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How to Choose an Infant Car Seat

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Infant car seats not only protect your baby in the car, they allow you to carry your baby between the house and the car (and elsewhere) easily, even during naptime. There's quite a bit of difference between infant car seat models on the market today, so take a look at the following considerations to be sure you get the right car seat for your baby and your vehicle.

Five-Point Harness

While the older three-point harness is not as common today, there are still a few infant car seats available with the smaller harness that doesn't go over baby's hips. Look for a five-point harness with straps that go over baby's shoulders and hips. The extra harnessing protects baby much better, particularly in side-impact crashes.

Weight and Height Limits

Be sure to check the weight limit on any infant car seat you're considering. Most infant car seats will accomodate a baby up to 22 pounds, but nowadays many have a higher weight limit. That's good news, because it means you can use the car seat even longer. Some babies reach 22 lbs in their first year, so a car seat that will last longer is a real benefit. Pay attention to the height limit and watch your baby carefully in the infant car seat, as it is outgrown by height when the top of baby's head is within an inch of the top of the shell. Legs hanging over the bottom is not a safety issue, though.

Anti-Rebound Features

Infant car seats are traditionally designed to ride down the force of a crash by rotating downward at the top (by baby's head) and then popping back up. In severe crashes, the pop-up at the end could result in baby hitting the vehicle seatback. Some infant car seats have an anti-rebound bar on the base to minimize the chances that baby will pop up that far in a crash. The anti-rebound bar isn't required for the car seat to be safe, however. Many infant car seats have a very deep shell that "cocoons" baby during rebound and protects against hitting the vehicle seat.

Stay-in-Car Bases

Many infant car seats have a base system that can be left in the car for easy installation and removal of the car seat itself. Find out how many bases come with the car seat and how expensive extra bases are if you'll need them. Also check that the car seat can be installed without the base, in case you need to ride in a different vehicle. Choose an infant car seat that is easy for you to click in and out of the base, so you won't struggle daily in the car. If the infant seat doesn't have a base, keep in mind that baseless infant seats are more likely to be installed loosely and incorrectly.

Check the Harness Adjustment

Take a look at the way the harness is adjusted on infant car seats. The harness will need to be tightened and loosened regularly, based on what your baby is wearing and also on frequent growth spurts. Some infant car seats are designed in a way that puts the harness adjustment in an awkward spot once the seat is installed in a vehicle. Other infant car seats have the harness adjustment on the back, which makes it hard to adjust once baby is in the seat. Avoid rear-adjust car seats if possible. Try the car seats out in your vehicle and make sure you can reach the harness adjustment easily, and that it works smoothly.

Can't I Just Buy a Convertible Car Seat Now?

Many budget-conscious parents would prefer to buy a rear- and forward-facing convertible car seat from the beginning, rather than the smaller, rear-facing only infant car seat. Whether or not this will work for your baby really depends on size at birth. Smaller newborns do not tend to fit well in the larger car seats that are designed to accomodate toddlers. If you'd like to try a convertible car seat from the beginning, look for a car seat with very low harness slots and extra infant padding to help baby fit in the car seat. If your baby is very small, though, be ready to move to an infant car seat to get the best fit.

Buying Infant Car Seats with Travel Systems

Many parents like to buy their infant car seat as part of a travel system with a matching stroller or other accessories. It's fine to buy the car seat this way, but be sure your focus is on finding the car seat that best fits your vehicle and is easy to use, and not on finding the prettiest pattern. If the infant car seat that you want is not available with a stroller you like, remember that most strollers today can be equipped with a universal infant seat bar to create a custom travel system.

Leave the Accessories in the Store

There are many car seat accessories available today, but it's important to remember that these accessories may not be safe for your baby. There are no federal standards for crash testing accessories, so you have no guarantee that extras won't fail in a crash, or that they won't interfere with the proper function of the harness. Know that many car seat manufacturers will void your car seat warranty if you use accessories that did not come with the car seat.
Related Video
How to Install an Infant Car Seat
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