How to Choose a Car Seat: Understanding the Difference Between Infant Only and Convertibles

Choosing a car seat for your new baby can be one of the most important decisions you make. Not only does the seat keep your baby safe while riding in the car, many often serve the dual purpose of being a baby carrier as well. We’ll talk about some of the considerations you should make when picking the first car seat for your baby.

If you are looking for an infant seat, you have 2 options: Infant-only or convertible. The difference between the two is that an infant-only car seat is exactly as the name implies: only for infants. These seats generally have a height and weight limitation in the 29″ and 22 lb range. More recently, some manufacturers have been making models that increase this to 32″ and 35 lb, such as the Graco SnugRide 35. On the other hand, a convertible will allow you to continue using (i.e. convert) your seat into one for a toddler.

An infant only seat may be better for mobility, as they generally come with a base that can be left in the car, which the carrier attaches to. This allows you to remove the carrier, without waking your baby, and carry him or her to your next destination. Additional bases are also available, so that you can have one installed in each car and make transport even easier. Additionally, many experts say that infant-only seats provide more protection, as they are more specifically designed for a particular size and weight.

If you’re expecting your baby to quickly outgrow an infant-only seat, or simply do not want to purchase another one soon, a convertible car seat might be for you. Convertible car seats often have multiple settings, allowing you to adjust the seat to the proper setting for your child’s height and weight. As with the infant-only seat, be sure to follow directions carefully.

Although hand-me-downs and used items might sound appealing for a fast growing baby, if there’s one item you purchase new, make it the car seat. When deciding on brand, remember that any new seat sold must meet NHTSA requirements. However, this is not necessarily the case for used car seats. If regulations have changed, a used seat might not be as safe as new seats. Another consideration is prior use. If a car seat was mishandled or in an accident, it may not be as safe as a new seat.

It’s incredibly important to fully read and follow the instructions provided with both your new car seat and car owner’s manual. Some reports suggest that 9 out of 10 parents incorrectly install their baby’s seat! If you’re unsure, contact your dealer or certified technician to make sure that your new baby’s seat is installed correctly.

Finally, take time and research your new seat. Assure that the seat you choose fits you, your child, your car, and your lifestyle. Be safe and happy parenting!