1. Car Seats & Strollers


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Car Seat Options 

Let's start with the hard stuff, dig?

Unless you never drive or take taxis, you need a car seat. Some say it must be new because it’s the only way to ensure it hasn’t been in an accident. I mean, what kind of mean mother-effer would sell a wrecked car seat secondhand? Ha! JERKS.

Anyhoo, not to be totally morbid but motor vehicle crashes are the #1 cause of fatal injuries in children (AND adults) up to the age of 34. Eek. This is important stuff here peeps, pay attention...

There are 2 options for transporting your new babe: an infant seat (a.k.a. "the bucket") or a convertible seat, called so because it starts as a rear-facing seat and "converts" to a front-facing seat later on.

 

Infant Car SeatInfant seat/"bucket" Convertible Car Seat Convertible car seat

 

The vast majority of parents go with the infant seat because of its portability. However, you may skip the infant seat altogether and go directly to the larger, heavier convertible seat. Yes, you can save some money this way, but keep in mind you won't be able to use it in conjunction with a stroller, which is a major con.

**If you choose to go straight to the convertible seat for your newborn, be sure to choose a seat with low bottom harness slots, as this can be a problem area for proper fit. See my recommendations here.

Infant seats are smaller, lighter and portable and last until your babe is about a year old. They also come with an adjustable sunshade, which is extremely handy.

A supermodel I've never heard of

You see, most moms end up using the infant car seat for more than just riding in the car. There is a good reason for this: your newborn baby falls asleep in the car on the way to the grocery store. The last thing you want to do is unearth your peacefully slumbering baby from the bucket. What’s that saying about letting sleeping dogs lie? Yeah, well, the same goes for babies. With an infant seat, you can simply remove the car seat from the car, snap it into your stroller base and get on with it (see below). Your baby finishes his nap in situ and everyone’s happy. You can't do this with a convertible seat.

Baby Alice falling asleep while running errands.

Since 95% of moms start with an infant seat in the first year, that's what we'll discuss here. For convertible car seat reviews, please see Top 5 Convertible Car Seats.

Infant Car Seats

There is no one "best seat" out there. Why? Mainly because everyone drives a different car, and what fits properly and safely in a Honda Accord may not do the trick in an Audi A3, for example. And sometimes, to complicate matters, what fits in your car (a sedan) may not fit in your husband's car (a pickup truck). Ack! So, everyone's situation is uniquely different. 

The only way to know is to try it out right after you buy it (keep the tags on!!). If installing the car seat requires you to push the passenger seat all the way forward (rendering the passenger seat useless), take the damn thing back and get a smaller one. This is a very common problem. Don't get stuck in this situation, otherwise the only thing calling shotgun will be your diaper bag...

Take comfort in knowing that even the cheapest/crappiest rear-facing car seats are, generally speaking, extremely safe by their very nature. According to Kristy Arbogast, PhD, engineering director at the Center for Injury Research and Prevention, "Our investigations of real-world crashes over the past ten years found infants in rear-facing car seats had an extremely low risk of injury in a crash. Of the crashes studied, very few infants in rear-facing seats were injured". Yet another reason to keep your baby rear-facing for as long as possible. 

Best in Class - See these on Pinterest

There are zillions of infant seats to choose from, but here are the five we like the best [depending on your budget, of course]: 

$ -- Graco SnugRide ClassicConnect
$$ -- Chicco KeyFit OR Britax B-Safe
$$$ -- Cybex Aton 2 OR UPPABaby Mesa

** Ideally, you should select an infant seat that's compatible with your stroller of choice. It will save you $40+ on a special "car seat adapter" alone. Yes, this is tricky because it's a chicken and egg problem [the seat you choose kinda depends on your stroller; the stroller you get kinda depends on your seat]. I recommend you read the Stroller Intro to get a basic idea of what to look for.

$ ~ Graco SnugRide ClassicConnect 30, $99, 7.5 lbs

If you have less than $100 to spend, as many of us do, the Graco SnugRide ClassicConnect is your best bet. This seat is affordable, reliable, and fairly easy to install. It has a nice canopy for keeping the sun out of baby's eyes and best of all, it weighs in at a mere 7.5 lbs, score! 

