The best infant car seat reviews present a well-rounded look at all facets of car seats, including what’s great and not so great about them. We study several characteristics of each product to get a thorough review so you can save time and money while still getting the best car seat for your baby.
We ask the tough questions:
- Which car seats provide the safest ride?
- Which are the most comfortable (for both baby and parents)?
- Which are the most user-friendly in terms of installation and daily use?
- Which have the highest weight and height limits to allow for extended rear-facing?
- Which are the most value for the money?
Parenting is hard. You shouldn’t have to worry if your child is safe and comfortable in the car. New parents often spend countless hours shopping for the perfect car seat, only to be sorely disappointed when it doesn’t meet their expectations.
With just the right safety seat, however, it’s easier to enjoy each and every car ride with your baby, from a short grocery run to a long road trip. A car seat is one of the most important investments you’ll make for your baby. But would you believe that you don’t have to spend an arm and a leg for a great seat?
Take the Chicco KeyFit 30 for instance. It costs less than several designer models and is our highest rated seat. Discover why in our mini and detailed reviews.
Height and Weight Limits for Infant Car Seats
For infant car seats, height and weight limits vary greatly, with many of them topping out at about 25 – 30 pounds. The AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) now recommends that children ride rear-facing for as long as possible (as opposed to 2 years old). So car seat manufacturers are designing more infant seats with higher weight limits of 35 pounds and more. This allows extended rear-facing well past 2 years for most children.
What other Car Seat Types Work with Newborns?
One option is a convertible car seat. These seats grow with your child. They convert from rear to forward-facing and some even convert to booster seats. Convertible seats can be a good bang for your buck since you’ll only have to invest in one seat.
However, most convertible seats aren’t recommended. Before your child turns a year old, an infant car seat is recommended. Most convertible seats won’t provide a snug fit for preemies and very small babies up to 8 pounds.
In the first few months, your baby’s bones and muscles are very delicate, especially those in the neck and spine. Infant seats are designed specifically for protecting those vulnerable areas.
Even more, it’s very handy to have a seat you can “grab and go” as an infant carrier. This is one of the best benefits of infant seats. You can get baby in and out of the car without waking her up or exposing her to the elements! Convertible car seats don’t work like that.
Another option to consider is an infant car seat/stroller combo. With these, the seat can be attached to the stroller without removing the baby from the car seat. Also called travel systems, they’re perfect for long walks through the zoo,a museum or around the neighborhood.
Car Seats for Infants: Our 2018 Ratings & Reviews
|Chicco KeyFit Infant Car Seat||Peg Perego Primo Viaggio||Evenflo SafeMax||Chicco Fit2||Graco SnugRide 35||Maxi-Cosi Mico AP||2018 UPPAbaby MESA||Britax B Safe 35 Infant Safety Seat||Safety 1st onBoard 35 Air 360||CYBEX Aton 2 Infant Car Seat|
Chicco KeyFit Infant Car Seat
Out of all the car seats on the market today, the Chicco KeyFit 30 is one of the most recommended car seats by neonatal nurses for its safety standards, personalization, and comfort. If you have a child that has special physical needs, consider giving this seat a try. It comes in 5 colors and is designed for infants 4 - 30 pounds.
The Chicco KeyFit 30 is one of the only car seats on the market recommended for premature infants. This is because it adjusts to an extremely small size without cutting back on protection or comfort. A spring-loaded leveling foot and two bubble levels ensure you get the right angle so baby’s head won’t slump.
Parents love this seat because it’s easy to install, and the instruction manual provides a lot of support and guidance. Many of the features are smaller, making this a more compact and easy to use seat, especially for petite parents. It’s small profile makes for an easier fit for smaller cars or side-by-side car seats. It’s compatible with all Chicco strollers.Disadvantages
One of the biggest disadvantages of this car seat is that the fabric, though easy to clean, does not breathe. If you live in a warmer climate and/or you don’t have a strong air conditioning system in your car, you may want to monitor your child for overheating. However, this is a very rare problem.Compilation of customer opinions
By far, customers love the easy installation and say it’s easier to use than other car seats they’ve tried. They report that it’s comfortable and appreciate the varied fabric color and pattern options. If you are stuck on your search, this one’s a real winner.
