One of the most essential purchases for your new baby’s safety, an infant car seat is on every new parent’s registry list. But with models changing every year, how do you know which car seat to choose? In this article, we run through the infant car seat essentials, as well as a review of some of the most popular infant seats on the market.
What is an infant car seat?
An infant car seat is a specially designed, rear-facing seat for newborns. It is among the most essential items you will purchase as a new parent.
In fact, infant car seats are so important that many hospitals will delay your discharge until you’ve acquired one. The seat is typically used from the baby’s birth until he or she reaches a maximum weight of 30-35 pounds and height of 30-35 inches tall.
The height and weight limits are dependent on the car seat model used. Most babies may transition to a front-facing car seat between the ages of two and four.
An Infant Car Seat Versus a Convertible Car Seat
Infant car seats are uniquely designed for infants and newborns. All infant car seats are designed to be installed in the rear-facing position, in line with latest safety regulations. Some are attached to the car using the seat belt, while others are fastened and unfastened out of a base in your car. Some can also anchor to compatible strollers, making an entire travel system.
When using a rented car or multiple vehicles, you should opt for an infant car seat since it is easier to install than a convertible car seat. Infant car seats that are part of a travel system offer the flexibility of moving your child from the car to a stroller without unbuckling the baby. Since an infant seat is more compact, you can easily pick it up and walk around with it.
Convertible car seats are installed in a rear-facing mode and later adjust to a front-facing mode. They can be used for newborns and children up to around 5 years old. Some convertible car seats transform into booster seats, which are ideal for children between 5 and 12 years old.
Features to Look for in an Infant Car Seat
- Safety: Safety first, always! While modern brands must adhere to child passenger safety regulations from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there is one golden rule about car seats. Always buy new. Second-hand infant car seats may have suffered bumps and bashes that affect how the material will hold up in an accident. Definitely not worth the risk.
- Ease of installation: When you are tasked to install a car seat, the car seat manufacturers are either your friend or foe! Fortunately, most popular infant car seats are relatively easy to install safely, but it can still be a heavy process for some seats. Many car seats use either the LATCH system or the regular seat belt system for installation. Some infant car seats come with extra safety checks, enabling you to properly install the seat.
- Ease of cleaning: Since babies often get messy, an infant car seat should ideally be easy to clean. A removable and machine washable cover is the best option.
- Compatibility with strollers: If you want a car seat and stroller, a convenient solution is to have a car seat that fits into the stroller base. Check with both manufacturers whether your car seat is compatible with a specific stroller. Some strollers have adaptors attaching to several car seats, but not all carry this feature.
The Best Infant Car Seats of 2021
Chicco KeyFit 30 Infant Car Seat and Base
The Chicco Keyfit is easy to install, easy to use, affordable, and high-quality. It has a built-in level for proper positioning (including a recline), and the seat is well cushioned for extra head support.
Its canopies can be unzipped for extra ventilation. Moreover, the seat has a KeyFit adapter that attaches to most Chicco strollers.
With a weight limit of 4-30 pounds and a height limit of 30 inches, the Chicco Keyfit also offers an infant insert for preemie babies weighing 4 pounds. Its removable cover is machine washable.
Although heavy (the seat weighs 9.6 pounds without a base), this car seat is a favorite of many parents. One downside is the Chicco Keyfit 30 is difficult to install without a base, and cannot be used on planes or in rideshares without one.
Dooner Infant Car Seat Stroller
The Dooner is one-a-kind, an infant car seat that converts into a stroller at the touch of a button. Another cool feature is its wheels can be retracted and the seat placed on the floor for use as a rocking chair. When packing into the car, the stroller legs and wheels fold up and fasten to the car seat base. Most city dwellers and frequent travelers love this detail.
It is also convenient for parents living in apartments who have a long distance to tread between the apartment and their car. The stroller is small in size and easy to maneuver with one hand. This is appropriate for moving through crowds or when the other hand is preoccupied.
The Dooner seat is also convenient and certified for air travel. Always remember that despite the convenience the seat offers on the go, it is crucial never to leave infants in a car seat for prolonged periods.
Something worth knowing is the stroller cannot be used if your child has outgrown the infant car seat. Its sleek design does not allow any extra space, not even for a diaper. The car seat weighs around 16.5 pounds and can fit children weighing between 4-35 pounds with a height of 32 inches.
Maxi-Cosi Mico Max 30
If you’re worried about your car seat being easy to clean, the Maxi-Cosi could be for you. It comes with a detachable seat pad that can be removed without untying the safety harness. The seat pad is made of a self-wicking textile that keeps your baby comfortable and dry.
The seat pad is also stain-resistant, machine washable, and dryer friendly. If needed, you can also wipe the seat with a damp towel.
The Maxi-Cosi is easy to carry in and out of cars since it is extremely light, both with and without the baby inside.
The seat’s safety features include a copyrighted technology providing side-impact protection, keeping your baby’s head safe. It also includes an anti-rebound bar to keep the seat tightly fitted as well as protect your child’s head and neck against extra movements.
Using Maxi-Cosi adapters, the seat becomes compatible with numerous stroller brands. The seat weighs about 9.6 pounds (excluding the base) and can hold children weighing 4-30 pounds at a height limit of 32 inches.
Uppababy Mesa Infant Car Seat
The Uppababy Mesa is super easy to install. Many parents love the seat’s tightness indicator that goes from red to green when you have installed the seat correctly.