Graco SnugRide ClassicConnect 30

Don't be confused, there are about 7 different SnugRide models out there. Note that the less expensive models have straps that adjust behind the seat (as opposed to between the legs). This makes it way more difficult to adjust than this version; I don't recommend. Also note that the SnugRide ClickConnect is also a fine car seat, but at that price point ($150-ish), I would definitely opt for the Chicco KeyFit or Britax B-Safe (below). Just sayin.

"But shouldn't I buy the 35 or 40 lb SnugRide and get longer use out of it?" Absolutely not. Lucie is just about to turn 4 years old and weighs a mere 36 lbs soaking wet. There's no way on Earth that an older toddler or preschooler is going to sit in an infant seat. It's preposterous.

** Stroller compatibility: The Snug Ride car seat goes nicely with their basic stroller frame, the Snug Rider Elite. The economy Graco Literider is also an option -- it can be used with or without the carseat. Generally, I don't recommend any other Graco "travel system" strollers because they tend to be too heavy and bulky.

Runner Up in this category: Safety 1st OnBoard Air 35


2a. Chicco KeyFit 30, $189

"Old Faithful" -- the Chicco Keyfit is rated #1 by consumers on multiple 3rd party sites. And I agree!

Why? Because it's a high-quality, easy to install, beautifully designed car seat that won't break the bank. This seat is best known for ease of installation, safety and fit (trust me, after doing many car seat checks for my CPST certification, I totally concur). It has a flip-out visor for extra sun protection and a removable newborn insert; it's also the seat of choice for transporting preemies (babies 4+ lbs) home from the NICU.  If there's any reason to think you might go into labor early or you are expecting multiples, definitely get this seat(s). 

Alice in her KeyFit on a plane

 All in all, this is a great seat at a great price.

** Stroller compatibility: For your lightweight stroller base (for car seat only), go with the KeyFit Caddy. BUT WAIT! The Chicco Liteway Plus is also a great option; it offers a lightweight base for your car seat, then later becomes a regular umbrella stroller. You may not appreciate this now, but once your baby turns 9 months or so, you'll need an umbrella stroller anyway. With the Liteway Plus, you can kill 2 birds with 1 stone. Score! Again, read more in the stroller section below.  

WAIT. Are you following me on Facebook? Cuz you should. Ok, onward.


2b. Britax B-Safe, $179

Britax makes a damn-fine seat and this one is no exception. Compared to his rival the KeyFit, there are VERY FEW tangible differences in these 2 seats. The KeyFit is a little easier to install, while the B-Safe has a much better sun canopy. At the end of the day, you should really decide based on stroller compatiblilty (see below).

Britax B-Safe in red

** Stroller compatibility: The true beauty of the B-Safe is his compatibility with Britax and BOB strollers (Britax now owns BOB). For a lightweight umbrella stroller that can be used with or without the car seat, check out the B-Nimble (similar to the Chicco Liteway Plus). 

The Britax B-Safe car seat + B-Agile stroller is an awesome travel system combination [my top pick, perhaps?].  You can also use the B-Safe with the ever-popular Britax B-Ready stroller, which upgrades to a double (read more below in Strollers) when you have another kiddo. He also goes with any of the BOB jogging strollers (with an adapter). Essentially, you have better stroller options with the B-Safe than the KeyFit. Yea, it's true.



 

3a. Cybex Aton 2, $250, 9 lbs

If money is no object, the German-engineered Cybex Aton 2 is, in my opinion, the best infant seat on the market. Here's why: 

  • safety features galore 
  • easy to install without a base
  • small footprint
  • freakin' beautiful!

Safety features: The Aton 2 boasts two safety features that others lack ~

1. The LINEAR SIDE IMPACT PROTECTION (LSP) protector.

This is a "wing", of sorts, that pops out from the handle of the seat, which transfers side-impact crash energy to the seat's shell [see it perform here in a crash test]. If you are installing your baby's seat in an outboard (side) position, take special note of this.