Not Quite Enough? Take a Look At These Extended Specialized Editions:
Chicco KeyFit Magic
The Chicco KeyFit Magic is indeed magic: this edition offers a better headrest, a bigger canopy, and a few higher quality amenities.
Chicco Bravo Trio Travel System
The Chicco Bravo Trio Travel System is a travel system that includes an improved stroller with a very large sun canopy.
Peg Perego Primo Viaggio
All Peg Perego seats are known to combine safety, luxury, and beautiful features that you just cannot find in any other car seat. The Peg Perego Primo Viaggio is no exception - this is a superb seat you will love to use. It comes in 12 fashionable colors and is designed for babies 4 - 35 pounds.
The Peg Perego Primo Viaggio is one of the most popular options among families for quite a few reasons. It is certainly worth considering, especially if you are going to be in your car quite a bit.
The anti-rebound bar on the base is a unique feature that will provide extra protection if there is a front or a rear collision. If you drive in traffic that is stop and go, this can help stabilize the baby during sudden stops and starts.
Parents also appreciate that the seat is attractive and has some of the highest rated safety options. Color coded belt paths help ensure proper strap adjustment, and the side impact protection has 6 adjustment levels to protect baby’s head and shoulders, no matter their size.Disadvantages
Some parents have complained that the seat is uncomfortable to carry when the canopy is fully extended. Several noted that the material is a bit more difficult to clean, so if you plan on feeding your child in the car, this might not be a great option. (But feeding them in the car isn’t recommended anyway!) It may also not leave a lot of legroom for taller front seat passengers.Compilation of customer opinions
For parents who can afford to spend a little bit more for peace of mind, this car seat has almost always left them satisfied. If you do plan on frequent car trips, the Peg Perego Primo Viaggio is an option you will certainly want to think about.
Extended & Specialized Editions:
Peg Perego Booklet Travel System
The Peg Perego Booklet Travel System comes with a stroller and a few other options that make it different, including upgraded materials, even better protection, and can be used with a jogging stroller.
Evenflo is well known for innovation and thorough testing when it comes to safety and security for your baby. The Evenflo SafeMax is the product of years of research. It’s the first rollover-tested car seat and is designed for babies 4 - 35 pounds.
One of the biggest advantages is the anti-rebound bar that offers more support and safety for your child. The lowest harness settings fit smaller babies, but the model also fits babies that tend to be longer and taller (up to 35 pounds) so you can keep them in a rear-facing seat longer. The different settings for height and width make this a perfect fit for almost everyone.
This stylish seat also feels expensive even though it’s not. The canopy is generous for those sunny days. As far as safety, EPS foam lines the entire inside of the carrier, protecting against impact but also against bumps in the road. A SuperCinch tightener and one-pull harness make securing both seat and baby effortless.Disadvantages
One of the biggest problems with this seat is that the harnesses can be difficult to adjust so you should closely follow the user manual. The handle may also be stiff and difficult to move. For taller parents, the seat needs a bit more room, so you may have to move your front seat forward.Compilation of customer opinions
Overall, customers rate the Evenflo SafeMax as a safe, reliable option for preemies and beyond. They like that it’s comfortable and holds the baby at a natural angle.
Extended & Specialized Editions:
This rollover tested car seat has 4 different recline modes and improves upon the older model by offering even more harness adjustment choices, but it does not have an anti-rebound bar.
The Chicco Fit2 infant car seat is a step above the top-rated KeyFit in its dual-mode design and added safety features. The unique 2-stage adjustable base allows for a better fit for toddlers who are rear-facing. For those who are worried about lack of legroom for toddlers, this could be a great option. It comes in 3 colors and is designed for babies 4 – 35 pounds.
