An infant car seat is a must-have for every baby. In fact, in the United States, you won’t be able to leave the hospital without one. It is not only required for newborns, though. When riding a vehicle, your child will have to be secured in a car seat until they reach a certain age or size.

This whole car seat business might seem like a huge hassle, but it is all about protecting your bundle of joy. So, make sure that the car seat can cater to your baby’s specific needs. More than that, it also has to suit your car, preferences, and even lifestyle. If you want to know how to choose the best infant car seat, read on.

Infant Car Seats: What You Need to Know

Infant car seats are designed to keep your baby safe while riding inside a vehicle. They are rear-facing or set up so that babies will be facing the back of the car. Such an arrangement can save your child’s life in case of a car crash.

Babies are at a greater risk of injury during crashes. Keep in mind that their spines are still developing. Their heads are also disproportionately large and heavy compared with their upper body. So, if infants or younger kids are riding a forward-facing car seat during a frontal crash (the most common type of car crash), they will get thrown forward, which could result in severe spine and head injuries.

This is where rear-facing seats come in. During a car crash, they absorb most of the force while safely cradling your baby’s head, neck, and spine.

What Are the Different Types of Infant Car Seats?

There are two types of infant car seats. Infant-only is suitable only for babies, while convertible ones can be converted for toddler use later on.

1. Infant-Only

Rear-facing infant-only seats are designed for infants of up to 30 pounds, depending on the model and manufacturer. They are compact and have carrying handles, allowing them to double as an infant carrier. Some models are strapped directly into the car seat, while others come with a base that can be left in the car so that you don’t have to install it every single time. You simply need to detach the infant car seat from the base. You can also buy more than one base for multiple vehicles.

2. Convertible

Convertible infant car seats can be used in rear-facing and forward-facing positions. Start with rear-facing, then convert the seat into forward-facing once your child has grown old enough. It typically has a weight limit of up to 50 pounds, making it ideal for both larger babies and toddlers. Since it lasts through toddlerhood, it is a valuable investment and helps you save money in the long run.

Unlike infant-only car seats, convertible ones are bulky and cannot be used as a carrier. They also do not have bases, which means that you cannot easily move them from one car to another. Finally, they usually come with a five-point harness that fastens to the shoulders, hips, and between the legs.

How Do You Choose an Infant Car Seat?

There are several things to consider when buying an infant car seat, but the most important ones include:

  • Your baby’s age, weight, and height
  • Your car
  • Safety
  • Comfort
  • Convenience

1. Your Baby’s Age, Weight, and Height

The infant car seat needs to be age- and size-appropriate. Ideally, your child should be using a rear-facing seat from birth to two years of age – or even longer. In general, this type of seat has a weight limit of about 30 pounds and a height limit of around 30 inches. Some rear-facing seats, though, can accommodate up to 50 pounds, so even children around four years of age can stay in them. At any rate, make sure to check the maximum height and weight capacity of the car seat before purchasing, as it varies from model to model.

2. Your Car

Unfortunately, not all infant car seats are suitable for all cars. You will need to look for one that specifically matches your needs and situation. Preferably, the car seat should fit snugly in your car’s back seat. You can also measure the car’s back seat to see if it can accommodate the car seat’s base. Lastly, the angle of the seat and the seat belt placement may also affect your car’s compatibility with the infant car seat.

Finding a car seat that is a good fit for your car can get tricky. This is why it is recommended to stick to a retailer that has a return policy or, at the very least, allows customers to test-install the car seat first. If you are in doubt, you can always seek the help of a Child Passenger Safety Technician to confirm if the car seat is safe enough for your kid.

3. Safety

All the infant car seats being sold today satisfy the basic safety standards. That does not make the buying process any easier, though. There are still some things you need to watch out for to guarantee your baby’s safety.