 

2. The Load Leg

The Aton 2's load leg is a "leg" that pops down [below] from the base of the car seat which minimizes rebound and transfers crash energy to the floor of the vehicle and away from your baby. The Nuna Pipa infant seat has this feature as well.

Want more? Fine. Attention people in cities who don't own a car: this seat is super easy to install WITHOUT the base because of its European belt path, which routes the shoulder strap behind the seat. You can do this with other seats as well, but this installation is particularly easy and sturdy. Furthermore, this guy takes up much less space than other popular seats, such as the SnugRide. If you have a small back seat or a sports car perhaps, this may be your only option.

** Stroller compatibility: The Aton 2 can be used [with adaptor] with any of Cybex's strollers, the Callisto, Topaz, Onyx or Twinyz [for twins]. With a Cybex OR Maxi Cosi car seat adaptor, it can be used on the vast majority of strollers in the strollersphere.


3b. UPPABaby Mesa, $279, 10.5 lbs

UPPABaby is another luxury brand that's actually worth the money, in my opinion; their gear is always sleek, attractive, well-designed and their customer service is top-notch. 

They made their foray into the world of car seats with the Mesa last summer. The schtick with the Mesa is ease of installation; with a self-ratcheting base, simply push the base down with your body weight (using LATCH) and BAM! He's done. Finito. Most other seats require lots of pulling, tugging, etc. The Mesa also has a no-rethread harness (very hard to find on infant seats!) and a superior sunshade, although some have complained that it stains and fades easily. 

UPPABaby Mesa

The only thing not to love about this seat is the weight: 10.5 lbs is definitely on the heavy side for infant seats... not to mention the weight of the baby. 

** Stroller compatibility: If you are in the market for the UPPABaby Cruz or Vista (see below), both of which I love, you are best off with this seat. Your problem is going to be finding a simple, lightweight stroller base for this guy. I know of none (so far)...

Infant Seat Weight Limits

You don't need a 35 or 40lb infant seat. 

Most people upgrade to a convertible car seat around 12 months of age anyway, so 90% of you will be just fine with a 22lb seat... and 100% of you will be just fine with a 30lb seat. 35 and 40lb infant seats are ludicrous. There's NO WAY a 2, 3 or 4 year-old is going to sit in an infant bucket [3 year-olds weigh between 30 and 35 lbs]. Also remember: car seats (of all types) are outgrown height-wise BEFORE your kiddo reaches the max weight. Promise.

Can you use a USED car seat?

Technically, yes. Provided that a) it hasn't expired (see below) and b) it has never been in a crash or been otherwise compromised. If you have a reliable friend or family member who wants to give you their old seat that meets these requirements, then by golly, do it!

Expiration

Car seats expire 6 years after the date of manufacturing, unless otherwise noted. The date can always be found on a sticker on the bottom or side of the seat. Check the base as well (they should have the same manufacturing date unless they weren't purchased together). Is this a gimmick? No. In fact, the plastic degrades over time, especially when exposed to cold, heat... puke, apple juice. It doesn't magically implode into dark matter right at 6 years, but experts agree that it's about the right time to be replaced.

Yes, but where are the crash tests?

While all car seats rated by NHTSA meet Federal Safety Standards and strict crash performance standards, NHTSA (or anyone, for that matter) does not quantitatively rate or rank them in any way; the only thing NHTSA rates car seats for is Ease of Use, which most of us car seat technicians agree is a bit of a joke because many of our favorite seats score poorly according to them.

Car Seat Notes:

* Many people don’t know this, but car seat bases are simply for convenience. You install the base very snug and secure in your back seat and leave it in place. The car seat simply snaps in and out of it. This is good if you are doubting your ability to properly install and remove the seat every time, especially if you are always in a hurry (like me!). However, you don’t *have to* use the base.