There are a few flaws in this seat that you may want to consider, specifically the weight of the carrier and limited stroller compatibility. The Fit2 does have several other features the original KeyFit doesn't, which may sway your decision in its favor.
The two-stage adjustable base allows you to easily switch from infant mode (Stage 1) to toddler mode (Stage 2) with a simple one-handed lever adjustment. A bubble level and adjustable recline foot on the base helps the seat remain at the proper angle at all times.
Parents really love how easy the seat is to install. The SuperCinch LATCH system with push on connectors means no more back strain to get a tight fit. Extra safety features such as an anti-rebound bar and large padded head wings make this great seat even better.Disadvantages
The Fit2 is heavy as a carrier. At 12 pounds, it's a good 2 pounds heavier than the KeyFit 30, so it's not ideal for extended carrying. It's also not compatible with every Chicco stroller, so an adapter may be needed. It's also rather expensive compared to the KeyFit and other similar seats.
Some children high on the growth charts may outgrow the seat before 2 years old. Babies with long torsos and very round heads could experience head slumping with the infant insert. The Fit2 may not fit well in the center position of some vehicles such as Ram 1500 trucks.Compilation of customer opinions
Overall, parents are satisfied with this seat, mostly for the easy installation and easy adjustments. It may not be a great fit for some newborns or kids that are high on the growth charts. It should fit in most vehicles that the KeyFit 30 can fit in, however, since it is the same width and depth.
Some parents thought the carrier was too heavy. Some kids that were used to riding in regular infant seats were not comfortable with the different way it fit in toddler mode. It's pricey too, but most parents felt that the seat was a good investment if it meant their kids could remain rear-facing for longer.
Graco SnugRide 35
Graco is one of the best known names in the infant car seat industry, but that doesn’t mean their seats are always the best option. The SnugRide 35 is one of several in the SnugRide lineup. It's designed for babies 4 – 35 pounds and up to 32 inches in height.
Available in 4 colors, the SnugRide 35 is fairly affordable, has some nice features, meets or exceeds all government crash safety standards, and has stood up to real-life crash experiences. However, there are some design flaws that parents need to look at before making their buying decisions.
This is a lightweight seat, though parents noted it's a couple pounds heavier than the product specs list. A machine washable cover makes cleaning easier, but that's not hard to find in car seats these days.
The SnugRide 35 easily clicks onto the base and is compatible with any Graco Click Connect stroller. It's not too bulky so will easily fit into most compact and small cars. The color-coded recline feature helps to easily adjust the seat to the right angle.Disadvantages
LATCH installation and removal can be a pain in the neck, especially if your vehicle has LATCH anchors that are tucked inside the backseat. Once the base is installed, it can be difficult to tighten the straps enough to keep it stable.
The one-click attach sound isn't always reliable when attaching carrier to base, so you'll have to pull up on the seat to make sure it's locked in. And once it's locked in, the carrier may get stuck and become hard to remove from the base.
The canopy, while large, can get in the way of the carrier handle when the handle is in the upright position. The fabric might not be breathable enough for very warm weather, plus the infant insert may not provide enough head support for preemies. Finally, the harness must be rethreaded when changing the harness height.Compilation of customer opinions
Overall, this isn’t the type of car seat people get too emotional or excited about - it simply does its job and doesn’t do much more. However, for most parents, that’s all you need.
While the Graco SnugRide Click Connect 35 isn't the best seat we've reviewed, its safety record and affordability make it a decent option for families on a budget, families who own small cars, and those who don't have preemies.
Extended & Specialized Editions:
Graco SnugRide 35 LX
With the Graco SnugRide 35 LX, the height of the harness can be changed more easily because you do not need to rethread the harness - it also has better head support for smaller infants and more padding in the seat.
Graco SnugRide 40
The biggest difference with the Graco SnugRide 40 is that the seat allows for a max weight of 40 pounds and 35 inches in height. It has a no-rethread harness and an easy-to-use InRight LATCH system.
Graco Aire3 Travel System
The Graco Aire3 Travel System comes with the SnugRide 35 car seat and a lightweight Graco Click Connect stroller. The stroller itself has a weight limit of 50 pounds, so will last well past toddlerhood.