  • Safety Features. Make sure that the car seat has a five-point harness, which can protect your child much better than a three-point harness or a seat belt. It also helps hold your baby in place, preventing them from moving too much and ending up in an unsafe position.
  • Safety Labels.The infant car seat should have a label indicating that it meets or exceeds the safety standards set by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) – also known as the Federal Vehicle Safety Standard 213 – and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

4. Comfort

Aside from safety, you also need to pay attention to your child’s comfort. Make sure that there is enough space for the car safety seat – and your baby. And, don’t forget that your baby is growing, which means that they will need more room (especially legroom) in the coming months. Put simply, the car seat needs to grow with your child. Finally, you will have to consider the other passengers, too.

Ultimately, it all comes down to measuring your car’s seat and comparing it with the measurements of the infant car seat (or the base).

5. Convenience

Aside from being safe and comfortable for your baby, a good-quality infant car seat also needs to be convenient for you. Specifically, it should be easy to install, adjust, use, and clean. All these factors play a crucial role in your child’s safety and well-being – while making your life easier.

  • Ease of Installation. If not correctly installed, the car seat might not offer enough protection for your child. That is why you should get a car seat that is reasonably easy to set up. Make sure to go over both the car seat’s installation instructions and your car’s manual instructions first. Also, note that car seats can be installed with either the car’s seat belts or LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) system, so familiarize yourself with your chosen method before getting started. If you are struggling, do not hesitate to visit an NHTSA car inspection station near you.
  • Ease of Adjustment and Use. Before every ride, you want to make sure that your child is secure in the car safety seat. And as your baby grows, you will have to adjust the harness so that it will be a snug fit to their body. Preferably, the harness should be easy to reach and straightforward to use. Furthermore, it should be stiff enough so that your little one cannot loosen it by themselves, but not too stiff that it is hard for you to adjust it. You might also want to check the five-star ease of use rating system of the NHTSA.
  • Ease of Cleaning. Car seats made with smooth fabric are much more painless to clean than seats with textured fabric like corduroy. Also, go for water-resistant fabrics instead of absorbent ones for even easier cleaning. A removable, machine-washable car seat cover also helps. At any rate, make sure to refer to the manufacturer’s cleaning guidelines before cleaning to avoid damaging the car seat.
  • Stroller Compatibility. Some infant car seats easily attach to a stroller frame, which does away with the need to buy a separate stroller later on. These are referred to as “travel systems” – or a set comprising of an infant car seat and a stroller. Some seats connect to the frame with just one click, while others may require additional parts. Aside from being multipurpose, travel systems also allow you to move your sleeping baby to the stroller without disturbing them.

What Are the Best Infant Car Seat Brands?

When it comes to infant car seats, there are five tried-and-tested brands to choose from – Britax, Eddie Bauer, Evenflo, Graco, and Maxi Coso. Here is a brief rundown of each brand.

1. Britax

Britax prides itself on producing only the safest and most innovative car seats and accessories for babies and little kids alike. All of their products have been carefully engineered to meet the strictest US and Canadian standards to guarantee your child’s safety. Furthermore, the company also prioritizes parents and caregivers and uses only stylish, durable, and easy-to-clean fabrics on their seat covers.

Click here to find out more about the bestselling infant car seats from Britax. 

2. Eddie Bauer

For over 100 years, EddieBauer has been manufacturing high-quality outdoor apparel, footwear, and gear. On top of that, they also boast a wide range of infant car seats, each of which has been tested for safety and even include sides impact protection. Furthermore, their car seats also contain features that can make things more convenient for parents and caregivers.

3. Evenflo

For nearly a century, Evenflo has stayed true to their commitment tocreate products that help keep every child safe, secure, and comfortable. Their top-of-the-line infant car seats, which successfully marry safety, style, and function, are no exception. Even better, the brand constantly innovates to give you only the safest and highest quality infant care products.

Click here to find out more about the bestselling infant car seats from Evenflo.

