seats feature handles for easy portability, and you can purchase an extra base to easily move them between different family vehicles. Some are also compatible with strollers, and you will often see infant car seats and strollers/stroller frames sold together as “travel systems.”
The only drawback is that you’ll still need to purchase a convertible car seat once baby outgrows the infant car seat. And keep in mind that a heavy car seat will only get heavier to carry around once your baby is inside.
What Types of Other Car Seats Are There?
As you probably know, there are a lot of car seats on the market. And they’re not all designed to keep your small babies safe like infant car seats are. Consider upgrading to one of these options once your little one has met or exceeded the weight and height limitations in your infant car seat:
Convertible Car Seats: These car seats can be used rear-facing for a brand-new baby and then turned forward when baby is ready so that they grow with your child. Many of them have higher weight limits for rear-facing babies, which can make them a safer option for that stage. However, they can be a bit trickier for positioning a newborn, as they can’t be removed from the car like an infant car seat.
3-in-1 Car Seats: This option (also called an “all-in-one” car seat) is a good solution for having a car seat to use at every age and stage. Use them with a rear-facing infant, turn for a forward-facing toddler, and then convert this seat into a booster. However, these seats tend to be large, so they’re not always suitable for smaller vehicles. They also can’t be removed from your car and used in a travel system like infant car seats can without unbuckling and removing your child.
Forward-Facing Car Seats: If your baby has outgrown the infant car seat and you’re ready for the next step, another option is a forward-facing car seat with a five-point harness. Unlike convertible car seats and 3-in-1 car seats, these aren’t suitable for a rear-facing infant.
Booster Car Seats: For kids, at least four years old and at least 40 pounds, boosters do just what the name implies — boost them up higher in a car’s seat. This ensures that your car’s regular lap and shoulder belts cross over your child’s body at the correct points to securely hold them. There are typically two options — high-back and backless booster seats. High-back boosters are a comfortable option that particularly suits cars with no headrests or low seatbacks. Backless booster seats are also a safe option, and they can be less expensive and easier for carpooling.
Do I Really Need an Infant Car Seat?
Need? Not necessarily. But will you be glad you purchased one, and will it make your life (and your infant’s life) much easier? Absolutely!
While it purchasing a convertible car seat may seem efficient, there are a few distinct advantages to using an infant car seat instead.
- First, babies can stay asleep during the transfer from car to stroller to home if you purchase a travel system.
- Second, it’s much easier to click the infant seat with your baby in tow in and out of your car since it attaches to a secure base that’s permanently installed in your vehicle.
Additionally, if your baby will be riding in multiple vehicles, transferring an infant car seat is much easier than uninstalling and reinstalling a convertible seat every time you switch cars. Just make sure to purchase an additional car seat base so you can easily click the infant car seat into the backseat base and get on your way.
There’s a lot to think about when choosing the best infant car seat for your baby. Comfort, fit, ease of installation, stroller compatibility, cost, and — of course — safety. All car seats need to pass strict federal safety regulations. You don’t need to spend an arm and a leg on a car seat, especially a temporary infant car seat, but you should prioritize the safety of the seat and how well it will fit in your vehicle(s).
How Long Can I Use an Infant Car Seat?
The short answer: for about a year or so.
The long answer: Infant car seats are designed to be used from birth until your baby reaches the seat’s maximum height or weight limit, which is typically between 22 and 35 pounds.
Make sure to keep track of your child’s height and weight in correlation with the infant car seat’s size restrictions. If they exceed either, then it’s time to switch to a convertible car seat. Car seat laws can vary by state. Check the Governor Highways Safety Association (GHSA) database to familiarize yourself with laws in every state and territory.
Where Is the Best Place to Position a Car Seat in My Vehicle?
Without a doubt, the safest place to install a car seat in a vehicle is in the middle back seat. This is because many crashes involve a side collision, so a middle position will help avoid direct impact.
However, not all vehicles allow for a car seat in every spot that has a seat belt. Always check your specific vehicle’s owner’s manual prior to installation.
How To Select the Right Infant Carseat for Your Family
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently updated the guidelines for car seat use. Here are their recommendations for infant car seats:
- Infants and toddlers should ride in a rear-facing car seat as long as possible—that means until they reach the highest height or weight allowed by the seat. Most of today’s convertible seats let children ride rear-facing for two or more years.
Once you purchase an infant car seat, test it out in your car(s) right away — before removing the tags or throwing away the box. You’ll want to make sure it’s a good fit in your vehicle, and that you can safely and properly install it before placing your infant in it. If it doesn’t live up to your expectations, then return it and try another option.
The information offered here is designed to serve as a guide. Always check your car seat manual for specific information about usage, weight, height limitations, and more.