In fact, if you are caught across town in the rain with your car seat/stroller, you can hail a cab, install the car seat (only), throw the stroller base in the trunk and be on your merry way. The same goes for renting a car, flying on a plane, etc. Bottom line: just buy a base for the vehicles you use most frequently (the seat itself should come with ONE base). You don’t need a base for every member of the extended fam-damily. And for godsakes, don't bring the base when you travel. What a pain. {learn more about airline travel in mah new book, Flying with Baby!}

* I know a lot of moms who don’t really know how to remove and re-install the car seat or base, or are afraid to. They’ve been scared by propaganda that ensures them they will screw it up and their baby will die a hideous accidental death. May I suggest you and your partner take a couple of hours one day in your third trimester to learn how to put it in and take it out. You can even drive to an inspection station near you for some additional instruction and peace of mind. AAA offices offer this service as do many (but not all) local police and fire stations.

Practice a few times and, for godsakes, don’t wait and do this on your car ride home from the hospital! By then your brain will have lost the ability to learn or deal with anything new. For tips on installing your infant seat, go here.

 

Strollers
 - See these on Pinterest

For the first six months or so, most moms use the infant car seat in conjunction with a very lightweight, simple stroller frame {translation: wheels for your car seat}. Forget about a heavy and bulky full-size "travel system", this is the way to go! 

Chicco Keyfit + Caddy

This concept is ideal for a newborn for so many reasons... the stroller frame itself is inexpensive, lightweight and compact (tip: buy it used on Craigslist!). After heaving this thing in and out of your trunk 50 times, you will come to understand why being small and lightweight is of the UTMOST importance. When folded, it takes up very little space. Also, the undercarriage basket is heee-YOOOGE so you can go on a major shopping trip and not have to worry about lugging around your loot. 

And as a practical matter, moms and dads, the logistics of getting out of the house with your new baby can be shockingly overwhelming. The LAST THING you want to worry about is how to operate some big, heavy, complicated stroller. Your sleep-deprived mommy-brain is not going to have the wherewithal do deal with ANYTHING that isn't super simple. Trust me on this one.

The universal solution is the Baby Trend Snap N’ Go, but again, you're much better off if you can get one that goes with your seat. For the Graco Snug Ride, go with the Snug Rider Elite. For the Chicco KeyFit, go with the Chicco Caddy or EVEN BETTER, the Liteway Plus. For Britax seats, if, for some crazy reason, you aren't getting the B-Agile travel system (which you should), consider the Britax B-Nimble (which is really an umbrella stroller that also accepts a car seat; an analog to the Liteway Plus).

Again, the beauty of these stroller bases is that they are super-lightweight, affordable and super easy to collapse and fold.  

Real Strollers

The car seat/stroller solution mentioned above is a wonderful *general purpose* item for the first few months and a must-have for air travel, but after 6-9 months or so (when your baby-in-car-seat become too heavy to carry around), you'll want a real stroller that will take you into toddlerhood/preschool years. 

In my opinion, these are the top 4 criteria when selecting your long-term stroller:

1. What is your access-to-the-street situation? Meaning: do you have a garage at ground level that you can roll right out of? Or perhaps you live in a walk-up apartment (stairs, no elevator)? Maybe you're just looking for something to keep in the car? Think about where you will keep the stroller and how you will get it outside each time. This is probably the most important factor to consider (i.e. size and WEIGHT).

2. What is your budget? Strollers range from $60 to about $900 for luxury strollers. And some are more (ridiculous!). Think about how much you want to spend. Keep in mind you can probably find a high-quality USED stroller on Craigslist without too much difficulty.

3. Do you have plans for another baby in the next 2.5 years or so? If Irish twins are in your future, you may want to consider a stroller that is "upgradeable" to a double. Consider the UPPAbaby Vista (discussed below), the BabyJogger City Select, most of Phil & Ted's inline strollers, the Britax B-Ready, the Bugaboo Donkey (puke), or my favorite, the Mountain Buggy + one.

4. What terrain will you (predominantly) be rolling over? For those who have to roll over bricks, sand, gravel or any other non-paved surface, you'll want an "all-terrain" stroller with large tires and good suspension (not to be confused with a "true" jogging stroller, which is for actual running).

Ponder these questions.