Parents also love this well-designed seat for its top-notch safety features and comfort. The Mesa has extra padding on the sides and at the center to make sure your baby is comfortable and relaxed. The head support also aligns well with the shoulder straps. There’s no rethreading of the harness as your child grows; however, it can be difficult to obtain the correct fit for preemies or smaller infants.
Offering a strengthened adjustable headrest for side-impact protection, the seat is convenient in public transportation as it installs easily, even without a base.
When it comes to stroller compatibility, Uppababy has you covered. The seat attaches to the Vista and Cruz stroller without additional adapters. Using adapters, it can fasten to many other stroller brands.
The seat weighs 9.9 pounds without a base and fits children weighing 4-35 pounds at a maximum height of 32 inches.
Favorite Infant Car Seats for Small Cars
Do you have twins on the way, or perhaps two young children? Fitting two regular infant car seats into the same car can be a struggle. Even more so with small cars, and worse still when you need to squeeze another family member between the kids! These narrow infant car seats are here to make things easier.
Baby Trend EZ Flex-Loc
The Baby Trend EZ is compact enough to fit two kids in your car easily. Its narrow, featherweight and sturdy design impart adequate protection for your young ones.
The Baby Trend EZ Flex-Loc is simply installed and comes with a triangular handle that is easy to switch between hands. The handle can also be held at various angles.
Although a convenient seat, it does not have recline options. It can bear up to 30 pounds of weight.
Britax B-Safe 35 Infant Car Seat
The Britax is a super safe car seat for your newborn. It offers many safety features, including ‘SoftCell’ padding. This padding is constructed from side-impact protective foam which covers the steel frame and an impact-absorbing base. The seat is narrow, making it suitable for small cars.
The LATCH connectors system in this seat tightens using straps fastened at the middle of the base, rather than those fastened at the sides. While the seat is sturdy, it is also substantially heavy.
Although you can use the vehicle’s seat belt to install this car seat, Britax is not the best option for installation without a base. The seat weighs 10 pounds without a base and has a weight limit of 4-35 pounds and a maximum of 32 inches in height.
Clek Liing Infant Car Seat
The Clek Liing is the perfect option for small cars or when fitting three seats in a row. Its slim and short seat lets the person in the front seat move their seat back if they need to, perfect for tall members of the family!
The inside of the seat is sizeable, keeping your baby comfortable during travel. The Clek Liing seat has 7 recline positions, a large adjustable canopy with SPF 100+ protection, and a netted peekaboo aperture to allow air circulation and visibility.
Offering flexible set-up, the seat can be installed using either the LATCH system or seat belts. It also features a metallic stability leg emanating from the base of the seat for additional support in case of an accident. The seat also comes with a two-stage infant car insert to provide snug support for newborns.
Nuna Pipa Lite Lx Infant Car Seat
The Nuna Pipa is a lightweight infant car seat, and super easy to install in any car. You can even use the seat without the base. This makes it convenient for ridesharing or taxi services.
Featuring a True Lock safety system with a red/green indicator for proper installation, the base of the seat is easily adjustable. It also has a load (stability) leg extending to the car floor, providing extra collision protection.
Easy to transition from the car to the park, the Nuna Pipa Lite includes an adapter that can attach to many different strollers. Its micro-knit fabric is fire-resistant in case of danger.
The seat accommodates babies weighing 4-32 pounds with a height limit of 32 inches. The seat weighs 8 pounds without a base.
Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4
The latest version of Peg Perego provides both safety and aesthetic value. The seat is lightweight and slim, making it a good fit for small cars.
The Peg Perego is made of breathable, fresco jersey material available in 14 distinct shades. According to crash test results, Peg Perego is among the top options on the market.
The seat is sturdy and abundant in safety features, including six harness positions, anti-rebound bars, and adjustable side-impact protection. The seat weighs 9 pounds and fits children weighing 4-35 pounds at a maximum height of 32 inches.
Our Pick of Low-Budget Infant Car Seats
If you’re looking for car seat safety that doesn’t break the bank, have a look at some of the most affordable seats on the market.
EvenFlo LiteMax 35
The EvenFlo is a low-cost car seat with superb safety ratings from crash tests. The seat is light and easy to install, featuring detachable seat pads that are machine washable. It is structured with 4 recline positions and a pillow that cushions your baby’s head against extra movement.
The EvenFlo seat comes with a canopy, but it is not adjustable. Another con is the handle has a poor design, posing a challenge when carrying the seat on your arm. It can hold kids weighing up to 35 pounds.
Graco SnugRide SnugLock 35 XT
The SnugRide 35 is an easy-to-install and affordable car seat. It uses a Click Connect system that produces a click sound when installation is done properly. This seat has a four-position recline and a removable insert, ensuring your newborns fits perfectly.
The SnugRide seat also features a European belt path to connect with your car’s seat belt; alternatively, you can use a base to install. The car seat is suitable for children weighing 4-35 pounds at a maximum of 32 inches. Unfortunately, the seat is quite heavy, weighing in at 14.8 pounds.
Choose a Suitable Infant Car Seat
When choosing the right seat, you can rest assured that all new car seats are safe. This is because all seats are tested and required to meet federal safety standards before being allowed into the market.
All the same, it is crucial to check the date of manufacture to avoid picking one with short expiry. Buy the car seat and test it in your car promptly before pulling out the tags or disposing of the box.