Best Infant Car Seats: Safety Comes First
Infant car seats help you safely transport your child from point A to point B
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BY Katherine Rother / LAST UPDATED ON April 16, 2019
Child safety seats are the safest option for taking your baby on car rides, making them a true must-have item for any parent. Choosing the right seat for your baby’s needs isn’t an easy task, but we are here to help you make the best choice. Read our buying guide below to learn everything you need to know about the best infant car seats available.
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Why Buy an Infant Car Seat?
- Safety first. An infant car seat is the only safe (and legal) way to transport your young child in a car. Infant seats are made to protect your child from the forces of a crash, dramatically reducing the chance of injury.
- Convenience. Many car seats come in travel combos: the seat and a stroller into which the seat fits. This is a great option if you’re looking for something that’s easy to use on the go, saving you arm cramps from carrying around a heavy car seat.
- Head support. Infants are still learning how to support their own weight and move their little bodies. That’s what makes a car seat useful. They have built-in head support so that your little one doesn’t strain their neck and feels comfortable and supported.
- Comfort. For many smaller babies, an infant car seat will be more comfortable and will provide more support than a convertible car seat. That’s important for your baby’s overall health and safety.
- Secure. Car seats are easy to install, either with a LATCH or base system. Both will keep the seat secure, with the base system having the additional advantage of being more convenient, as you can simply lift out the infant car seat and go.
Founded in 1938, Britax has been in the business of making quality childcare products for over 80 years. Headquartered in the UK, it’s a global innovator in car seats, strollers, and high chairs. Its most popular products include the Britax Allegiance 3-Stage Convertible Car Seat and the B-Safe Ultra.
Headquartered in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Graco has been innovating practical solutions to parenting problems for over 60 years. Manufacturing high-quality car child seats, it’s a name you can trust. Some of its most popular products include the Graco SnugRide Snuglock 35 XT and the Graco 4Ever DLX 4 in 1 Infant to Toddler Car Seat.
Evenflo has been engaged in the design, research, and development of childcare products since 1920. This established global brand is based in Miamisburg, Ohio, and is one of the best on the market. The Evenflo EveryStage DLX All-in-One Car Seat is one of its best-selling infant car seats.
- Under $100: At the budget price range, you’ll find a couple of decent options. Most of these are made from good-quality plastic and fabric, but may not be as durable as other higher-priced options. At this price, you’ll find a solid basic seat with few extras.
- $100-$250: In the mid-range, the selection widens a bit. Most seats at this price point will be well-made, modern, and durable, and have comfortable extras to keep your baby plush and safe.
- Over $250: The luxury price point features some of the most well-known brands and models. Often, you’ll get the best quality materials and craftsmanship at this price, but other times, you’re just paying for a name. Keep that in mind while shopping.
Make sure you know how much space your backseat has for a car seat. Keep in mind that the safest spot for your child’s car seat is in the middle position, so measure the size of the seat and shop with those measurements in mind. A car seat with a large base might not fit in a smaller car, for instance. Likewise, if you have multiple children, and all of them are in car seats, you’ll have to keep those measurements in mind as well.
Infant car seats typically come with one of three harness systems: the three-point, the five-point, and the T-shield. Five-point harness systems are the safest, as they reduce the neck and crotch forces on your baby in the event of a crash. They’re also the most adjustable and customizable, making for a safe, secure, and comfortable fit for your child.
Safety and Comfort
Padding, support, and cushioning all play a role in the safety and comfort factor. Basic seats will often lack some of these important safety features, so look for side-impact protection in the form of foam or air pads on the sides as a minimum. The best car seats will have additional safety and comfort features in the form of an anti-rebound bar, a boot to protect the baby’s feet, and a larger canopy.
- Installation: Although most car seats are easy to install, it’s a good idea to double-check your work and make sure you followed the correct belt path. Installation text and diagrams from the manufacturer are a great first step. Has the installation checked by a professional? You can find an NHTSA inspector to do that for you.
- Cleaning: Choose a seat that is made with a smooth fabric rather than one that is textured, such as corduroy. That will make it easy to wipe clean when little messes happen (and trust us, they will). Keep that in mind when you’re being tempted by merino wool seats.
- Age: We’re talking about the age of the seat here. Make sure that you purchase a new car seat, as second-hand and otherwise used ones, are not as safe. For the best protection, you’ll want to purchase one from a registered retailer.
- Travel System: If you want to save some money and get additional convenience out of your infant car seat, look into travel systems. These make it easy to tote your baby around without needing to move them out of the car seat and into a stroller.
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Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your Infant Car Seat
- For safety reasons, you’ll always want to remove heavy or bulky outerwear from your child before buckling the harness of the car seat. This will ensure that the straps snugly secure your baby. To keep your baby warm, place a coat or blanket over the buckled harness.
- Make sure that the shoulder straps are at or below your baby’s shoulders, adjusting them as the child grows. Remember that the harness must be snug enough so there is no slack, the straps should lie flat without sagging or twisting, and the top of the chest clip should be positioned at armpit level.
- Your child is ready for a convertible car seat once his or her head nears the top of the seat. To keep your baby safe, there should be at least a 1-inch gap between the top of the seat and the top of your baby’s head.
- Some infant car seats come with a carrying handle. This is a great convenience feature to carry your infant with you while you’re on the go. Most safety seats require the handle to be in the down position when you’re traveling in the car. Always check the user’s manual of your particular model for detailed advice.
- Many car seats come with bases to make for easy installation and use of the seat. It’s a good idea to purchase several bases and just one seat so that you can easily switch cars without having to worry about securing a new seat.
Q: How long can my baby stay in an infant car seat?
A: This depends on the growth and development of your child. Most guidelines suggest that infants and toddlers ride in a rear-facing car seat until they reach two years of age or outgrow the weight and height limits of their infant car seat (this varies by brand and model, but is usually around 30-40 pounds). Convertible seats are a good option as well, as these will last through the toddler years until your child is ready for a booster seat.
Q: Do infant car seats have an expiration date?
A: It might sound strange that a car seat can expire, but that’s the case for infant car seats. Most will have a date of expiration stamped on the manufacturer label, while others show the date of manufacturing. In general, infant car seats expire about six years after manufacturing. For safety reasons, don’t use an expired infant car seat.
Q: Is it safe to use a second-hand car seat?
A: Generally, it’s not a good idea to rely on a second-hand car seat to keep your child safe. New seats are tested for their ability to withstand the forces of a crash and will offer the best protection for your child. Used car seats may have weakened structurally from use, even if they look undamaged from the outside, so it’s worth investing in a new, quality seat.
Q: Where should I position my infant car seat?
A: The right position inside your car will make all the difference in keeping your baby safe. It’s important to remember that rear-facing car seats should never be placed in the front seat. The middle position is preferred since it’s away from side passenger airbags that may cause injury to your young child.
Our top pick is the Evenflo Pivot Modular Travel System. It’s a two-in-one seat and stroller that provides a lot of bang for the buck.
If you’re looking for a great value, consider the Baby Trend Secure Snap Tech Infant Car Seat. It’s designed to keep your infant safe from head and side impacts.