When a baby enters your life, so does a lot of new gear. One of the most important things you’ll purchase is a car seat. Many parents hit Google to find out what they need in a car seat and to find guidance on which one to buy. There is a TON of information out there, which can be a little overwhelming so we’ve narrowed it down to a few of the major considerations:
- Type of seat: Infant seat or Convertible
- Keeping it legit: Regulations
- Features to check
Infant Seat or Convertible Seat?
The first thing to consider is the kind of car seat you want. The main types are infant seats and convertible seats (though they may be called other things).
An infant seat is geared towards, you guessed it, infants. They are great for newborns and are popular for new parents. The benefit of infant seats is that they double as a carrier with a handle you can use to lift them in and out of the car. They often come as part of a travel system (typically a stroller, car seat, and car seat base) so will click directly into the stroller - easy peasy. They have a shade/cover for baby as well, helping to protect them from the elements.
Infant seats are only rear-facing but because this is the safest way for children to sit, that’s not much of a downside.
The downside of infant seats is that you can only use them for a limited time. Depending on the seat, your baby will outgrow them when they hit anywhere from 20-35 lbs or 29-32 inches long.
Tip: It can be tempting to let your infant sleep in the car seat if you’ve successfully lifted them from the vehicle and they’re still snoozing away, but it’s not a good idea. The AAP recommends using a car seat only for travel - not for feeding, sleeping, or lounging outside the vehicle.
As the name suggests, convertible seats can be used as your child grows. Most (but not all, so double check before you buy) can fit a newborn. Depending on the model, you’ll get longer use from a convertible seat. They can be used both rear and forward-facing (though it’s best to leave them rear-facing as long as possible) and strap directly into the car - no base required.
With convertible seats, you do lose the option of lifting your child out of the car without taking them out of the seat.
Tip: Many car seats come with an infant insert that can be a bit of a pain to deal with and fit properly. A better, and some say safer, option is to use receiving blankets to create a support for your newborns head. Do this by rolling up a receiving blanket and tucking it into the seat after the baby has been strapped in. Never put anything behind your baby’s head that would push it forward and bring their chin down towards their chest as this makes it harder for them to breathe. Never use inserts, padding or other supports that didn’t come with the car seat.
Car Seat Regulations
There are different child safety and car seat regulations from country to country, state to state/province to province. In the USA, you can check this Car Seat Laws by State list from Safe Ride 4 Kids. Sometimes car seats that meet regulations in one state won’t in another state or country.
Tip: Here’s a riddle: How is a car seat like a jar of pickles at the back of your fridge? You’re going to want to check the label on both before using - both expire. This is really important if you’re thinking about using a second-hand seat.
Not only should you check the label for expiry dates, but for any safety information.
Finally, once you pick a model you like, it’s always a good idea to make sure it hasn’t been recalled. In the US, you can check CarSeat.org or the NHTSA.
Car/Seat Compatability - you want to make sure the car seat is a good fit for you AND your car. The size of your vehicle can impact the type of seat you buy, so make sure any seat will fit in your backseat with your front seats in their usual position. The other thing to check in your car is how you’ll secure the seat. If you’re planning to use anchors, make sure you can get to them and clip the seat in.
Straps - look for seats with a 5-point harness. While you’re looking at the straps and buckles, test out how easy they are to clip and unclip and adjust. When you have a crying baby, every second spent fighting with car seat straps feels like an eternity.
Cleaning - Any parent that’s ever taken a car seat out of their car after a while has seen the horrors that lie underneath: cheerios, spilled milk, a random sock you don’t even remember owning. Babies are messy everywhere, and their car seat is no exception. Look for seats that are easy to clean - removable covers that pop in the washing machine are a godsend. Especially once your toddler starts potty training, you’ll want something you can wash - spot cleaning just won’t do the job.
- Weight: If you live in a walk-up, you’ll want to try to find seats on the lighter end of the scale - some are pretty heavy even without baby inside.
- Extra bases: If you’re using multiple vehicles to transport your little one, make sure your infant seat comes with or has the option to purchase additional car seat bases.
- Style: If you need everything to coordinate, have no fear - most seats come in a selection of colours so you can choose one that goes with your vehicle interior
Once you’ve chosen your car seat, having it correctly installed is your next important task. The seats come with pretty detailed instructions for all the options to secure them in your vehicle but you can also look to a professional for help. Most places have car seat clinics and car seat technicians that will show you how to properly install your seat and check it to make sure it’s safe and secure. They can also check your baby in the seat to make sure you are strapping them in correctly.
If you’re still not sure what seat you want, I always advocate for reading the reviews. You do have to take them with a grain of salt, but you can usually find really reasonable, detailed reviews of what real users liked/didn’t like about their seat. You can even find reviews from people that have the same vehicle as you, which is really handy for sizing and fit.
Happy Shopping, parents!