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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.

Features

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 increased portability.

Your Budget

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 important commodities.)

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.