Choosing a car seat is one of the first decisions you’ll have to make as a new parent. Today, we’ll cut through the noise and simplify the decision.
Let’s make sure you hit the parenting ground running.
To choose between the two, you’ll need to have to weigh out the pros and cons of an infant car seat vs. a convertible car seat.
Before we get to that, we need to make sure we have our basics down.
Infant Car Seats
Most new parents tend to start with infant car seats. This type of seat is designed to be used in the rear-facing position only, which is the safest for the baby.
How long to use infant car seats for?
It might be THE CHOICE starting out, but 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 seat type that’s recommended for toddlers.
Here’s an obvious question, “If I have to replace it with a convertible car seat eventually, why get one 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 semi-permanent.
Four reasons to 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.
- 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.
- In colder climates, bringing the seat inside makes all the difference in the world during those harsh winters.
Convertible Car Seat
Convertible car seats can either be rear or forward-facing.
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.
It’s easier to install & lasts longer
Convertible car seats will usually last longer than infant car seats since they have higher height and weight limits.
As for installation, you have to buy an insert for this type of car seat for a secure fit.
A few downsides
When it comes to mobility, the infant car seat is the superior choice.
The convertible is too heavy to carry around – it’s not designed for that. It’s also not compatible with strollers, so you’ll need to buy a separate travel system since the seat stays in your car.
Another downside is that convertible car seats are difficult to use for smaller infants. It may be hard to find a comfortable one for your baby if they’re on the petite side.
Still, most newborns can fit in a convertible car seat and be perfectly safe. If you decide to get one, consider looking for extra padding to help smaller babies fit comfortably in the large seat.
Reasons to go for a convertible
- Cost – you want to save money by skipping the infant car seat
- Safety – a rear-facing convertible seat provides more headroom, reducing the possibility of getting their head bumped.
FAQs and dilemmas
Let’s take a moment here to address some of the most commonly asked questions parents have.
Are infant car seats safer than convertible?
One of the questions that parents ask frequently is how they can get the safest car seat.
The answer is not simple.
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.
A few rules of thumb:
- The seat should accommodate their height and weight perfectly
- It can be installed securely – it shouldn’t wiggle back and forth or move more than an inch sideways.
- The seat harness traps shouldn’t press the baby’s shoulders.
- The baby’s head should be inclined to prevent it from falling forward.
Are convertible car seats safe for newborns?
Yes, they are – provided that the baby’s height and weight is within the listed range, the seat is rear-facing and installed properly.
Age & your vehicle
When all is said and done – the two critical factors will be the baby’s age and your car. Let’s talk about the former first.
During those first few months, an infant seat is the better option to hold them in place on bumpy roads.
Some infant seats provide additional side-impact protection, anti-rebound features, and a deeper cove to nest the baby inside the seat. A rear-facing position also means that your baby is five times safer in a crash.
Finally, most pediatricians recommend infant car seats.
Unfortunately, you will never know whether your baby will fit a convertible car seat until they’re 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 note: Always check the expiration date of the car seat. It’s surprising, but they have an expiration date, especially if you use a second-hand car seat or one from a previous child.
Related read: Best infant car seat
What’s after an infant car seat?
Just before your child reaches the maximum height or weight supported by an infant car seat, move on. The best time to switch from an infant car seat is when your child is at the 1-year mark, even if they have not exceeded the seat limits.
Signs it’s time for the switch
If your child shows signs of discomfort in the infant car seat, such as crying a lot when traveling, 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.
New vs. used
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 the user’s manual.
If you can afford it, stay away from the used seat altogether. Use a brand-new convertible car seat to minimize the risk associated with second-hand units.
Can you skip the infant car seat?
Yes, you can skip an infant car seat.
I interviewed a few parents who did skip it. Below are the reasons they gave me.
If every dollar matters, skipping right to convertible car seats will make financial sense. There are other pieces of baby gear that you can’t go around. It might be wise to save your money for that.
If this sounds like you, consider adjustable seats that grow with your baby – you can read more about these in our guide on the best 3-in-1 car seats.
The convenience is limited
The convenience of using infant car seats has a flip side. You might expect that portability will be a huge deal and will make your life much easier. In reality, most parents will find it uncomfortable to lug a bulky seat around for more than 6 months.
That’s about the time when the combined weight of the baby and the seat becomes too much.
If this sounds reasonable, you might be better off taking the stroller with you.
Limitations of the “not waking them up” argument
This is one of the most commonly cited arguments in favor of infant car seats. However, it has a major flaw – your baby shouldn’t be sleeping in a cart seat anyhow.
Even if they do fall asleep in the seat, the safe thing to do is get them out and onto a flat, firm sleeping surface.
Container Baby Syndrome (CBS)
CBS is a development disorder that can arise from too much time spent within constricting environments like a car seat.
To be clear, I’m not saying that infant car seats cause CBS and convertibles don’t -I’m saying that you’re more likely to develop a habit of leaving your baby in a car seat with the former.
When to switch to forward-facing
Getting a new car seat doesn’t mean you should switch to a forward-facing position right away. Rear-facing is the safest position until your child is three years old.
When your baby outgrows the convertible but isn’t old enough to use a regular car seat, consider getting a baby booster seat. They are used in a forward-facing position.
It works ’till your child is old enough to switch to a regular car seat.
What to consider when choosing
- Safety – A secure car seat should meet the federal safety guidelines
- Installation – 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.
So, should I get an infant car seat or convertible?
The answer to that is, “It depends.” If accessibility and portability is paramount, get an infant car seat. If you’re a conservative buyer looking to lower the cost of baby gear, you can make do with a convertible.
When it comes to picking the car seat for you, there is no wrong or right answer. I know that sounds like a cliche, and I’ll make my peace with that because it’s true.
Infant-only car seats are the best to start with. They provide a better fit for newborns and can be used on strollers.
Their 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 within a year or so, start with the infant car seat, then transition into the convertible car seat (you can read more on when to make the switch here).
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 pediatricians recommended starting with the infant car seat, which is safer, comfortable, light, and portable.
With infant car seats, you won’t even have to wake your napping baby.
Last but not least, choose the seat that fits your baby and is suitable for the vehicle you are using. The set of criteria is different for parents driving an SUV and those with small cars. You can see our top seat picks for small cars here.
As long as your child is safe, you’ve made the right choice.