Get Out and About With These Travel Essentials
Car Seat and Stroller Combos
If you’re always on the go, do it in style with these travel systems. Explore the world together while keeping your hands free and your necessities close. From newborn to toddler, your child will enjoy a safe, comfortable ride.
Infant Car Seat Covers
Protect your baby from the elements all year long with top-rated infant car seat covers. Sun, rain, mosquitoes and germs don’t stand a chance with the quality fabrics and designs in this collection.
Maxi-Cosi Mico AP
Fashionable and functional, the Maxi-Cosi Mico AP is a great starter seat for those who are looking for style and comfort. However, with the 5 - 22 pound weight limit, you’ll have to buy an upgrade sooner than you would with other seats. It’s available in 6 colors.
One of the biggest benefits of any Maxi-Cosi car seat is their compatibility with a few different strollers. This means that parents can customize the option which works the best for their families.
You can even get a few different bases if you plan to use the car seat often. The lightweight model allows you to quickly transfer the carrier from the car to the base, from the base to the stroller, and anywhere else you need to take the seat.Disadvantages
One of the biggest problems with this seat is that it only sits up to 22 pounds, so you’ll have to buy a new seat sooner rather than later. It’s advertised as the lightest premium infant seat on the market, but some parents felt it was too heavy considering the low size capacity.Compilation of customer opinions
Customers overall like this seat, especially parents who are active and need to use different kinds of strollers.
Extended & Specialized Editions:
Maxi-Cosi Mico Max
The Maxi-Cosi Mico Max goes up to 30 pounds instead of 22 and offers advanced protection on the side, rebound protection in the back, and a head pillow and insert for added comfort.
Maxi-Cosi Kaia Mico Travel System
The biggest difference here is that along with added protection, this seat and stroller combination will last for a long time because it goes all the way up to 50 pounds and is convertible.
2018 UPPAbaby MESA
The 2018 UPPAbaby MESA infant car seat is a new and updated version of the previous model. Functionally, it’s the same seat. It comes in five colors – the original blue, black, and navy blue plus new red and charcoal colors. The blue and charcoal colors are merino wool fabric that’s naturally fire-resistant, meaning no added chemical flame retardants. The gray color has been discontinued.
The MESA’s innovative red to green tension indicator is a first in the car seat market. Designed for babies 4 – 35 pounds, it can be paired with the UPPAbaby Vista or Cruz stroller for a convenient travel system.
The MESA is designed with preemies in mind. The harness and crotch straps adjust easily, providing a secure fit for babies as small as 4 pounds. An infant insert for babies 4-8 pounds includes a pillow that gives extra support for the head and neck, while a built-in wedge positions the body for a safer riding angle.
Parents love how easy it is to install with or without a base, and also appreciated the easy strap adjustments with the no-rethread harness as their child grew. They also loved how well it fit onto UPPAbaby strollers and how easy the seat cover was to remove and wash.Disadvantages
While some parents thought the MESA was lightweight, many felt it was too heavy and bulky. Some had difficulty fitting it into the back seat and had to push the front passenger seat too far forward to be comfortable.
Some parents reported quality control issues such as broken parts, torn fabric, and a flimsy canopy. A few noted that their babies got too hot in it. However, recent updates to a moisture-wicking Merino wool fabric may have fixed that issue.
For what it is, this seat is pricey, and several parents thought it wasn't worth the money. The Merino wool fabric ones cost about $50 more than the others. If you're on a tight budget, you may want to look at cheaper, comparable options.Compilation of customer opinions
For the most part, the MESA does its job well. It's sleek, modern-looking, and stroller-friendly. While most parents are happy with the seat, it's a considerable investment that may not have the quality of other premium priced seats. Keep an eye out for free shipping and other deals.
