Infant car seats are an essential piece of baby equipment. They are so essential that most hospitals won't let you leave with your newborn unless you have one properly installed. These rear-facing car seats roll with the force of a collision to protect the head, neck, and spine. While some have extra features like a recline indicator and easy-to-adjust harnesses, they can also double as a baby carrier, so you don't have to take your infant out of the seat when you arrive at your destination.
Our guide can help you find a car seat that's safe, within your budget, and easy to install. Our top pick comes from Chicco and stands out for its high safety ratings and ease of installation.
Considerations when choosing infant car seats
Infant car seats typically weigh between five and 16 pounds, plus the weight of your baby. Sixteen pounds plus a 10-pound baby can quickly get heavy, especially since infant car seats can also be used as a carrier. However, models that are compatible with a stroller can give your back and shoulders some relief.
Ease of harness adjustment
The five-point harness of an infant car seat can be tricky to adjust. Some models have easier adjustment features than others, like a single adjustment strap located at the bottom front of the car seat that tightens or loosens both shoulder straps.
Ease of installation
Most infant car seats come with a base that's installed independently of the car seat; the car seat then snaps into the base. Bases that are easy to install make life much easier, especially if you're a two-car family. (To make things even easier, buy a second base that permanently stays in the second car.)
Infant car seats can be installed without the base, but it is more difficult to get the seat at the right angle. A recline indicator lets you know if you're at the right angle and can make the whole process easier and faster.
Padding and neck support
Padding makes your baby comfortable so of course, it's important. Models that come with a removable head and neck pad can help keep your baby secure while they gain neck strength. Some models also include padding on the shoulder straps, so they don't dig into the baby's neck.
Recline indicators are a level on the side of the car seat that shows when the seat is at the correct angle. Car seat angle is imperative to the baby's safety because it makes sure the baby's head doesn't fall too far forward, blocking the airway.
Infant car seat prices
A basic infant car seat that doesn't have a removable neck pad or recline indicator usually costs between $60 and $90. Recline indicators and extra padding are pretty typical in the $90 to $150 range. Infant car seats over $150 are typically part of a travel system that includes a base, infant car seat, and a stroller into which the car seat can attach.
Q. When is my child ready for a bigger car seat?
A. Pediatricians recommend keeping your baby in a rear-facing car seat (infant or otherwise) until they turn two years old. However, infant car seats usually have a maximum weight and height limit. Once your baby reaches either of these limits, it's time for a bigger car seat. Convertible car seats can also be used rear-facing, so don't think that just because you're leaving an infant seat behind that your baby won't be safe.
Q. Do I need to replace the car seat if I get in a car accident but there's no visible damage to the car seat?
A. If you get into an accident, you should get a new car seat. Damage isn't always obvious from the outside, and the car seat may not protect your baby as it should if there is another accident.
Infant car seats we recommend
Best of the best: Chicco KeyFit 30 Infant Car Seat
Our take: This is truly one of the best infant car seats on the market today. Your baby stays happy, comfortable, and, most importantly, safe.
What we like: The excellent safety ratings and installation ease make this one a no-brainer. It's safe and you can get it in and out of the car without breaking a sweat -- yes, please.
What we dislike: The padding and fabric aren't as breathable as some other models.
Best bang for your buck: Evenflo LiteMax 35 Infant Car Seat
Our take: It doesn't have fancy features like a recline indicator or neck padding, but it's safe and affordable.
What we like: It's relatively light and sturdy in comparison to similarly priced models. We also like the padded handle.
What we dislike: The fit can be a bit tight for babies nearing the maximum weight limit.
Choice 3: Maxi-Cosi Mico Nxt Infant Car Seat
Our take: This is the model for those who carry their car seat everywhere. If you want to go light, this is one of the lightest on the market.
What we like: Don't let the light weight fool you. It has side-impact protection and easily snaps in and out of the base.
What we dislike: Some users find it a bit flimsy.
Stacey L. Nash is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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