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  • Writer's pictureLindsay Johnson

How to Choose the Best Car Seat for Your Newborn

When selecting the best car seat, it is not as simple as one-size-fits-all. You may be surprised to learn that there are quite a few factors that go into choosing the seat that will work best for you!


First and foremost, all car seats, no matter the price, are incredibly safe when used correctly! All car seats manufactured for use in the United States meet the same performance standards required by Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 213 and are labeled as such. In short, every car seat passes the same crash safety testing. For those that boast that they go above and beyond FMVSS 213, there is no set standard and nothing to compare them against. The best and safest car seat for you is going to be based on your specific needs and the features of the car seat that best support those needs. So, how do you choose?


You want to select the car seat that fits your baby, your vehicle, your lifestyle and your budget, all while being used correctly 100% of the time.


There are two types of car seats you could use for your newborn. A rear facing only car seat (commonly referred to as an infant only car seat or infant carrier/bucket seats) and a convertible car seat that is used in rear facing mode (these can be called convertible seats, 3-in-1’s or All-in-One car seats and are designed to grow with your child as they move into different stages. Keep in mind that some of these types of seats don’t fit small infants particularly well.) All children under the age of 1 are required by law in the United States to use a rear facing car seat. Keep in mind that laws vary and many states require children to be rear facing until age 2. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics states it is best practice to keep children rear facing as long as possible, up to the height and weight limit allowed by the manufacturer of the car seat. In some cases, children 4 and older can still ride rear facing!


Does your baby fit in the car seat?

Car seats come with minimum and maximum height and weight requirements. Your baby must fit within those limits to properly use the seat. You will also have to consider your baby’s torso height to make sure they fit within the predetermined harness height of the car seat. The harness straps must fit directly at or below your baby’s shoulders at all times (unless otherwise instructed by the car seat manual) when in a rear facing car seat. Many car seats have infant inserts and body positioners to achieve proper harness fit. If you are expecting a smaller newborn, look for a car seat that comes with these inserts, as it is unsafe to add them from any other source other than the car seat manufacturer.


Does the car seat fit in your vehicle?

You should consider the overall size of the vehicle seat in comparison to the footprint of the car seat. Manufacturers set different limits of how much of the car seat base needs to be in contact with the vehicle seat. You will also need to consider the space front to back in which you are installing the car seat. Car seats need to be able to ride up and down to absorb impact and cannot be braced against the back of the vehicle seat in front of them. Doing so will greatly minimize their effectiveness in a crash. The pitch of the vehicle seat in which the car seat is being installed also needs to be taken into consideration to make sure we can obtain the proper recline angle of the car seat. Proper recline angle guarantees the car seat performs correctly in a crash and keeps your baby at the ideal angle for breathing.


Does the car seat fit your lifestyle?

There are quite a few unique car seats out there! There are car seats that rotate for easier harnessing, a car seat that converts into a stroller and rear facing only infant car seats that do not need a base to be installed in a vehicle. Many rear facing only car seats also come as part of a travel system, where the car seat clips into a stroller for easy transitions. While these features are great when needed, they also come with a much higher price tag and may not be necessary for day-to-day use. Another lifestyle consideration is airplane use. The FAA encourages car seat use on airplanes for any child under 40 pounds, but the car seat must fit on the airplane seat and have a sticker verifying it is certified for use in aircraft (most are!) It is not recommended to check your car seats with luggage, as they can become damaged or lost during transport, and your child is safer in their car seat on the plane! You will likely want to consider a much lighter weight car seat for traveling.


Does the car seat fit your budget?

You do not need to break the bank in order to keep your baby as safe as possible as all seats must meet the same federal crash test standards. The added expense comes with all the added features that manufacturers have designed. Ease-of-use features are great and make the car seat more user friendly; no rethread harness, easy release lower anchors, lock-offs, easy read recline angle indicators, self-tightening lower anchors, and belt tightness indicators are a few of my favorites! You will also see many added features that go beyond the basics, such as machine washable covers, covers that easily zip off, chemical free fabrics, UPF and mesh extendable canopies, anti-rebound bars, load legs, and European belt paths for baseless installation. When purchasing a car seat, remember that a deal that sounds “too good to be true” probably is. There are counterfeit car seats and fraudulent websites out there!


Is your car seat being used correctly, 100% of the time?

Once you have selected the best seat for you and your newborn, make sure to thoroughly read the manual for proper use and installation. Also be sure to register the seat with the manufacturer. Having your car seat inspected by a SafeKids Certified Child Passenger Safety Technician is a great resource to guarantee your baby is as safe as possible while traveling in the car! If you would like expert guidance on the proper installation and use of your car seat please visit NHTSA or SafeKids to find a Certified Child Passenger Safety Technician near you.


**Please note that all car seats are manufactured only to keep your little ones safe in the car. Babies must be properly and tightly harnessed at all times when using the car seat and it is never safe to allow your child to sleep in their car seat outside of the car or an approved stroller system. Altering your car seat in any way or the use of aftermarket products that have not been crash tested with your car seat is never permitted by the manufacturer, therefore it is important to take the time to choose the car seat that will work best for you!**


Just a word about second-hand seats -- A bargain at a garage sale or on-line from a third-party seller, such as Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace, might not be a good idea. You don’t know the history of the seat. If you are receiving a previously used car seat from a trusted friend or family member, check the NHSTA website for recalls. Be sure to locate the manual, make sure the seat has all the correct part, inserts, etc... then register the seat with the manufacturer.



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