Britax B Safe 35 Infant Safety Seat
Britax is one of the most well known and respected names in baby travel gear, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that they have one of the best seats you can purchase in this price range. Do some research to see if it is really what you want - but for most parents, this will be a slam-dunk. It’s designed for infants 4 - 35 pounds and comes in 5 colors.
The Britax B Safe 35 Infant Safety Seat has a comfortable, easy-to-use four point harness setting and a SafeCenter Latch to make installing the seat base easier. The carrier itself has a deep cradle, which also adds to its comfort. The seat comes standard with a large sun canopy and side protection with impact-resistant foam.
For parents, the one-year-warranty is great if you have any issues, and the lightweight carrier makes it easier for you to come and go as you please. Plus, it’s made in the USA, which many parents appreciate.Disadvantages
As your child gets bigger, he or she may have some problems getting comfortable in the deeper cradle, forcing you to switch carriers early. Another problem that some parents noted is that there aren’t any cup holders or extra little features. Some parents had issues with the chest clip breaking and had difficulty getting it replaced.
Due to a few recent product recalls, double check to make sure there are no current ones before buying.Compilation of customer opinions
Some customers have reported problems with chest clip breakage, but most parents who reached out to the customer service team reported having a great experience. A few parents have complained about the need for an adaptor when using the travel system.
Extended & Specialized Editions:
Britax B-Agile/B-Safe Travel System
The biggest difference with this seat is that it easily attaches to the included stroller, and just as easily detaches for use as a traditional car seat as well.
Safety 1st onBoard 35 Air 360
The Safety 1st onBoard 35 Air 360 is aptly named for the 360 degrees of safety it provides. Crash tested from every angle – front impact, rear impact, side impact and rollover – this car seat not only meets U.S. federal safety standards and the European rollover standard, it exceeds them. All this, plus it’s budget-friendly.
The extended rear-facing car seat accommodates babies from four to 35 pounds. It can be installed using a LATCH system or the vehicle’s seat belt. It’s easy to install and its ease of use features give it convenient functionality.
This is definitely an infant car seat that scores high marks for safety, design and usability.
This is the only car seat with five layers of proven safety. Its patented foam is the same type used in race cars for crash energy absorption.
The five-point harness adjusts from the front for quick and easy access and the four harness heights and three crotch buckle locations accommodate a child’s growth.
A nice addition is the storage compartment on the base of the car seat to keep the LATCH straps out of the way.
The carrier itself is easy to grip and carry thanks to its handle design, which has been reinforced for stability and features a comfort grip.
The onboard 35 Air 360 can be used with numerous stroller models that are compatible with the car seat’s Quick Click technology.
The seat pad is machine washable and dryer safe.Disadvantages
The car seat might not be a good fit for smaller cars with limited space. It’s a bit longer and heavier than other seats on the market. In some small cars, the front passenger seat may need to be pushed all the way forward for the rear-facing car seat to fit behind it in the back seat.
The car seat is designed with j-loop attachments to hook to the LATCH, rather than the easier clips. Likewise, the rethread harness is more challenging than those seats requiring no rethread.
Some buyers find the safety padding traps heat, so their child becomes a bit sweaty when riding in the seat.
The canopy has some functioning issues with staying up.Compilation of customer opinions
Customers agree that this is a real quality car seat that is focused on safety. It’s sturdy and user-friendly in terms of installation and using it on a daily basis.
The onBoard 35 can be installed using either the vehicle’s LATCH system or seat belt. A huge help is the seat’s side indicator to ensure you have installed it at the proper angle for your child’s weight.
The carrier easily clicks in and out of the base and the harness and crotch straps click in easily and can be tightened and loosened with ease.
The seat’s plush padding and fabric provides a comfortable ride for young ones, while the wide handle on the carrier is comfortable to loop over your arm to carry.
Overall, this is the safest and well-made car seat for the money.
CYBEX Aton 2 Infant Car Seat
The CYBEX Aton 2 Infant Car Seat has almost everything that you could want in a car seat. Parents have praised it, as have safety agencies.There are a few different things that you must consider when purchasing it - namely whether the safety features, bright colors and the sleek design outweigh the somewhat steep price tag. It comes in 8 colors and is designed for babies 4 - 35 pounds.
