My sister recently had a baby and was working on her registry. She asked how to pick a car seat and which one I recommend, and the truth is, this decision can be overwhelming! There are so many to choose from!
I remember as a first-time mom I ordered the BOB carseat, only because I knew I wanted the jogging stroller and thought, why not just match it. However, a few months in I realized I hated it. It was so heavy and looked cheap in comparison to some of the others my friends had. (First mom fail—not going in person to look at, lift and carry different car seats).
Fast forward to my second baby coming and I knew I was not going to use the BOB car seat again, so I started doing research on which carriers were LIGHT. (Thank goodness because I ended up with a c-section and if you know…well then you know…lifting and carrying are just so tough after this delivery).
Choosing a car seat is a big decision. It’s one of the baby items you will use the most—every single day.
So, here are a few tips to choosing a car seat…
Types of car seats
For starters, let’s look at the different types of car seats. When the baby is an infant, up until about 10+ months, you’ll use the infant carrier. These are specifically for infants and younger babies and are made to be rear-facing. They attach to a base and the base stays installed in your car so the seat can just click in and out.
Convertible car seats are the next car seat you’ll use close to around the age of one. They come in various sizes and can flip from rear-facing the forward-facing once your baby has outgrown the seat’s maximum rear-facing height or weight limit. Most have weight limits of at least 40 pounds…which is usually far beyond a child’s second birthday.
These seats are heavier and bulkier than infant seats and instead of attaching to a base, you use the car seat belt or LATCH (lower anchors and tethers for children) system for installation directly into your car.
While many convertible car seats technically will work from birth, it is recommended to start with an infant seat not only for convenience of clicking in and out, but also for safety in the stroller. Babies under six months old cannot sit up on their own, so you often need to clip in the infant car seat.
Choosing a car seat
There are several things to consider when choosing an infant car seat. Safety is always #1! However, rest assured because all car seats in the United States pass the same minimum standard testing. The safest seat will always be the one that fits your child correctly (based on height and weight) and can be installed and fits correctly into your vehicle.
A couple things to note about the fit:
- If you have a small car, don’t pick a seat with a large base.
- Besides checking that it fits in the back seat, look at the angel of your seat and placement of your seat belts. In most cars the middle of the back seat is safest.
- Some cars only have a LATCH on the outside seats, so you’ll have to choose between a LATCH install or middle seat.
Features to look for
There isn’t one magic feature to look for when shopping for a car seat, but there are a few things we want to point out…
- Easy installation. If you’re going to be installing your car seat using the LATCH system, there are easy-install scores from the NHTSA to consider. Look for an easy-to-reach LATCH tightener and bubble level indicators to make sure your seat is level.
- Easy to clean. Choose a seat with smooth and water-resistant fabric that you can easily spot clean. Also, make sure the cover is easy to take on and off, because you will undeniably be putting it in the washer at least once every couple of weeks/months! The last thing you want to do is have to YouTube how to get it off and on each time (speaking from experience here).
- Affordability. You can spend anywhere from $50-$1000+ on a car seat. More expensive car seats have extra features like eco-friendly fabric, more padding, additional recline angles, added shock absorption, etc. Choose a seat that won’t break the bank but has the features that are most important to you. And look for coupons! Target and Amazon run lots of great deals on car seats periodically, and Target even does a yearly trade-in event where you can trade in old seats for discounts off new ones when it comes time to upgrade.
- Stroller compatibility. Choose a car seat and stroller that fit together. And if you know you want to use a jogging stroller, be sure the infant carrier is easily adaptable to this as well. If you decide to not purchase the same brand car seat and stroller as a travel system, you will need to purchase separate adapters. Babylist has a great Car Seat and Stroller Compatibility Guide you can check out here.
Choosing a car seat doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Talk to friends and/or go into the store to check them out for yourself. Lift the seats and test how easily they work with your stroller and car.
And did you know that your local fire station will check your installation to be sure the seat is installed correctly? If you’re hesitant or just want a second set of eyes, give them a call or stop by!
Keeping your baby safe and comfortable in the car is important for both you and them!
To help keep your car more organized with all of the baby gear you'll be toting along with you, check out our diaper caddy organizers.
These make transporting and storing all of your baby gear and even car seat gear (covers, wipes, etc.) easier!