So... in addition to the car seat/skeleton combo mentioned up top, here are some other strollers that mommies love:

A. The City Mini or Britax B-Agile

The City Mini was my original love -- I was horny for this stroller the first time I laid eyes on it; so compact, sleek, sporty, easy to fold. Mmmmmm mmm. Since I [then] lived in the city (SF) and had to walk up a flight of stairs to get to my apartment, I needed something lightweight that also had some suspension. A 57-pound stroller the size of a small golf cart (sneeze: BOB) was not going to fit the bill.

The Babyjogger City Mini

Here’s the thing: it collapses into a neat, carry-able package with one lift of the arm (see my quick demo here). That’s it! When you’re at the subway station and you realize the elevator is out of service, this is the stroller you wished you had. Yes, it has a pivoting front wheel, which makes it easy to steer with one hand (you are so demanding!). It scoffs at bumps and curbs. The seat lies down flat for a napping baby (what I call the “first class” position) and sits up for “Coach” — and every position in between. It’s also beautifully designed. Yes my dears... it’s the iPhone of strollers. It also has a fabulous sun shade that pulls alllll the way down.

If you really only want *just one* stroller in your life, you could get this stroller with the car seat adapter and be done with it.

A couple of downsides 1. a small(ish) cargo basket. You can’t take this one to the grocery store and plan on filling it up, sadly (you can only fit about 4 bottles of wine in the bottom)…(so I’ve heard). 2. because the upright position is slightly still reclined, some babies/toddlers get annoyed that they aren't sitting all the way up; whether or not this will be a problem just depends on the temperament of your child.

* A couple of years ago, BabyJogger came out with the City Mini GT, which is the lovechild of the City Mini and the beloved all-terrain City Elite. If you want the features of an all-terrain stroller without the size and bulk, check out the City Mini GT for $100 more. 

* Both of these also come in a double version.

 


Britax B-Agile ($185)

See above. Just kidding (sort of).

So... Britax came out with the B-Agile, which was SHOCKINGLY similar to the City Mini. SO similar, in fact, that they were then sued for patent infringement. Oopsie!

Anyway, I'm torn. City Mini gets props for doing it first, buuut the B-Agile gets props for packaging it with 2 fantastic car seats (see above), the B-Safe and the Chaperone, then selling it CHEAPER than the City Mini. Viva la competition! 

Britax B-Agile

If someone were to ask me "which car seat and stroller should I get?", I would say "get the Britax B-Safe + B-Agile combo". Get them together for $320 and THAT, my friends, is an amazing deal. You WON'T be disappointed, I promise. 

 

B. The Baby Jogger City Versa ($399)

BabyJogger strollers are soooo thoughtful and well-made; the Versa is no different. This stroller is still small(ish), compact, and easy to fold like his brother, the City Mini, but he also allows baby to face the rear (i.e. YOU) or to face forward (there are only a FEW strollers on the market that do this). Everyone and their mom will tell you it's MUCH better/easier/happier for baby to face you rather than staring off into space. If he's eating, you can make sure he's not choking. If he's sleeping, you'll know that too (yada, yada). You can be much more... in touch when you're facing your babe.

Unlike other rear-facing strollers, you DON'T have to switch the seat back around in order to fold it. And THAT'S why the Versa is the best in the rear-facing-strollersphere (among UPPABaby Cruz, Bugaboo Bee, Mamas and Papas Sola, etc).

Baby Jogger City Versa

He also has a large, accesible storage basket, he lies flat for napping, he's got great suspension... I can only find good things to say about this stroller. You will love it, I promise.

C. The BOB Revolution ($450)

The notorious B-O-B is the Land Rover of strollers. It’s expensive ($450, although usually on sale), it weighs 27 lbs and it does not care what you think of it. If you have to walk up steps to get your door, don’t even *think* about buying this stroller. However, if you live in suburbia (which I imagine most of you do) or you have a garage in the City, this stroller may be the one for you.

With a 12″ wheel and the ability to roll right over homeless people lying across the sidewalk (oh please! I would never!) (ok, just that one time), it is the ultimate all-terrain stroller. It holds up to 70 pounds of human flesh, so you can actually use it for your 4’10″ grandmother. See, very versatile!

