Choosing an Infant Car Seat
If you're pregnant or have an infant, you have two choices
in a car seat. The first, which most parents opt for, is an infant seat. This
seat is designed specifically for use with infants generally from 5 pounds to
20 pounds and is always used rear-facing in the car. An infant seat provides
features that offer convenience for you and comfort for your baby. For example,
this type of seat is lightweight so you'll find you can transport your baby
from one place to another without disturbing her sleep, and many offer a separate
base which allows the parent to snap the seat easily in and out of the car.
Your other choice of car seat for an infant is a convertible
seat, which is used in the rear-facing position for infants, then converted to
the forward-facing position for toddlers. Although convertible seats lack most
of the convenience features common to infant seats, they're an economical way
to provide protection, as one seat can generally accommodate your child from 5
to 40 pounds.
A Word About Safety
Protection should be your primary concern as you look for an
infant seat. You surely wouldn't want to jeopardize your child's safety by
attempting to save a few dollars on a car seat, so resist the temptation to
pick one up at a flea market or garage sale. Using a secondhand seat is risky,
as you don't know how old the seat is, whether it has been in an accident,
whether it has all its original parts, or whether it was designed in light of
current automobile environments. In addition, federal motor vehicle safety
standards change regularly, and old seats may not comply with current
standards. You may use a relatively new secondhand seat from a family member or
friend, but only if you know the seat's history, have the instructions, and are
sure that the seat has all its parts.
The Autobase Option
Many infant seats come equipped with a separate, detachable
autobase. The autobase can be secured into your car with the car's seat belt
and left in place, allowing the separate infant seat to be snapped into and out
of the base. This saves you time by eliminating the need for the infant seat to
be secured with the vehicle seat belt each time it's placed in the car. It also
means you need not disturb your sleeping baby to remove her from the seat. Some
autobase-type models, such as the Evenflo Port About™, can be used without
their base, making it easy to use the car seat in more than one car.
Part of the process of choosing an infant seat will be to
decide which features are important to you and your child. Most infant seats
can be used as carriers, making it easier to transport the baby into and out of
the car without disturbing him.
Different infant seats provide different means of adjusting
their shoulder belts. To adjust the belts in most seats, you need to go through
various steps. This makes loosening or tightening the belts a frequent
task--especially in cold weather, when the amount of your child's clothing can
vary. You'll want to examine the belt-adjustment systems of various seats to
find the most convenient.
Another key feature to consider is whether the car seat can
be purchased as part of a travel system, which is comprised of an infant seat
(usually with an autobase) and a stroller. This is the ultimate in convenience:
you simply lift the infant seat out of the car and snap it onto the stroller,
without disturbing baby. (Likewise when getting back in the car--just unlatch
the seat from the stroller and snap it into the auto base.) And even when your
child outgrows the infant seat, you still have a luxurious, full-size stroller.
Other features to consider when purchasing an infant seat:
- How heavy is the
seat? If you're going to be carrying the seat for long periods of time, a few
extra pounds will make a big difference. At the store, you'll want to lift as
many car seats as possible to see which is easiest to carry.
- What type of handle
does it have? Some seats have an ergonomic handle, which makes carrying more
comfortable and less tiring. This handle is easier to use which allows for
In order to expose yourself to options and features you
might otherwise miss, make price your last consideration when purchasing an
infant seat. After all, $5 or $10 extra could provide you and your baby with
features that will save you time and provide more comfort for your baby. (And
because your baby could spend up to a year in this seat, time and comfort are
So, remember, focus on safety, and don't be tempted to save
a few dollars by purchasing a secondhand seat. Decide whether an autobase is
for you, then review the timesaving and comfort-enhancing features each seat
offers. As your last step, consider your budget.