LATCH installation is quite easy with this seat and explained well in the manual and with online instructional videos. Some customers have even commented that it is easier to put the child into this seat than in other seats. It can also safely be used with or without the base.
As for safety, all of the impact protection keeps your child comfortable while keeping him or her safe in many situations. In fact, it is one of the best seats to protect the spine when in an accident. The side impact device, situated on the handle, adds extra protection as well.Disadvantages
Parents have noted the chest clip is overly wide, which can be uncomfortable for some babies, while the canopy is too small to offer much sun/weather protection. While the size range is 4-35 pounds, it may be too roomy to comfortably support a preemie.Compilation of customer opinions
Most customers found that the seat offers more protection compared to other seats, especially those in the same price range. They love the colors and that it’s easy to use.
How to Find the Best Infant Car Seats
Imagine this scenario:
It’s here! The day you’ve all been waiting for – the day you get to meet your new baby face-to-face. Everyone is excited to hold her. You’ve got all her clothes washed and ready, her crib’s all set up. The changing table is fully stocked with diapers, sweet-smelling baby wipes and baby lotion. All that’s left is to install the car seat you got at your baby shower so you can bring baby home.
Except, when you try to install it, you discover it barely fits. The LATCH straps won’t reach the hooks in the seat. It’s impossible to get the seat angled properly so baby’s head won’t slump. And no matter how hard you try, you cannot get it strapped tightly enough, so the seat is flopping around everywhere. There’s no way you can bring baby home in a car seat that just won’t work.
Now you have to rush out and buy a new car seat so the hospital will let you take her home. Chances are, in your haste, you’ll end up spending way too much on a seat with bells and whistles you don’t need. The one good thing in this scenario? The first seat was a gift, so at least you’re not out the money twice.
Your best bet: start shopping well before baby arrives so you save time, money, and frustration.
PS: You can always pick the seat you want and know will fit, then add it to your baby registry!
The Basics – Top Four Things to Look For In an Infant Car Seat
Okay, so where do you start? With all the products on the car seat market today, it’s difficult to find one that will work for your family’s specific needs. Rest assured, however, that there is more than one seat out there that will provide a safe and comfy ride. Here’s what you need to consider to help you whittle down your choices.
- What’s your budget? Yes, your baby deserves the very best, but she needs a lot more than just a car seat. All those little necessities can add up quickly. You can find a great seat no matter what your price range, so don’t assume more $$$ means better quality.
- How big is your vehicle? Just like people, car seats come in all sizes. Some are just too bulky to fit in compact and other small cars. If you need multiple seats, it’s even more important to know if they’ll fit in the backseat. Always measure the interior and compare it to the car seat dimensions if you have a small-ish car.
- How safe is it? All car seats have to pass standard federal safety regulations. Seats often boast about added safety features (anti-rebound bars, etc). But these features aren’t federally regulated, so there are no standardized tests to show if they actually protect better than a more basic seat.
- How easy is it to use and install? Did you know that an estimated 95% of parents make at least one mistake while installing and using infant safety seats? Seats that are super simple to install and intuitive to use are much less likely to be used incorrectly.
In regards to safety, sure, crash test results are important, but remember this: Car seats are only safe if they are installed and used correctly. This is why we think that ease of use is a huge factor in determining which car seat to buy. The easier a seat is to use, the more likely it will be used correctly and the safer your baby will be.
Other Things to Look For in an Infant Car Seat
What, there’s more? If you only follow the 4 basic considerations, you’ll still find a great seat. But there are some other things to look for that will ensure you’re getting the cream of the crop when it comes to infant car seats.
Easy to use buckles, clips and LATCH system
Every time you put your infant in a car seat, you’ll be using a harness and chest clip. You’ll have to tighten the straps enough to secure the baby. Look for clips, buckles and straps that are simple to use and tighten. They should be intuitive enough to use without having to consult a manual. No-rethread harnesses are wonderful for adjusting the harness height as baby grows.
