Infant car seats don’t stay in your car—they also function as carriers to tote your newborn. If you’re on the market for one, it’s important to choose a carrier that fits both your vehicle and your lifestyle.
The advantage of an infant car seat over a convertible is it doubles as a carrier, and you can click it into stroller bases. Think about when you take baby to visit friends and relatives—the carrier gives you a place to put your child down.
Infant seats are exclusively rear-facing, so you’ll need to buy a convertible seat around the time your child turns 1 year old, or when he hits the height or weight limit.
If you’re new to the world of car seats, be sure to take a look at our guide on them. It covers the categories and will help you pick the right seat for your child.
What to Consider
All infant seats are safe. What differentiates them is ease of use and how compatible they are with other accessories (like strollers). You also need to consider your lifestyle—for example, do you plan to travel while your child still uses an infant seat?
Here’s a list of some of the things to consider:
- Does it travel well? An infant bucket seat clicks in and out of a base you install in your car. However, you can also use the majority of infant seats with just a seat belt. This allows you to secure the seat in other cars, airplanes, buses—anything with a seat belt. If you plan to travel with your baby, you want an infant seat that works with a seat belt and doesn’t rely on a base.
- Does it work with a stroller system and other accessories? Infant car seats are often part of a compatible stroller system, but there are also adapters available if you want to mix manufacturers. Adapters are often sold separately, however. If you want to minimize costs, you can buy a seat and stroller that are compatible. You should also consider the cost of an additional base if you want to install one in a second car.
- What is the weight and length range? Infant seats vary in the upper weight limit, but they generally range from 22-35 pounds. Once your child hits that limit, you’ll have to buy a convertible seat (although you probably won’t want to wait until she weighs 35 pounds). You can install a convertible seat as either forward- or rear-facing. You can also use it from infancy, so there’s no reason to delay the switch when your child gets too heavy for you to carry in the seat. While car seats tend to emphasize how much weight they can handle, there’s a good chance your child will hit the length limit first. The Chicco Keyfit 30, for example, can handle a child up to 30 pounds and 30 inches. So, an 11-1/2-month-old boy who is 30 inches long and weighs 22.75 pounds, is already at the length limit but over 7 pounds away from the weight limit.
- How heavy is it? While you might be able to handle the carrier’s weight, it’s your baby’s that will eventually make it too heavy for you. Most carriers weigh between 8-12 pounds, while most newborns weigh between 5-10 pounds. Only half of that equation is within your control, so this might not be a priority.
- How wide is it? Unlike convertible seats, infant seats don’t have a “slim fit” category. Infants need all the side-impact padding possible. The handle and base often add to the width, also. If you need every inch of space you can get, it’s helpful to take note of the measurements—especially if you need to fit multiple car seats into a smaller vehicle.
The Best Overall: Chicco Keyfit 30
The Chicco KeyFit 30 gets consistently high ratings from parents who appreciate its material comforts, as well as its easy installation. The KeyFit holds children from 4-30 pounds, and up to 30-inches long. If we use the 50th percentile as a reference, the Chicco handles a baby girl up to 13 months old, and a baby boy up to 11-1/2 months old. At that point, most parents feel their child has become too heavy for the carrier, anyway.
The Chicco weighs 9.6 pounds and measures 16.5 inches wide—the narrowest infant seat on our list. You can remove the seat’s fabrics, and they’re machine-washable. You can purchase additional bases, but you can also use this seat with a seat belt.
Chicco sells different stroller bases, from a simple frame you can fold up and carry in one hand, to one you can also use as a stroller for larger children without the car seat.
Chicco Keyfit Infant Car Seat and Base with Car Seat, Lilla
The Chicco KeyFit 30 is a consistently high-rated infant car seat within a reasonable price range.
Best on a Budget: Graco Essentials
The Graco SnugRide Essentials Click Connect 30 offers just that: the essentials. Like the Chicco, this seat is for babies who weigh between 4-30 pounds and measure up to 30-inches long. The seat is 17.5 inches wide and weighs only 7 pounds. If you’re not concerned about fabric finishes or aesthetics, this is an affordable option that will keep your baby safe in the car.
This seat is compatible with Graco Click Connect bases and strollers, which range from simple budget options to jogging strollers. Graco products are widely available online and at big-box stores, which make them easy to add to baby shower registries.
Graco SnugRide Essentials 30 Infant Car Seat | Baby Car Seat, Winfield
The Graco SnugRide Essentials is a widely available and very affordable infant car seat for those who just want the basics.
Best Premium: Nuna PIPA
The Dutch company, Nuna, delivers a car seat for parents who want their baby gear to look as elegant and chic as possible (although, your baby might do everything in her power to subvert that). The crème de la car seat crop, the Nuna PIPA, fits into all Nuna strollers, which include adapters, as well as a long list of the trendiest strollers (Bugaboo, Uppababy, BOB, etc.) with the purchase of an additional adapter. The Nuna is made of premium materials, like its micro-knit fabric, and it has additional features, like a stability leg to minimize jostling.
Nuna makes an even lighter version, the Nuna PIPA Lite, but despite being only 5.6 pounds, this model has one major drawback—you can’t use it without a base. Unfortunately, that eliminates Ubers or air travel unless you bring along the base. On top of that enormous hassle, this also cancels out the advantage of it being lightweight. However, the regular PIPA weighs only 7.9 pounds, and you can use it with just a seat belt.
Easiest to Use: Britax B-Safe Ultra Infant
Some car seats are more complicated than others. However, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration rated the Britax line of car seats the highest across all categories when it comes to ease of use.
To grade car seats on how easy they are to use, the NHTSA’s Ease of Use ratings assesses them in four categories: evaluation of labels, evaluation of instructions, securing the child, and vehicle installation features. After all, a car seat is only safe if you install and use it correctly.
The Britax B-Safe Ultra Infant scored the highest possible rating in three categories, and 4 out of 5 in a fourth category. However, all four of its current models received a 5 out of 5 overall rating. The Britax SafeCenter LATCH system audibly clicks in with push-buttons to your car’s lower anchors, and it tethers, so you can quickly install and tighten a base. You can also use a seat belt to install a base, or secure the seat by itself.
The Ultra Infant accommodates children who weigh 4-35 pounds and measure up to 32 inches in height. The slightly larger range means it’s a bit wider, as well; it measures 17.75 inches across and weighs 11.5 pounds.
You can also use the Britax range of infant seats with a dedicated line of highly-rated, compatible strollers.
Britax B-Safe Ultra Infant Car Seat - Rear Facing | 4 to 35 Pounds - Reclinable Base, 2 Layer Impact Protection, Cowmooflage
The Britax B-Safe Ultra Infant boasts some of the best ratings when it comes to how easy it is to use.