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Infant Car Seat Intro

Car Seats for Newborns and Infants: your options

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

Anywho.

Not to be totally morbid, but motor vehicle crashes are STILL the #1 cause of fatal injuries in children (AND adults) up to the age of 34. People get their panties in a knot about kidnapping and such, but the truth is that in 2011, 9 kids were kidnapped and murdered by strangers, while 1,140 died in vehicles that same year.

Again, those numbers: 9 vs. 1,140

Needless to say, this is the important stuff.

Yet I will be the first to tell you that car seats are a HUGE pain in the ass. Yes, you will be cursing your child’s car seat for the next 6-7 years (until they get into a simple booster) — it’s true! Alas, we have no choice in the matter but to suck it up and do the right thing.

For your baby… there are two options for transporting him/her: an infant seat (a.k.a. “the bucket”) or a convertible seat, so called because it starts as a rear-facing seat and “converts” to a front-facing seat later on (around age 2+).

infant car seat (left) – convertible seat (right)

The majority of parents start with the infant seat (above, left) because of its portability. You can see that the convertible seat is much bigger.

However, you may (yes, you may) skip the infant seat altogether and go directly to the larger, heavier convertible seat. 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 (major, major!) con.

car seats and strollers
A supermodel I’ve never heard of

*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 newborns, especially preemies. See my recommendations for convertible car seats for newborns. [See also: car seats for twins and preemies]

Infant seats are smaller, lighter, and portable. They last until your babe is about a year old (give or take). They also come with a sunshade, which is extremely handy.

car seats and strollers
Baby Alice falling asleep while running errands

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: say, 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 (right), and get on with it. Your baby finishes his nap in situ and everyone is happy. You can’t do this with a convertible seat.

With an infant car seat, you can also easily share the seat with partners, nannies, etc., by purchasing additional car seat bases (one seat, multiple bases). This prevents you from having to buy multiple seats (despite the fact that most car seat bases are grossly overpriced). Note that you can also install infant car seats without a base.

Note: The Chicco Fit2 actually goes up to 2 years or so, which is great for city dwellers who Uber and taxi around. It allows you to use it with a stroller until age 2 (vs age 1 for most other seats).

Since 90% of parents start with an infant seat for the first year, that’s what we’ll discuss here.

Best Practices

There is no one “best infant car seat” out there (but we do have our favorites).

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 sedan may not fit in your partner’s pick-up truck. Ack!

Everyone’s situation is different.

prince william
The young prince prefers the Britax B-Safe

The only way to know if a seat will fit – FOR SURE – 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 darn thing back and get a smaller one.

I’m serious.

This is a very common problem, so don’t get stuck in this situation, lest the only thing riding shotgun will be your diaper bag…

Take comfort in knowing that even the cheapest of infant car seats (rear-facing seats in general, that is) are extremely safe. Thus, you don’t have to go crazy spending money on an infant car seat (unless you really want to). Also? You’ll only use it for 9-12 months or so, so we recommend saving your money for a nicer stroller, for example, or a nicer crib that you’ll get more miles out of. Capiche?

You see, rear-facing seats inherently cradle the neck and head, which are fully supported in the direction of impact. According to Kristy Arbogast, PhD, engineering director at the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia: “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.

How to Install your Infant Car Seat <– Subscribe to the newsletter to get the good stuff right when you need it.

Types of Infant Car Seats

Essentially, there are American-style infant car seats and European-style infant car seats, even though few people use this nomenclature.

Stay with me.

The European seats are typically more expensive because they *usually* (not always) have additional safety features, such as an anti-rebound feature.

What’s an anti-rebound feature, you say? It’s a device that prevents the head of the seat from flipping up into the seat-back (or “rebounding”) after a front or rear impact collision.

An infant seat “rebounding”

An anti-rebound feature can take the form of a load leg (as seen in Cybex and Nuna seats) or an anti-rebound “bar” that’s built into the base (as seen in the Maxi-Cosi Mico Max, below). The Britax Endeavours also has this.

antirebound
An anti-rebound bar (in her left hand)

“Euro seats,” as I affectionately call them, usually also have a “European-style” belt path (shocking, I know), which simply means that the shoulder portion of the lap/shoulder belt is routed behind the seat (below), which makes for a more secure “baseless” seat belt installation. To see what I mean, watch this video and cue to 1:44.

eurostyle belt path
A European belt path

Don’t let any of this make your head explode! 

The takeaway here is that if you are a city dweller who plans on taking taxis, Ubers and other cars you don’t own, I’d definitely recommend a Euro-style infant car seat so you can install it quickly and securely without a base (with the caveat that Euro-seats are often more expensive and have better safety features to boot).

The rest of you will be just fine using an American-style (regular ol’) car seat — unless you want a specific safety feature(s) (more on that below).

Yes, it’s true: we are a bit behind our European counterparts when it comes to car seat safety standards, but that doesn’t mean American seats are necessarily inferior. In fact, the vast majority of Americans use American seats and it’s just fine – so there 😛

Other Important things to know about infant seats before you buy ~

Infant Seat Weight Limits

You don’t need a 35 or 40-lb weight limit 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 22 lb weight capacity seat… and 100% of you will be just fine with a 30 lb seat. 35 and 40-lb infant seats are ludicrous. Again, 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 structurally 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 *roughly* six 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 six years, but experts agree that it’s about time to be replaced at that point.

example of car seat expiration sticker

Car Seat Bases

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 doubt 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.

car seat 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 your frame-stroller 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 God’s sake, don’t bring the base when you fly. What a pain {learn more about airline travel in mah book, Flying with Baby!}.

Take it upon yourself to become a car seat expert — it’s really not very hard! Oftentimes, parents throw their hands up in the air when it comes to car seats, but don’t. Go on Youtube and search for installation videos. Take some time with it. You’ll get it!

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

Ok, enough already. Next, let’s have a look at:

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