I still remember that first trip back home after the delivery with one of my babies – the other one joined only after spending a week in the CCU on account of higher than normal heart beat. I was in no position to help but I was so anxious as my husband gently placed the baby on the car seat and then drove us back to our home in Chicago downtown.
This is when you realize how important the car seat is going to be and you feel glad that you made the right choice after hours and hours of research. While I may have reached a conclusion that a lot of matters we worry about do not matter in the long run, I have to maintain that this is probably the most important decision regarding baby gear that you could make.
I am sure you are anxious about making the right choice and I am here to give you a quick but extremely useful guide that will help you in this process.
First – here are the important aspects that you should consider.
- Infant Seat or Convertible Seat – When choosing a car seat for your new born this is the first choice that you have to make – whether you want to seat them in a rear facing infant car seat that can be taken in and out of the car and fitted back to a base or on a convertible car seat that stays put in the car(even though it can reversed for babies till the age of 1).
- Infant Car Seats – The infant car seats are specialized to seat smaller babies and they have features that are especially suited to making it convenient for parents with babies. While baby infant seats claim to support babies till they are 40 lbs in weight, the fact is that it is likely to be useful only for around 9-12 months. An infant seat consists of a base and a detachable seat that can be carried around – a feature that you will find invaluable in those initial months when the baby is sleeping and you don’t want to wake her up, you would rather take her around sleeping. This carrier can be carried around by hand( in fact my husband carried both our babies around in these carriers) and there are a bunch of car seat frame strollers sold by the same company that sells your car seat. You could also use a car seat adaptor for allowing the car seat to go with a stroller from a different brand. This can make life easier if you are taking both the babies alone. An added advantage of these seats is the presence of a canopy to protect the baby from the suns rays in car and while walking them around.
- Convertible Car Seats – These car seats work for babies upto the age of 2 plus, the only thing you need to do in the first year to make it infant friendly is to make it rear facing. This longevity of use is in my opinion the only advantage – it is neither as safe as the infant seat nor is it convenient.
My take – The infant seat is going to be invaluable in the first 6 months and I would not go directly to the convertible even if I could do it all over again.
2. Safety – Safety is the most important priority so consider the crash test ratings of the car seats before you make the choice. The crash test that we are talking about is the Federal crash test safety standard administered by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA). The crash test is simulated to miic the impact that a baby would encounter in a car crash under normal circumstances. While every seat has to fulfil the minimum criteria the fact remains that some are better constructed and do better at these tests. Some ar seat makers also claim Side Impact Protection but this is again open to subjective interpretation and I would not lend much credence to this marketing terminology.
3. Ease of Installation and Usage – This is one that goes hand in hand with safety because safety is of no use if the car seat is not installed correctly. The more difficult a car seat is to install, the more likely that the seat is installed incorrectly. Many recent studies have demonstrated that a vast majority of car seats are installed incorrectly or used incorrectly- and these critical mistakes can dramatically decrease the odds of survival of a child in case of a crash.
4. Weight of the car seat – When you are lugging the baby around in the car seat you will realize that the pounds of the car seat can make a big difference. This could be a criteria for some and may not matter for others who have a stroller system that works well with the car seats.
5. Seat Comfort & Construction – The construction of the seat is important with respect to safety considerations only. The hard outer shell is obviously the first line of defence followed by the hard foam which is the main energy absorbtion mechanism. This is where an informed parent can look and gauge whether the hard foam is only available around the head region or over the entire body. Some car seats offer a cofortable cushion around teh head region – this is more of a comfort accessory and can be bought separately.
5. Size and Weight Limits – Most of the car seats have height and weight suitability guidelines – usually 30lb weight and 32 inches height. The height restriction matters more since the weight usually corresponds with the size of the baby. There are some with higher height and weight suitability but I would not suggest any of those as they may not satisfy the criteria that I have outlined above. The average baby will outgrow the infant car seat in a year and this will be a good time to transition to the convertible seat. That said, both my kids outgrew the seat within 9 months and I was happy to transition since I had already bought the convertible seat by that time.
My TOP recommendations.
Car seats in the below $150 range
Car Seats in $200 range that I recommend(Top Choices for me)
Car Seats in the $300 range that I recommend
Here is some deeper analysis on each one of the recommended car seats
- Least expensive among the high quality car seat that has been serving parents since generations.
- Safe and reliable with regards to crash ratings. Energy-absorbing ESP foam to protect against impact
- Ideal for smaller cars since it is quite narrow.
- Although it promises a 30″ height limit, it is not as big or wide as some of the others and babies outgrow this one very fast
- It is on the heavier side weighing 15lbs(seat+base)
- Not as soft and plush as some of the more expensive ones and neither as stylish – utilitarian design.
- Annoying canopy handle interference issue.
- The latch system hook is extremely difficult to remove, making it hard to switch the base between cars
- The canopy doesn’t move as well as competing seats and can get in the way when adjusting the handle
I only recommend this because it is cheap and is good in the safety aspects. The Graco Snugride 40 is definitely better than this one but it is more expensive.
- One of the lightest weight infant car seats on the market at 10 lbs. The car seat meets federal crash-test safety requirements.
- Fits babies up to 30 lbs. or 30 in. (or so they say – your baby will probably outgrow the straps first)
- It is ideal for preemies as well since it is suitable for babies as light as 4 pounds. Many neonatal intensive care unit nurses prefer this car seat. Comes with a small infant insert to accommodate smaller babies
- Compact and convenient, so fits well within smaller and two door cars. Easy to install.
- You can install this seat with or without the base – big advantage if you are using a cab.
- Works well with Chicco strollers
- You can machine was the cushion
- The fabric is quite rough and not breathable inducing sweat in the babies. Some babies are more prone to overheating and this can be a problem. Car seat cushions could have better ventilation, so your baby could get sweaty with prolonged car trips or in the summer
- Unlikely that you baby will use this for more than 6-9 months.
- It is difficult to use the canopy with the adjustable carry handle
- Sunshade is too small to be effective.
- Impressive crash test results
- Good comfort/quality
- Easy to install and has an anti-rebound bar. Works well even without base.
- Not as easy to use as the CHicco
- Not the lightest weighing car seat.
- The cushion is not machine washable
- It is uncomfortable to use the carry handle with the canopy fully extended
- The car seat is compatible with any Peg Perego stroller without the need for extra adapters.