4. Graco

For more than sixty years, Graco has consistently produced reliable baby products. Now, they have already become a household name in the world of parenting. Specifically, it is their line of infant car seats that propelled them to fame. Safe, durable, and highly innovative, these car seats are designed to grow with your little one, ensuring that they are safe and sound from infancy and beyond.

Click here to find out more about the bestselling infant car seats from Graco.

5. Maxi-Cosi

Maxi-Cosi vows to make parenthood easier and much more enjoyable. To achieve this, they have developed a wide array of baby products that are both beautifully designed and easy to use. More importantly, these products also offer the highest levels of comfort and safety for your child. The brand’s infant car seats embody all of these qualities – and more.

Click here to find out more about the bestselling infant car seats from Maxi-Cosi.

What Are the Different Types of Infant Car Seat Accessories?

While car seat accessories are not necessary, they can certainly make things much easier when riding a vehicle with your baby. Here are some of the most popular car seat accessories that many parents swear by.

1. Infant Car Seat Inserts

Newborns are small and may not fit snugly in the harness. To strap them securely in their seat, you will need an infant car seat insert. Aside from acting aspadding, an insert also provides additional support for your little one.

Fortunately, most infant car seats already come with an infant insert. If you have to buy it separately, make sure that it is the same brand as the car seat.

2. Infant Car Seat Covers

Car seat covers are designed to keep your baby warm and cozy, especially during the cold winter months. They also swaddle your child and help create a more comfortable sleeping environment. Since you can only dress your baby in thin, close-fitting clothes while in the car seat, the covers can act as a safer alternative to extra clothing layers.

3. Back Seat Mirror

A baby car mirror is placed in the back seat, providing you a clear view of your baby at any angle. It allows you to monitor your child without having to avert your eyes from the road.

Infant Car Seats FAQs

Are Infant Car Seats Worth It?

Infant car seats may seem like an unnecessary expense, but they are specifically created to keep your child safe and sound, especially in case of a car crash. You never know when an accident might happen, so it is better to be safe than sorry. Moreover, it is often mandatory for children to ride a rear-facing car seat until they are two years of age or older. Do check the car seat laws where you live, as the regulations may vary from state to state.

If you have a limited budget, go for an infant car seat that lets you get the most bang for your buck. Convertible ones are an obvious choice. Alternatively, you can opt for infant-only seats with a high weight capacity, which allows you to use them for longer.

Is It Safe to Buy a Used Infant Car Seat?

It is not recommended to buy a used infant car seat – especially if you do not know its accident history. Not to mention, it may also have missing or damaged parts. Besides, car seat safety regulations change regularly, so a secondhand car seat may already be considered “unsafe” by the time you buy it. In fact, infant car seats typically expire about six years after the manufacturing date.

Where Is the Best Seat to Put the Infant Car Seat?

Make sure to install the infant car seat in the back seat. For most cars, the middle of the back seat is the best and safest spot. Meanwhile, the second-best option is behind the passenger seat.

Never place the car seat in front of an airbag. Once the airbag inflates, it will directly hit your child’s head, potentially causing life-threatening injuries or even death.

How Long Can a Baby Use an Infant Car Seat?

The short answer: as long as possible. The longer the kids stay in a rear-facing safety car seat, the greater protection they will have in the event of a crash. Just make sure not to exceed the manufacturer’s height and weight restrictions. Many car seats have a limit of 40 to 50 pounds, which includes all toddlers below two years of age and some children up to the age of four.

Infant Car Seats Keep Your Baby Out of Harm’s Way

An infant car seat is undoubtedly among the most important purchases for your baby. It ensures that your precious one is safe every time they ride a vehicle. More importantly, it can prevent serious injuries and even save their lives. That is why choosing a high-quality car safety seat is critical.

For some, the shopping experience can be stressful. But it does not have to be. If you know where to look and what to watch out for, then you should be able to buy a safe, durable, and reliable infant car seat in no time. You can even go for some accessories to make things much easier for you and your child.