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How to Choose Baby's First Car Seat


As a new parent, you have a million decisions to make before welcoming your baby home, and a safe car seat is at the top of the list. But with so many options, it’s hard to know where to start.

This guide will help you choose the perfect car seat for your family and lifestyle.


1. Choose a Type of Car Seat  For baby’s first car seat, you can choose between an infant car seat, a convertible car seat and an all-in-one car seat.

Infant Car Seats (rear-facing only)




 

 

Infant Car Seats:

  • Can click in and out of compatible strollers for on-the-go convenience
  • Can be shared between multiple vehicles by purchasing an extra base
  • Allow you to go to-and-from the car without unbuckling baby


What to Consider: 
If you go with an infant car seat, you’ll need to transition to a convertible seat within 1-2 years, depending on when your child outgrows the seat.


Travel Systems 



 

 

 Travel Systems:

  • Come with both an infant car seat and a stroller for on-the-go convenience
  • Include an infant car seat base that stays in your vehicle
  • Allow you to go to-and-from the car without unbuckling baby

What to consider: Travel systems only work with infant car seats, so you’ll need to transition to a convertible seat within 1-2 years, depending on when your child outgrows the seat.

 

Convertible Car Seats

Convertible Car Seats:

  • Transition from rear-facing to forward-facing
  • Will last from infancy through preschool, depending on when your child outgrows the seat

What to consider: If you go with a convertible car seat, it won’t click into a base or stroller. This means you can’t take the car seat in and out of your car without uninstalling it.


All-In-One Car Seats

 

 
All-In-One Car Seats:

  • Can be used from infancy through booster
  • Transition from rear-facing to forward-facing to booster mode

What to consider: If you go with an all-in-one, it won’t click into a base or stroller. This means you can’t take the car seat in and out of your car without uninstalling it. And, because the seat will be in your vehicle longer than other types, you may want to consider an easy-to-clean or machine washable fabric.

2. Try Before You Buy

Because a car seat is such an important purchase, it helps to go to a store and get a firsthand look at the features. Be sure you can answer the following questions before you decide on the perfect seat:

Can I install it with confidence?
The safest car seat is the one you can install and use correctly—every time. Don’t be afraid to walk into a store and try to install different seats. Are you confident you’ll always achieve a secure installation? Will other caregivers who are using the seat be able to install it correctly?

Is it easy to use every day?
When you feel comfortable adjusting the headrest, harness straps, recline angle, etc.—your daily routine is that much easier. Practice using the product in store to be sure you can use it correctly.

How do I clean it?
You may not know it yet, but there will be crumbs and spills in your future. Choose a car seat that is easy to keep clean between rides. Is the cover removable? Machine washable? If your car seat has cup holders, are they removable and dishwasher safe?  

Is it comfortable for my baby?
You’ll want to get a good feel for the fabrics and padding to make sure your little one stays happy on all your journeys. Some car seats even come with cooling or wicking technologies that keep your baby extra comfortable.    

How big is the seat?
Some car seats are much larger than others — and if you’re driving a smaller vehicle, they can be a tight squeeze. Measure your space before you buy, so you know that you have enough room for your car seat (and baby) to fit comfortably. Many retail stores will let you try it out in your car before you make your purchase. 


3. Learn about Car Seat Safety

Now you’re equipped with everything you need to start shopping for your baby’s first car seat! After making your purchase, you’ll want to learn all about car seat safety to prepare for your new arrival.

Make sure your seat is properly installed.
Be sure to read your car seat manual carefully, taking note of required height and weight limits. Follow the installation instructions exactly as shown in your manual. 

To be extra confident in your car seat installation, find a free car seat check in your area. At these events, nationally-recognized Child Passenger Safety Technicians (CPSTs) will inspect your seat and show you how to install and use it correctly. 

Always buckle baby in properly.
A five-point harness is the seat belt portion of a child’s car seat. It is responsible for holding your child in their seat in case of a collision. "Five-point" refers to the number of points (places) where the seat is attached to the harness. (Two connections at the shoulders, two at the hips, and one between the legs.)

For a safety harness to do its job, you must be able to achieve a snug fit, and adjust the chest clip to the proper position. It's a good idea to practice buckling the harness and positioning the chest clip before buying the car seat.

Never install a rear-facing seat in front of an airbag.
Locate the airbags in your vehicle so you know where you can and can’t install the seat. Be sure to check your vehicle user guide for approved car seat placements. 

Register your car seat.
If there is a recall or safety notice, you’ll get information as it happens. You can also sign up with NHTSA to receive e-mail alerts about recalls.