Tips for Picking a Car Seat for a Newborn

Before we start, it is critical to mention that there is no such thing as the “safest seat”. The safest seat is the one that installs securely in your vehicle, fits your child properly, and you use properly on every trip.

When recommending a rear-facing only seat, The Car Seat Lady takes into consideration 4 key design features:

  1. Will the base install securely in most vehicles… and in particular in the center of most vehicles?

  • Studies show the center is 43% safer than the side… so with one child it is best to put the baby in the center (assuming your car seat can be securely installed in the center). Not only is the center safer for baby, but also it tends to give the best layout for the back seat as with baby in center you can comfortably fit 2 adults in back… whereas if baby goes on the side few adults can squeeze into the already narrow center with a baby seat on one side of them. The other advantage is that having the car seat in the center typically allows the front seats to both come back as far as they need to – whereas if the car seat goes on the side, the person sitting in front of the car seat has to move their seat up more than they might prefer (as the front seat should not touch the child’s car seat).

  • Most vehicles do not have the lower anchors of the LATCH system in the center seat (to see if yours does, see here); therefore, you will need to use the vehicle’s seat belt to secure the car seat in the center in most vehicles. While the seat belt and LATCH are equally safe means of securing the car seat, the seat belt is often more difficult. While you and I ride around with our seat belt loose while we drive, and just rely on the belt to lock when we slam on the brakes, this does not work for the child’s car seat as the car seat will be very loose during regular driving, and even looser in a crash. Therefore, the seat belt must be locked and tight around the child’s car seat at all times. There are a few car seats on the market that have a locking device built right into the car seat to keep the vehicle’s seat belt locked and tight – which makes installation not only easier, but in many cases safer as you are more likely to get the secure installation you need.

  1. Note: There is a built in locking feature, specifically for children’s car seats, found in most seat belts in the US since 1996, but when used to install the base of most infant seats you will find that as you pull the seat belt tighter, the base tilts on its side (which is clearly not good). This locking feature works well for carriers used without their base and many forward facing seats, but is problematic with most rear-facing convertible seats and the bases for infant seats.

  • Will the carrier install securely by itself (i.e. withOUT the base) in most vehicles?

    • If you jump in a taxi, go in a friend’s car, or rent a car on vacation you will be traveling without the base – and it will be important that you can get a secure installation with just the carrier. Most seats sold in the US route the vehicle’s seat belt around the carrier in one way – but a few seats use a different routing path, a routing path most commonly seen in Europe. While the traditional American-style path will yield a secure installation in only a few vehicles (in our experience, about 1 in 5 vehicles), the European-style path will yield a secure installation in nearly every vehicle on the road (about 4.9 out of 5 vehicles in our experience). The European-style path involves wrapping the shoulder belt around the back of the carrier which adds stability and gives a more secure fit.

    • For more on using the carrier without the base and the European-style path, see this interactive image here.

  • Will it be easy to strap the baby into the seat every time (when you are sleep deprived, your child is screaming, and you are already 15 minutes late)?

    • The straps should loosen and tighten easily (as if you are making the straps properly snug, you should have to loosen them to get the baby out, and then tighten them once you buckle baby back in)

    • The straps should not get uneven (this drives parents bonkers… and leads to kids not being strapped in properly). While all straps can twist, some are much less prone to twisting than others; twisted straps are bad for baby… and parent’s temper.

  • Will it fit whatever size baby you take home from the hospital?

    • While many rear-facing only seats still start at 5 pounds, we feel it is important that parents choose one that starts at 4 pounds since about 10% of all babies leave the hospital weighing less than 5 pounds. Having a new baby is stressful… worrying that your car seat is too big for your baby is one stress you don’t need to add to the list.