Tightening the harness should be a smooth and easy, preferably one-handed process. You don’t want to dig around for a strap tightening handle that’s hidden somewhere behind or under the seat. A one-strap, front-adjust tightener like the one on the Graco SungRide35 lets you tighten the harness quickly and easily with one hand.
Installing the car seat LATCH straps to your car’s built-in LATCH system shouldn’t require a superhuman feat of strength. Look for push-on connectors rather than clip-style. Push-on connectors like those on the Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4/35 will save you a lot of sweat and tears.
Seamless transition from base to carrier to stroller
“Let sleeping babies lie.” If you’ve ever had a sleepy, grumpy baby on your hands, you’ll understand why this old adage applies. One of the main benefits of an infant car seat is that it can be used as an infant carrier so that you can put baby in and out of the car without waking her.
The seat should be easy to remove and attach to the base with just a click. It should be lightweight so that the added weight of the baby doesn’t make your arm fall off. If you need to carry it for long distances or switch cars often, this is super important.
It should also be easy to snap onto a compatible stroller securely. Infant car seats with release handles on the seat itself instead of on the base are usually a lot easier to manage.
Practical, easy-to-clean fabrics
Babies are messy little creatures. At minimum, you’ll want to clean your car seat every 2-3 months to remove all the drool, sweat, and any diaper leaks. Most car seat covers are machine washable. Not all are machine dryable, but so long as you’re not in a rush, hanging to dry isn’t a big deal.
The big thing to look out for: How easy is the car seat cover to remove and replace? Check out reviews to see what parents say about their experience. You’ll be thankful to have the most fuss-free car seat cover you can buy.
Black fabric will hide stains better, but there are a wide variety of colors and patterns depending on the brand of car seat. Even the budget-friendly seats have a nice selection. The premium-priced seats usually have the best quality fabric and padding. They’re less likely to tear, pill and fade. We’ve found that breathability doesn’t depend much on price, however.
What To Avoid In A Car Seat for Infants
Avoid secondhand seats at all costs. Even if you know the person they belonged to, you can’t guarantee there isn’t some damage you can’t see. Over time, small tears and breaks happen that render the seat less safe than it was before.
Never use a car seat that has been in an accident. Even if it looks okay, toss it. There could easily be unseen damage that would render it ineffective in another accident.
Toxic flame retardants
Everyone wants to keep their babies away from toxins. All car seats must be treated with flame retardants, but some are safer than others. It’s hard to find this information, but if you can, try to avoid flame retardants that are brominated. Car seats such as the UPPAbaby MESA (Henry version) are naturally flame retardant.
Turning forward-facing too soon
Children are 70% safer riding rear-facing than forward-facing. Do your best to keep your baby rear-facing beyond her 2nd birthday, as the AAP now recommends. Why? Because young children’s growing bones (especially in the neck and spine) are delicate and prone to severe injury in forward-facing crash forces. A rear-facing seat better surrounds the head, neck and spinal column and absorbs more crash forces.
One option: Buy an infant seat with a higher weight limit such as the Britax B Safe 35, then when she grows out of it, buy a convertible seat that has even higher rear-facing weight limits such as the Diono Rainier 3-in-1.
Car seats are not cribs
The AAP recommends not using car seats for sleeping in general. Sure, it’s fine to let baby sleep in the car or while you’re shopping. But for regular naps and bedtime, a crib is the safest place for your baby. Baby’s airway can be more restricted in a car seat. They can also overheat, and their heads could develop flat spots if left lying too long.
Types of Infant Car Seats
You’ll see many types of infant car seats listed on our site and in stores. What you buy will depend on your preferences, budget and child. In some cases, people who have smaller or larger infants can’t use just any seat. For instance, a preemie of 4 or 5 pounds will fit best in a seat that fits small babies well like the Chicco KeyFit.
Here are some of the terms you’ll see on various models so you can better tell what you’re looking at when shopping.
