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Infant car seat vs. convertible car seat

One of the must-have’s when a baby is born is a car seat. You can’t do without one unless your plan is to walk your baby home from the hospital.

But then there’s another factor to consider: you have to decide whether you will start with an infant car seat or a convertible car seat. This article will compare the two, to help you make a decision on what is best for your baby.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the difference between the two:

infant car seat

Credit: Consumer Reports

Infant Car Seats

Most new parents tend to start with the infant car seat. This type of seat is designed to be used in the rear-facing position only, which is the safest for the baby.

How long can a baby use an infant car seat?

It’s the best for infants, but you should know that your child will eventually outgrow it. On average, it can last you from birth until your baby is two years old, depending on the growth rate of your baby and the size of the car seat.

When your little one outgrows the weight and height limit of the infant car seat, you’ll have to purchase a convertible or other type of seat that is recommended for toddlers.

But maybe you’re wondering, “If I have to buy an infant car seat to eventually replace it with a convertible car seat, why should I get the infant car seat in the first place?” The main difference is that the infant seat can be detached from its base and brought inside. It’s portable and lightweight compared to the convertible car seat which is hefty and is semi-permanently installed in the car.


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Why you should start with an infant car seat

  • Most infant car seats are portable and can be easily attached to strollers. Keep in mind that most babies under 7 months can’t sit up without support. Only a few baby strollers out there can recline fully to give your little one the comfort they deserve. So anytime you want to stroll with a newborn you’ll need to clip in an infant car seat.
  • When buying an infant car seat, one of the criterions parents should consider is the ease of installation. An infant car seat is easy to install. You can click them into the bases or latch systems if your vehicle has one. If not, a seat belt will do.
  • You can detach the seat without interrupting a nap
  • It can get really cold during winter, such that you’d need to store the infant car seat inside, so it’s always at a normal temperature.
convertible car seat

Convertible Car Seats

It’s called a convertible because it can either be positioned while facing the rear or forward. The rear-facing position is suitable for infants and toddlers while the forward-facing position is suitable for older babies, and can support approximately 65 pounds.

Convertible car seats will usually last longer than infant car seats since they have higher height and weight limit.

As for installation, you have to buy an insert for this type of car seat, so that it fits securely.

When it comes to mobility, the infant car seat is better compared to this one. The convertible car seat is too heavy to carry around on an everyday basis. It’s also not compatible with strollers so you’ll need to buy a separate travel system since it will always stay in your car.

Another downfall is that convertible car seats are difficult to use for smaller infants. It may be difficult to find a comfortable one for your baby. However, most newborns can fit in a convertible car seat and be perfectly safe. If you decide to get one, consider looking for one that has extra padding to help smaller babies fit comfortably in the large seat.

Reasons to go for a convertible car seat

  • Cost: If you want to save money by skipping the infant car seat
  • As your baby approaches a year old, a rear faced convertible seat is safer since it provides more headroom, reducing the possibility of getting their head bumped.

Are infant car seats safer than convertible car seats?

One of the questions that parents ask frequently is how they can get the safest car seat. As of 2019, all new car seats have to adhere to strict safety standards. But first, let’s talk about what makes a seat safe.

There are simple rules that determine whether a car seat is safe for your child or not. It all depends on how you use it. Firstly, the seat has to be the right fit for your child’s age.

An ideal seat is that which accommodates their height and weight perfectly. It should also be installed securely in your car such that it can’t wiggle backward or forwards, or move more than an inch sideways. The seats harness traps should also be positioned well within the baby’s shoulders. The baby’s head should be well inclined to prevent it from falling forward.

That said, it mostly depends on your baby’s age. For small babies, an infant seat is the best option to hold them in place in case of any bumps.

Some infant seats provide additional side-impact protection and anti-rebound features, and a deeper cove to nest the baby inside the seat. Rear-facing until age two also means that your baby is five times safer in a crash. Most pediatricians recommend infant car seats.

Unfortunately, you will never know whether your baby will fit a convertible car seat until they are born. If you can afford it, the safest option is to get the infant car seat first then the convertible car seat as the baby grows.

Important: Always check the expiration date of the car seat. It’s surprising but they do have an expiration date, especially if you are using a second-hand car seat or one from a previous child.

What is the next car seat after an infant car seat?

Once your child reaches the maximum height or weight supported by an infant car seat, then you should switch to another type of car seat. The best time to switch from an infant car seat is when your child is a year old even if they have not exceeded the seat limits.

If your child shows signs of discomfort in the infant car seat, such as crying a lot when traveling it, that’s a sign that the space is too small for them, thus cramping them in the seat. That’s also another sign to switch.

Many parents go for a convertible car seat after their young one outgrows an infant car seat. Use a brand-new convertible car seat to minimize the risk associated with second-hand seats.

If it’s a used car seat, always check the model’s expiry date and make sure you trust the previous owner. This way, you’ll know whether it has been damaged in any previous accidents. The expiry date is usually printed somewhere on the car seat or on the user’s manual.

However, getting a new car seat doesn’t mean you should position the baby facing forward. Rear-facing is the safest position until your child is three years old.

When your baby outgrows the convertible car seat but isn’t old enough to use the normal car seat, consider getting a baby booster car seat. They are used in a forward-facing position. It works till your child is old enough to switch to a normal car seat.

What to consider when choosing the best car seat

  • Safety – A secure car seat should meet the federal safety guidelines
  • Easy to install – A good car seat should be easy to install and remove. But this shouldn’t compromise how securely it stays attached to the car. Convertible seats will need a base, but infant car seats can use a safety belt or a latch.
  • Comfort – The harnesses should be easy to adjust and still be a good fit for larger infants.

Bottom line: infant car seat or convertible car seat?

When it comes to picking the best car seat for you there is no wrong or right answer. Infant-only car seats are the best to start with. They provide a better fit for newborns and can be used on strollers.

heir mobility makes them convenient for most parents. The only disadvantage is the fact that babies outgrow them quickly. If your car seat budget allows purchasing two seats with a year or so, start with the infant car seat then transition into the convertible car seat.

We also don’t get to know the size of our young ones till they are born. You might decide to buy a convertible car seat only for it to be unsuitable for your baby once they are born.

This is why it’s recommended that you start with the infant car seat, which is safer, comfortable, light and portable. You won’t even have to wake your napping baby when traveling while using an infant car seat.

That said, the most important thing is to choose the seat that fits your baby and is suitable for the vehicle you are using. As long as your child is safe, you have made the right choice.

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