How to Choose the Best Infant Car Seat Carrier

Mother putting baby boy (5 months) in car seat
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Selecting an infant car seat carrier can be both intimidating and confusing. Name brands may woo you, special features may seduce you, and price tags may send you into sticker shock. The bottom line is that any car seat being sold in stores meets federal guidelines. All of them are considered safe when used properly, but some may suit your baby, your car, and your lifestyle better than others. A great car seat is one that is used with best practices in mind.

In addition, here's what to look for:

5 Point Harness

When it comes to the harness, you really want to look for what is known as a 5 point harness. This means the harness straps restrain both shoulders, both hips, and the crotch, rather than a 3 point harness which only comes down over the shoulders and clips at the crotch. Look for straps that are wide and marketed as "twist free." Narrow straps or straps that have a tendency to twist are more likely to cause chaffing or skin burns.

Overall Size of the Carrier

Don't assume that every car seat will fit into your vehicle. Particularly if you have a smaller vehicle or if you need to fit the infant carrier on a bench car seat with other installed child restraints, you need to make sure that the sucker is going to install properly. Check that the car seat base isn't too wide to fit in snugly and that there is enough room between the back of the car seat and the front driver and passenger seats.

Easy to Use

Car seats that aren't easy to use logically are more likely to be used improperly. Be certain that the car seat is easy to use and the manual is easy to understand. You must be sure that you use your car seat properly each and every time. Check to be sure that it snaps in and out of the base with ease, that clasps are easy to use, and that the straps stay in position without a great deal of fuss.

Height and Weight Limitations

To understand why this is important, you need to know that beyond any doubt keeping your baby rear-facing for as long as possible is much safer than turning him forward-facing. This includes children of all ages, not only babies under 1 year and 20 lbs.

In light of that, you'll need to decide how long you want to keep your baby in his infant car seat before you upgrade to a convertible or front-facing restraint. If you want to use your carrier for as long as possible, look for seats that have a high weight limitation and multiple harness strap positions. Some infant car seats accommodate babies slightly over 30 lbs.

Consideration for Preemies

Conversely, preemies may need seats with lower minimum measurements. Look for seats that have a lower weight limit of 4 to 5 lbs and the lowest harness strap position at 8 inches or lower. Keep in mind, the harness needs to be below his shoulder level while rear-facing, unlike forward-facing requirements.

Head and Side Impact Protection and EPS Foam

Though not currently required by U.S. Federal guidelines, head impact protection and EPS foam are good factors to look for in infant car seats. EPS foam (think of the styrofoam found in bicycle helmets) provide added cushion during and accident, and seats designed with head and side impact protection are designed to cradle your baby better in the event of an accident.

Weight of the Carrier

Though the weight of the carrier does not affect how well it performs, it is a very practical point to consider. That is especially the case if you intend on using the seat as a way of carrying your child when you aren't in the vehicle.

Some carriers way as much as 10 lbs. Add to it the weight of the baby and lugging it around could be a real work out. Car seats generally average around 8 to 9 lbs, but some, like the Evenflo Discovery, weigh 5.5 lbs.

Browse tips for finding less expensive car seats.

Ruling Out Used Seats or Car Seats From Accidents

Unlike the above points, this last thought is on what you want to avoid in car seats.

Don't purchase used car seats or borrow a car seat from a car accident.

One last tip: whatever seat you do wind up using, be sure you register the car seat with the manufacturer!

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