For new parents, a car seat is one of the biggest and most important purchases to be made. Since my oldest daughter was born almost nine years ago, we’ve bought several car seats, from infant to booster. Here’s my tips for choosing the best car seat for your baby.
Before Buying Your Car Seat
First, make sure that you are getting the right car seat for your baby’s age and size. There are specific safety recommendations for car seats. It’s also a good idea to check the manufacturer’s requirements to make sure that the car seat is right for your baby.
Second, try the car seat in your vehicle before buying it. You can ask a store employee for help in taking the car seat out to your vehicle to make sure that it fits. (If the employee won’t help you, go to another store.) When Sunshine was two, we had two vehicles—a Dodge Dakota truck and a Volkswagen Jetta car—and discovered that car seats fit different vehicles differently. One of our car seats wouldn’t fit very well in the narrow back seat of the truck. A friend of mine had a similar problem; she actually ended up upgrading from a small car to a minivan because her car seat was too big for the car.
Third, ask how washable the car seat is. One of our car seats does not have a removable cover. I learned the hard way, after an incident of motion sickness, how hard it was to clean. We’re still using that car seat, but I cannot wait for its expiry date because it is so hard to clean up.
Fourth, check safety ratings and reviews for the car seat you’re considering. It’s always worth finding out what other parents think of the car seat and how easy it is to install, use, and clean. Safety ratings are also more important than price. Some budget-friendly car seats have better safety ratings that very expensive models.
Finally, install the car seat properly. Read both your vehicle owner’s manual for the proper placement of the car seat in your vehicle, and the car seat instruction manual for proper installation. If in doubt, look up car seat safety clinics in your town. They are often offered by your fire hall or local baby store.
Choosing the Best Car Seat for Your Baby
Infant Bucket Seats
Most babies start their car rides in an infant bucket seat. We’ve used an infant bucket seat for all of our girls. While these seats come in a variety of sizes and styles, most now have a base which can be left in the vehicle. This makes it easy to get the bucket seat in and out of the vehicle, especially if the baby is sleeping.
The advantage of the infant bucket seat is its portability. You can buckle baby into the car seat in the house. If you live in cold climates, you can ensure baby is bundled against the weather before taking her out to the vehicle. If baby falls asleep in the vehicle, you can take baby and bucket into the house to let baby finish his nap.
Many bucket seats are available as part of a travel system. This allows you to take the seat out of the vehicle and snap it onto the stroller. If you are frequently out for errands or kids’ activities while the baby naps, this is handy.
If the family has more than one vehicle, or if you are carpooling with another mom, it’s easy to transfer the bucket seat between vehicles. If the bucket comes with a snap-in base, you can usually buy a second base for your second vehicle.
The disadvantage of infant bucket seats is their short lifespan. Most babies outgrow their bucket seat around 1 year. I was able to use our first bucket seat for my first three girls. It then expired and we had to get a new bucket seat for Pearl. Because car seats cannot be sold secondhand, you’ll likely only use the bucket seat for your child(ren) and it will spend a lot of time in storage.
Convertible or All-in-One Car Seats
Convertible car seats can be used for most a baby’s life, from newborn to toddler. These car seats are designed to be installed rear-facing when a baby is young and then turned around when baby is big enough. Convertible car seats offer parents a good deal, as this one car seat will likely serve their child until he or she is big enough for a booster seat.
The con to all-in-one car seats is their lack of portability. If baby falls asleep in the car, you might disturb her when getting her out of her car seat. The car seat is harder to uninstall and place in another vehicle.
I’m currently using a convertible car seat for Pearl. She had outgrown her bucket seat, but I wasn’t ready to turn her forward-facing yet. When she’s rear-facing, she can see her three sisters (sitting beside and in front of her), and they help keep her entertained in the car. It’s also safer to keep babies rear-facing for as long as possible, and the convertible car seat makes that more possible.
Forward-Facing Car Seats
This is the car seat your child will spend most of their time in. Most come with a five-point harness and can convert to a booster seat when the child outgrows the harness. Car seats now come in a variety of styles and colours.
If you have two or more children in one car, look for narrower car seats. We had three children in car seats and booster seats sitting in one row in a vehicle, and know friends who have done the same. Even in a car, it’s possible to get three children into car seats if you buy car seats with an eye to size.
Booster seats are your child’s final transition from car seat to, well, car seat. Booster seats come with or without a high back and help position children properly for the car’s seat belt to hold them. They can mean a lot of freedom for parents, as they are usually smaller than car seats, easier to get children into, and easier to transfer between vehicles again.
Some booster seats are just a booster. Others come with cup holders or other features. Although booster seats don’t require installation, it’s important to teach children to buckle properly and to tighten their seat belts after buckling up.
If you travel frequently, or have kids who carpool with other parents, check out the Mifold booster seat. It’s a revolutionary booster seat that is about the size of a paperback book. It fits in the glove box of your car or your child’s backpack, making it easy for them to have a booster seat with them wherever they need it.
What helped you in choosing the best car seat for your baby? What did you look for in a car seat?
I received compensation for this post; all opinions expressed are my own.