When I was a pregnant new mama I had no idea the difference between an infant and a convertible car seat. I knew a car seat was a big NEED on my checklist of baby gear.
Problem was, I was clueless about car seats in general.
Below I break down the differences between these main two types for any mamas who might be in the same boat I was.
Infant Car Seats
An infant car seat is designed especially for—you guessed it!—infants. It is made to be easy to take newborns in and out of the car, and to attach to your stroller or travel system. One of the main draws of an infant car seat is that it makes it easier to keep a baby asleep while you transfer them from car to stroller, or take them inside. With an infant seat, it is possible to do this and not wake them up!
An infant car seat is typically made for infants up until 30–35 pounds, and for around 30 or maybe 32 inches tall. For preemies, infant car seats sometimes have an insert, either bought with the seat or purchases separately, that can be added to make sure they’re comfy too.
You can install some infant car seats on their base—a bottom section that is buckled into the car that can be left there while you remove the seat—or install them without it by belting through the seat itself. This might come in handy if you want to leave the base in your vehicle but quickly go on an outing in someone else’s car. Just leave your base behind and buckle the seat into Nana’s car! You can see the separate base clearly on this Britax car seat.
Some parents also purchase an extra base so that both parent’s vehicles are ready to go and they can easily switch the seat from base to base.
Since babies are supposed to be in a rear-facing seat until they are at least two, it goes without saying that an infant seat, made only for babies up to 30 or so pounds, are all rear-facing.
The Britax B-Safe Infant Car Seat is an example of an infant car seat that goes above and beyond as it has many safety awards and features.Britax B-Safe Ultra Infant Car Seat
It has a built-in level on the side that makes it very easy to install, and know you’re getting it right.
Convertible Car Seats
The AAP recommends that toddlers ride rear-facing until reaching the maximum weight or height for rear-facing in their convertible car seat, which for most kids is at least two years, sometimes up to five years of age. Actual laws on this vary by state. The typical limit for a convertible car seat is around 40 pounds, sometimes more.
You can check the child seat laws in your state here.
Now, back to convertibles! Convertible car seats can be installed rear-facing for your baby until they reach the height and weight limit for rear-facing, then you can turn them around when your little one is big enough to face forward.
“Can’t I just get a convertible car seat from the start then, so I don’t have to buy two?” you ask.
Yes, absolutely! However, many parents choose to get an infant car seat for the first stage because of its convenience. An infant car seat is much more portable and a good deal lighter than a convertible car seat. Convertibles are not designed to be easily taken in and out of the car.
Convertible car seats sometimes also transition into booster seats, which are typically designed for children 4 and older.
There are so many choices! The Graco 4Ever 4 in 1 Convertible Car Seat is a great example and is very popular.
What to Expect named it the “Best Convertible Car Seat” in 2019. It transitions from an infant car seat to a toddler Car Seat and can be used as a:
- Rear facing baby car seat from 4 to 40 pounds,
- Forward facing toddler car seat from 22 to 65 pounds,
- Booster seats in high back belt positioning mode from 30 to 100 pounds, and
- backless belt positioning mode from 40 to 120 pounds.
I hope this helps a mama out there who is starting to shop for a car seat. Whether you decide to go for an ultra-convenient infant car seat to start out, or straight for a convertible car seat, you need to know what your car seat is meant for, and how long your little one can use it.