Where to start when choosing a car seat for your baby
Choosing a car seat for your baby-on-the-way doesn’t seem like too difficult a task…until you walk into a store, or start searching online and see all the options. And then how do you choose? Maybe a friend or relative has had a baby recently so you ask them what they have. Maybe you just decide to find one in a colour you like. Some people like to pick a stroller first and then see what car seat is compatible with that stroller. These are helpful starting points, but it can get more complicated than that.
Every vehicle, baby and adult comes in all shapes & sizes, and families have budget that vary as well. This can create some challenges. Are there other children, pets or adults that travel in the vehicle too? Is there a possibility of baby being pre-term or low birth weight? As a car seat tech, we take all these things into consideration when making suggestions.
Things to keep in mind when shopping for an infant only car seat (Some convertible car seats may be used from birth, but I would talk to a certified tech or do some extra research before taking that route. It’s just as safe as using an infant only seat, provided the seat fits your newborn and is able to be installed at the required newborn angle in your vehicle):
-Weight & Height limits. Infant seats in Canada generally fall into the range from 4-35lbs and have a maximum height limit of between 29-32” (74-81cm). Most infant only car seats have upper weight limits of 22, 30, 32 or 35lbs.
Most of us are more familiar with weights of babies & children. We focus on that number and it is important, but the majority of kids will outgrow their car seats by height before they ever reach the weight limit. If you are trying to decide between a 30 or 35lb version of a seat, and you & your partner are tall, I would opt for the one with the higher height limit as opposed to being fixated on the weight. To give you some perspective, the 50th percentile girl will reach 30lbs around age 3. My 16 month old nephew is a big boy at 30lbs, and lands above the 97th percentile on the growth chart. On the other hand, many babies will put on weight fast in the first few months and can be 22lbs by 4 months of age, and you might not be ready to start using a convertible (RF & FF seat that remains installed in the vehicle). Babies generally slow down their weight gain, so don’t panic that your child is going to outgrow the infant seat soon if your baby is 15lbs at 8 weeks!
-Lowest Harness Slot. This might be one of the most important things to look for. There are several seats we do not recommend because they do not fit an average newborn at all.
The box says it fits from 5lbs, so why won’t a 7lb baby fit? Because the harness straps must be AT or BELOW the baby’s shoulders and if the lowest harness slot isn’t low enough, the baby is too small for the seat. All the infant seats on our recommended list have low enough slots to accommodate even small babies because they all have low enough harness slots or positions. How to check: when you are at a store that has infant seats on display, look at the distance from the crease of the seat (where baby’s bum would be), to the lowest slot. Compare a few seats. You may notice some have a much greater distance. A long torso baby may fit just fine in these seats, but that’s a gamble. If you are at risk of preterm or low birth weight babies, this is especially important. Currently, all seats that start at 4lbs also have low harness slots to accommodate small babies.
-Fit to Vehicle.
Some seats are more narrow than others. Some are shorter front to back. If you have other people or child seats in your vehicle or if the front to back (leg room) situation is short, these are very important factors.
Some bases have built in lock offs that make install the base securely easier than with the seat-belt alone, if lower anchors (UAS) are not available in that seating position. All bases have UAS hooks included although some seating positons (mostly the centre seat) do not allow borrowing the anchors from the outer seating positions so require a seatbelt install. Some vehicles do not have UAS (any vehicle made after 2001 will have at least two seating positions with UAS), so seatbelt install is required. Do not use both UAS AND seatbelt together. It’s one or the other, not both. They are equally safe as long as the install is correct. Always read your manual to see what is permitted for your specific seat.
Vehicles come with all sorts of slopes on their 2nd row seats. Some bases are adjustable while others require the use of a tightly rolled towel or pool noodle segments to achieve a proper newborn recline. Having the seat installed at the proper recline is very important as it helps keep a newborns airway clear.
-Ease of Use.
Can this seat be installed easily in most vehicles? Does the handle require a specific locked position when driving that is going to be an issue? Can this seat be installed baseless easily when we ride in other vehicles other than our primary car? Is this seat heavy, even when empty and going to be an issue to carry around when a larger baby is in it? These are all great question and a friendly CRST would be happy to answer these questions for you!
Contacting a car seat tech can help you narrow your search to specific seats that meet your needs, are best suited for your vehicle and fit your budget. There are some fantastic seats on the low end of the budget scale, so you don’t always have to pay big bucks on a seat that you may use for under a year.
More expensive seat might not necessarily mean they are safer, but have certain features that make use easier or may fit your vehicle better.
Need help? Have questions?
Find a nationally certified CRST (Child Restraint Systems Technician) near you here!
A great resource is our friends over at Vancouver Island Car Seat Techs. They keep an up-to-date compilation of recommended Canadian car seats. If you don’t see the seat you’ve been eyeing on this list, there’s likely a good reason it’s missing. : http://vicarseattechs.com/our-favourite-seats/infant-seats/
Janice Kampman, CRST
I’m a Fraser Valley based car seat technician, passionate about child passenger safety. I have 4 young kids and usually 5 car seats installed in my van. I love working with people to figure out a 3-across that works for their vehicle, testing fit of car seats in clients vehicles (with my vast collection of seats!) and advising people of what seat would work best for their situation. You can contact me here:
Fraser Valley’s Primer Doula Group providing everything you need for your BEST birth!