How to Buy the Best Infant Car Seat for Your Baby
It goes without saying: you want the best infant car seat for your newborn. Car seats save lives and reduce injuries, which is why they’re required in all 50 states. Most hospitals won't let you take baby home without one.
Baby’s first car seat will be an infant car seat, also called a car seat carrier. (The seat detaches from the base and has a built-in handle, so it's a secure, easy way to carry newborns around.) This car seat is always positioned rear-facing, and always in the vehicle's backseat.
Why rear-facing? Because it's the safest position, hands down. The longer you can keep your baby rear-facing, the safer he will be. Rear-facing infant car seats generally support babies up to 22 lbs., although some support as much as 35 lbs. The more, the better!
All car seats must meet or exceed specificcar seat laws and federal standards. From the safety experts' viewpoint, the "best" infant car seat is one that
- Is right for your child's size and age
- Is installed correctly
- Is properly used every time
Weigh the Features
Beyond these safety basics, some infant car seats offer additional features that, we think, make them better choices. Some offer enhanced safety features or are easier to install correctly. Others provide greater comfort or convenience. Here are some of the things our buyers look for:
- A higher weight capacity, so you can keep your baby rear-facing longer.
- A five-point harness, as opposed to a three-point harness. A five-point harness secures babies at the shoulders, waist, and crotch, which prevents "submarining" or slipping under the belt.
- Features that enhance side impact protection, such as side wings or impact-absorbing EPS or EPP foam liners.
- Features that promotes easy installation, such as a level indicator on the base and seat belt lock-offs.
- Substantial, all-over padding. It's not only comfortable but offers added crash protection.
- A harness that adjusts easily, from the front, without having to rethread the straps from the back. If the harness is difficult to adjust, it discourages parents from making needed adjustments as kids grow.
- A comfortable carry handle. Look for words like "soft grip" or "ergonomic."
- A generous, adjustable sun canopy.
- The option to buy a second base. If your baby will travel in more than one car, this will save you time and help insure correct installation.
- A removable, washable seat cover.
- Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certification, a must if you plan on traveling by plane with baby.
- Travel system compatibility. If you're frequently in and out of the car, a car seat that locks into a stroller will mean less fussing for you and less disruption for baby.
And after you buy, be sure to read your manual (even if you rarely read manuals) and follow the manufacturer's installations directions. Many manufacturers also provide installation how-to videos online. Register your car seat with the manufacturer, so you'll be notified of any news or recalls. And, since four out of five car seats are installed incorrectly, periodically take advantage of free car seat inspections held in your area. That way, you'll know your infant car seat is always doing its job to protect your baby.