1. Rear Facing Only
Rear-facing only seats (or infant car seats) are designed for infants weighing as little as 4 pounds up to 30-40 pounds, depending on the model. These seats are smaller, typically attach to a base and have handles for carrying. This base can be moved from car to car, but the carrier is the selling point – it allows you to carry your child around without disturbing her.
Infants sit in the “cradle” of the seat and are secured using a five-point harness. Almost every model of infant seat includes a head support pillow or system to keep baby’s head from slumping. Infant seats can recline and can be adjusted for comfort.
2. Convertible seats
Convertible seats are just what they sound like – seats that can be converted. In most instances, they go from rear facing to forward facing and sometimes even convert into a booster seat.
They tend to be bigger and cost more than rear-facing only seats. They don’t have the detachable base or carrying handle. Many people decide to start with an infant rear-facing seat and then switch to a convertible. But starting off with a convertible seat can save money in the long run since you’ll be using it much longer.
It is important to note that using a convertible seat means you have to pay particular attention to strap placement and recline. These will need to be adjusted in each different mode. You’ll have to check the settings regularly and consult your user manual to ensure everything is in the right position.
3. All-in-One seats (sometimes called 3-in-1 or 4-in-1)
All in one seats can be used as a rear-facing seat, a forward facing seat, and as a belt-positioning high-back booster with the harness removed. Sometimes, you will be able to find an all in one that also converts to a backless booster with weight limits up to 120 pounds. Occasionally, you’ll see one with a booster mode that uses a harness, but they are pretty rare.
4. Travel Systems
Also called car seat / stroller combos. Several infant car seats you’ll see here can either be bought alone or as part of a travel system. The seat will simply click onto the stroller. You may already have a stroller. But keep in mind that not all infant seats are compatible with all strollers, as is the case with the UPPAbaby MESA, which only fits the Vista and Cruz UPPAbaby strollers.
There are different stroller models depending on your lifestyle, including 3-wheeled, 4-wheeled, jogging and double strollers.
How to Install An Infant Car Seat
There is no one set way to install a car seat. You should always thoroughly read the manual before doing anything. Good manuals will have clear directions in many different languages as well as models and diagrams that you can use. If you’re still having trouble installing the seat, look for tips and installation videos on YouTube or the manufacturer’s website.
If you still have issues, try asking someone at the local police station, a pediatrician, a hospital, or even a baby store to help. Often, they will have staff who specialize in installation. You can always call the manufacturer’s customer service line if you have any questions as well.
The best place for a child’s car seat is actually in the middle of the back seat. This will prevent many injuries if your car is hit on the side. It will also prevent your child from playing with the window buttons and door locks. If you cannot put your child in the middle, it is better to put him or her behind the passenger’s seat if you drive the car alone.
If there are always two people in the car, then you can put them behind the driver. However, the passenger’s seat side allows the driver to check back occasionally without taking his or her eyes off the road for too long. In an emergency, it also allows the driver to check on the baby as soon as he or she can.
Ideally, you want to install your infant car seat before your child is born. You will need it to take your baby home from the hospital. The hospital will not let you leave until they know you have a car seat safely installed.
Installing early will also give you time to drive around to ensure the base and the seat are attached securely. If you can find a doll that’s the same size and weight of a newborn to use as a test subject, even better. Go around a few corners to see how the seat moves. If it tips, slides around or rattles too much, you may have to make some adjustments.
For extra security, go to your local car seat technician, pediatrician or police station to have the seat checked by someone who can confirm if you’ve installed the seat correctly.
More Than One Car Seat
If you need to install more than one car seat and have an older child in a forward-facing or booster seat, try to put the older child in the middle instead. Forward-facing and booster seats don’t protect as well as a rear-facing infant seat, so the older children will be safer in the middle.
It can be difficult to install more than one seat in the same car, especially side by side. Find the dimensions of your car interior and the car seats before buying so you know if they’ll fit. Some car seats, particularly convertible models, are bulkier than infant seats. Look for compact seats with a narrower profile, such as the Chicco Keyfit 30.