This is an all-terrain stroller (NOT a true running stroller), so the suspension makes for a very smooth ride. It also has a front wheel that locks (for light jogging or rough terrain) or swivels (for maneuvering around the grocery store). Bottom line: if you need a heavy-duty, super durable all-terrain stroller and have some cash to drop, this is the stroller for you. Ask anyone who owns this stroller and they will tell you it is well worth the money.

BOB Revolution

My petite friend, Cheryl, has this stroller and uses it with the car seat adapter. She weighs about 105 lbs soaking wet. I’m not sure how good you are at arithmetic, but when you sum the weight of the stroller (27lbs), the car seat (9 lbs) and baby (12 lbs), it’s about half of her body weight. No wonder she is gasping for air after pushing that thing up the Noe Street hill. Point being: this bad boy is HEV-VEEEEE. You feel me?

If you're getting this stroller, do yourself a favor and get the Britax B-Safe or Britax Chaperone car seat. Other car seats require all sorts of shenanigans to get the adaptor working (styrofoam blocks, etc). Don't want. Hey, and if you're a matchy-matchy kind of gal, they have a special B-Safe seats that match BOB colors (available only at REI). Oh, won't you be the envy of your Stroller Strides class!? 

Notes:

* Consider this stroller if you have to roll over grass, sand, gravel, brick sidewalks or any other non-paved surface in order to get from A to B.

* Ironically, this stroller was not designed to be a true jogging stroller. It's an "all-terrain" stroller which many people use for jogging. The true jogger from BOB is called the Ironman and has a fixed front wheel. Even the folks at BOB are baffled by the fact that everyone uses their Revolution for jogging...

* It also comes in a double version if twins are in your future.

 

D. The UPPABaby Vista ($730)

I will tell you right upfront, this bad boy costs over $700. Ouch. This and the Bugaboo are the two popular high-end strollers 'round these parts (San Francisco). This is one actually worth a damn.

The Vista is a versatile, fancy-pants stroller. It boasts an easy, one-step fold mechanism. For your newb, it comes with an old-fashioned bassinet so your babe can slumber horizontally. The seat adjusts to face forward or backward, which is actually a very cool feature (it's MUCH better to be able to see your baby and make eye contact rather than having him face away from you). Attention tall people and NBA players: this one has adjustable handles (up to 6'6"), which is key for us tree-people. This and the floating arch "no kick" rear axle mean you will never kick or trip on the back. The sun canopy is extra large and comes with a zip-in weather shield and mesh bug/sun shield. See it in action here.

To me, the Vista is better than the Bugaboo Chameleon because the Bug is $150 more expensive (if that's even possible), incredibly difficult to collapse and unfold and gets terrible user reviews. I think the only reason people [in Manhattan, LA and Pac Heights] buy this stroller is to show off how much money they have (the truth hurts, doesn't it?)

UPPABaby Vista

This stroller weighs 24 lbs and can be used until your baby (eh... 7 year old?) reaches 50 lbs. For your bassinet, you can also buy this beautiful bassinet stand, which actually converts to a laundry hamper when you're done with it. ISN'T THAT COOL?? So cool.

**If you love the Vista but can't afford it, check out the UPPABaby Cruz. It's slightly watered down but has all the good features... definitely worth checking out.

Onward.

E. “Travel Systems”

Basically, a travel system is a car seat/stroller combo that are specifically made to go together, except the stroller is bigger and is meant to be used for a longer period of time (i.e. into toddlerhood).  The car seat snaps into the stroller (for infants) and can be used without the car seat as your child gets older. Great, sounds perfect right?

Well, the big beef people have with these is that they tend to be very bulky and heavy (about 45 lbs – whaaat?). Everyone I know who bought a travel system (other than the ones I've listed above) ended up ditching it pretty early on for a lighter-weight, less bulky stroller. Hence, I do not recommend.

 

BTW — there are waaaaay more strollers than what I’ve listed above (about 200, in fact), these are just the most noteworthy. 

 


 Recommendations Summary ~

 

Ok peeps, that was the hardest one. Congratulations!  On to:

2. Baby Carriers