How to Buy an Infant Car Seat

Infant car seats are designed to keep your baby safe on the road. They come in a variety of sizes, colors and styles, but they all share this common purpose. For peace of mind, virtually every car seat on the market meets strict safety requirements, but you still need to find one that fits your car and baby properly. The two main types of infant car seats are infant carriers and convertible seats. Your primary decision will be choosing between these two styles. To help you find the best option for your baby, here are a few things to keep in mind as you shop.



1. Infant Carrier

For most parents, this car seat is the go-to option for newborns. In general, they provide the best fit for smaller babies and feature a weight range starting at just 4 pounds. Depending on the model, these car seats can be used all the way up to 40 pounds. Since this style is designed for infants, it can only be installed in the rear-facing position, which is the safest position for children of this age.

Great for sleeping babies, infant carriers feature convenient handles, allowing parents to transport their little ones in and out of the car without waking them. Providing multiple installation options, most carriers can either be strapped into your vehicle or placed in a secure base that is connected to the seat. If your baby will be traveling in various vehicles, you can purchase a separate base for each car.

As for price, infant carriers can cost anywhere from $50 to $250 or more. One thing to keep in mind with this particular style is that most babies will reach the carrier's height limit before its weight limit. Infant carriers should no longer be used when the child's head is less than 1 inch from the top of the car seat.

2. Convertible Seat

Convertible car seats feature a general weight range of 5 pounds to 60 pounds or more. This wider weight range allows children to use the same car seat for a longer amount of time, which is a great money-saving feature. However, this style is designed to remain in a fixed position and cannot be easily transferred to different vehicles. This lack of portability is its primary disadvantage, but for many consumers, its other features make up for this minor downfall.

As a bonus, convertible car seats can be installed as rear-facing or forward-facing seats. By law, they must be installed in the rear-facing position until your baby is 1 year old and weighs less than 20 pounds. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children remain rear facing until 2 years old. Most convertible car seats can face the back of the seat until the child is 40 pounds. Once they exceed this weight limit or turn 2 years old, they can be flipped forward.

Similar to infant carriers, these seats feature durable harness systems for additional security. Although convertible car seats can be used with newborns, many parents find that this style is difficult to use with smaller babies. Depending on the brand and added features, this option can range in price from $60 to $400.


Important Features

1. LATCH Connectors

All car seats that were manufactured after 2002 were designed with LATCH connectors. LATCH, which stands for "Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children," is a relatively new system that eliminates the need for seat belts in the installation of car seats. Modern vehicles provide two sets of lower and upper anchors, which are designed to attach to the LATCH connectors that are found on car seats. With an infant carrier, the connectors attach to the detached base. With a convertible car seat, the connectors attach to the seat itself.

2. Harness System

All infant car seats are equipped with a built-in, adjustable harness. Most seats feature a five-point harness, which consists of two shoulder straps, two leg straps and one crotch strap. Though rare, there are models on the market that feature a t-shield harness. This design includes a t-shaped shield instead of two leg straps, but the American Academy of Pediatrics says that the five-point harness is the safest design for small children. While all harnesses are adjustable, some adjust through an external adjustment option, but others involve threading the straps through various slots in the seat's fabric and shell.

3. Recline Indicator

The reclining option is only available in rear-facing car seats, but it's an important feature to have for children who like to snooze in the car and is essential for newborns. All infant car seats that recline come with a recline indicator to let you know if the seat is at the right angle. Some indicators consist of a simple line while others feature a ball or bubble design. For your child's comfort, you may want to consider a car seat with multiple reclining options, which will allow you to adjust the angle as your child grows.

4. Infant Insert

An infant insert is an extra layer of cushion for a more supportive, comfortable ride. They are great for newborns who have little to no control of their head movements as the cushion keeps their head from jostling back and forth. Many car seats come with such an insert, but there are several models that are not equipped with one. If you choose a seat that doesn't have an insert and would like one, you can purchase this item separately at any store that sells baby gear.


How to Choose

1. Carrier or Convertible

When buying an infant car seat, the first thing that you need to determine is which style you prefer. Do you want a carrier or a convertible seat? They each have their own set of strengths and weaknesses, which you'll need to consider in light of your unique needs. The primary advantage of an infant carrier is its portability while the benefit of a convertible car seat is its long life.

2. Vehicle Type

You will also need to consider your vehicle type when purchasing a car seat. Pay special attention to the amount of space you have in between your front and back seats. Some car seats can be rather bulky and do not fit comfortably in a smaller vehicle. Likewise, if you have other children in the car, you'll need to ensure that the new car seat doesn't protrude too much into their seats.

3. Price

As with any purchase, your budget should always be a consideration. Regardless of the style you choose, you can expect to pay somewhere between $60 and $300 for a safe, durable car seat. In today's market, all car seats must pass certain safety standards. With that said, as long as it is installed correctly, a $60 seat should be just as safe as a $300 model. Whether you buy one online or in a store, make sure that it comes with a generous return policy. In some cases, your vehicle's cushion angle or belt placement may be incompatible with certain seats, so the ability to return the product is crucial.

When you're transporting precious cargo, you go to great lengths to keep it safe. Since nothing is more precious than your new bundle of joy, it is important that you carefully consider each car seat, comparing its features to your baby's needs as well as your vehicle type, budget and more.