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BellaOnline's Early Childhood Editor

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Choosing an Infant Car Seat


Infant car seats are designed specifically for newborn babies, until they reach about 20-30 pounds. They are rear facing only, and are designed to "pop" in and out of bases that are installed in the car as well as many stroller travel systems and/or frames designed specifically to hold infant seats.

There is some debate over whether infant seats are good for babies and a good use of funds. Many convertible car seats (which can be used rear-facing for smaller babies and later front-facing for older children) advertise themselves as a single-purchase solution, with weight ranges as large as 5-60 pounds. Some studies have suggested that while the positioning of the baby in the car seat is necessary for vehicle crash safety that it may not be ideal for infant respiration when infants remain in the seats for long periods of time.

On the other side of the argument, some car seat safety technicians (specialists trained in the installation and use of car seats) say to buy a car seat designed more closely to the child's size that a closer fit is safer. Further, the pop-in, pop-out feature of the infant seat can help to allow babies to have a more natural sleep/wake schedule in today's inevitably busy world, especially for families with older siblings.

Most infant car seats are designed to hold infants up to 20-20 pounds and about 29". It is important to note that most babies will outgrow the height far sooner than the weight, so it is critical to be aware of that limitation. Graco also offers a seat that holds babies up to 30 pounds and 32". That extra three inches can translate to many months of extra use on the seat, so even though the seat costs more, it can be worth it.

As far as concerns over infant positioning, it is important to remember that car seats are just that CAR seats. While it is incredibly useful that car seats can be taken in and out of cars without interrupting infant sleep, these seats (like most things) should be used in moderation. Babies, especially newborns, need to be held. When used reasonably though, widespread use has certainly proven these seats to be safe for healthy, uncompromised infants (do be sure to discuss car seat use with your doctor or health professional for preemies or other compromised infants other alternatives to traditional seats may be needed, or limitations on use may be important).

Regardless of what size or brand of seat you buy, here are some factors that are important to consider:

-- EPS Protection The primary function of the car seat is to protect the baby in a crash. So whatever else, be sure the seat offers EPS (a rigid Styrofoam) behind on the sides of the head. If you aren't sure, pull the cover aside and look.

-- Front Strap Adjustment This is an often overlooked, but important feature. Newborns are so little that the straps at their smallest setting can be hard to open and close without poking the baby. A front adjustment allows you to loosen the straps to buckle and then pull them snug against the baby. Then they can easily be pulled loose before removing. Front adjust also allows the straps to be fitted properly regardless of how the baby is dressed.

**Personally, every time I have ever seen a baby in a seat without front strap adjustment, the straps are too loose (sometimes dangerously so, in my opinion).** The clasps in the back are simply too difficult to loosen and tighten and may not be accessible enough when the seat is installed in the car.

-- Luxury Foam and Other Accessories In the interest of selling less expensive seats, over the last decade, companies have removed all but the barest amount of padding from their seats, adding it back only in "luxury foam" models. Now, there is certainly no proof of babies complaining from this lack of padding, but personally, they seem to be to be quite hard. I spent the extra money on the luxury padding for my daughter and felt good about that purchase. I also enjoyed the "boot" that came with the higher-end model an attachable foot cover and blanket that were handy on cold days. Be sure to note which accessories come with your model.

Personally, I have had an excellent experience with Graco infant seats. They generally rate well in safety tests compared to similar models, and are quite sturdy. They offer a huge range of patterns and options.

As I mentioned above, the EPS and front strap adjust are absolute musts in my opinion. Be careful about getting too obsessed over fabric patterns to the exclusion of more important features like these. I bought the larger SafeSeat with the "luxury" padding for my second daughter and have never regretted a single penny we spent. I also highly recommend the Graco infant car seat frame, which serves either the snugride or safeseat sizes of that brand.

Here's a couple links to examples (I'll try to keep this updated, as patterns for car seats change frequently)

The Graco SafeSeat Birkshire Pattern (the larger-style seat) at BabiesRUs is reasonably priced and fits my requirements above, although I don't think it has the luxury foam



The Graco SnugRide is well-priced on Amazon.com, but be careful of which pattern. Only the Milan pattern meets all my recommendations (several other styles do not have a front strap adjust when reading reviews note that they match up with all different varieties of the seat.. not a well-organized page):



Both of these seats work with the Graco car seat frame.

Disclaimer: All material on the BellaOnline.com Early Childhood website is provided for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. Although every effort is made to provide accurate and up-to-date information as of the date of publication, the author is neither a medical doctor, health practitioner, nor licensed mental health professional. If you are concerned about your health, or that of your child, consult with your health care provider regarding the advisability of any opinions or recommendations with respect to your individual situation. Information obtained from the Internet can never take the place of a personal consultation with a licensed health care provider, and neither the author nor BellaOnline.com assume any legal responsibility to update the information contained on this site or for any inaccurate or incorrect information contained on this site, and do not accept any responsibility for any decisions you may make as a result of the information contained on this site or in any referenced or linked materials written by others.
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Child Car Seat and Booster Safety
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Content copyright © 2014 by Nicki Heskin. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Nicki Heskin. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Nicki Heskin for details.

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