Friday, September 4, 2009

Carseat Connundrum: Infant Seats

I have had several people ask me for my reccommendations of which carseat to get, so I thought I'd put together a little list of the seats that I like. Today I'm going to start with infant seats.

Remember, these are just the seats that I have found I prefer for various reasons. Any seat that is not expired and fits your car, your child, and your budget is a great seat. The most important thing is to make sure that your seat is used properly every time.

Infant seats click into a base in the car. They are for rear facing only and are outgrown somewhere between 22 and 32 pounds depending on the individual seat or when the top of the head is within an inch of the top of the shell.

Here are some general features to look for when you're shopping for an infant seat that I have found useful. Having most or all of these features will increase the ease of use of your seat, meaning that it will both be easier to make sure your baby is correctly harnessed and that your seat is correctly installed.
  • A 5 point harness. This means that the harness goes over their shoulders and hips and fastens between their legs, giving them five points of protection (shoulder, shoulder, hip, hip, between legs). 3 point harnesses are still sold (the harness goes over the babies head and fastens between the legs), but I find it is very difficult to properly restrain a child in one. Skip it.
  • A front adjuster. You want to be able to tighten and loosen the harness from the front of the seat. Some carseat models are still sold that are adjusted from the back, which is very awkward.
  • EPS or EPP foam. Peel back the cover of the carseat near the top of the carseat. If you see a layer of foam that feels similar to the foam in bicycle helmets, you're in good shape. Seats with this layer of foam lessen the impact of the child's head and body against the seat in a crash.
  • Built in lock-offs. On the base of the carseat, it is really convenient to have built in lock offs for your seatbelt. These are useful in several different situations.
OK. So that being said, here are a few of my favorite infant seats. I've classified them from lowest in cost to highest. Unless stated otherwise in the description, all of these seats have the features I mentioned above.

Suitable for infants from 5-22 lbs and 29".

What I Like: This is the old faithful of infant seats. There are tons of cute covers, the seats fit babies nicely, and the base has an adjustable foot so you can usually avoid the noodle to get your 45 degree angle with a newborn.

What I Don't Like: I don't love how the snugride base installs in cars with seat belts that lock at the retractor (if you pull your belt all the way out and let it retract slowly and there is a clicking sound, your belt locks at the retractor). Because there are no built in lock offs, the base can tilt over time when the retractor tightens. There are easy fixes for this, it's just an annoyance. Also, there are many versions of this seat sold under the same name, so you'll want to double check that each have the features you want.

The price: You can often find these seats for under $100 if you do your research well.

Graco Snugride 32

Suitable for children from 5-32 lbs and up to 32"

What I Like: This seat, and the seat it is replacing, the Graco Safeseat, are the solution to many parents issues with babies outgrowing infant seats before the parents are ready to make the leap to a convertible. This seat will realistically get most kids to 1 year of age. The base has great built in lock offs which make installation very easy.

What I Don't Like: These seats are bigger and bulkier by necessity; they have to fit bigger kids. I don't know if you'll actually want to be lugging your 20-30 lb infant around in one of these, unless you're using it as weight training practice. However,if you have a big baby, they can be worth it. (For instance, Jace outgrew his infant seat at 4 months. One of these would have been great for him).

The price: I've seen these seats ranging from $130 t0 $180, depending on features. Remember for the extra money you'll most likely be getting extra time to use the seat.

Suitable for infants from birth-22 lbs and 29"

What I Like: Combi infant seats can be a little finicky, but they deserve a spot on this list because they are narrow and lightweight, making them nice for small cars or three across situations. The Shuttle also has an anti-rebound bar, which is a feature I really like. It stops the car seat from rebounding against the vehicle seat in a crash.

What I Don't Like: The Shuttle's anti rebound bar is connected to the infant seat itself, which can be a little awkward...however, it is a nice feature in that even when the seat is installed without the base you benefit from the anti rebound bar. The Shuttle also has a puzzle buckle, meaning you have to join the buckle tongues together before inserting them into the buckle. Some people love that style buckle...I'm not one of them.

The Price: I'm seeing it mostly between $130 and $150.

Suitable for infants from 4-22 or 4-30 lbs respectively and 30" for both models, the main difference in the two models is the weight limit. The original keyfit has a 22 lb weight limit and the keyfit 30 has a 30 lb weight limit. However, the shells are similar if not identical, so if you can get a good deal on the original, I would go for that.

What I Like: This seat is insanely easy to install, with great push-button latch connectors that make it really easy to install and remove, fits newborns very well, and is very easy to use and adjust. It comes with a really great infant insert for when the babies are small, and is known as a great seat for preemies as it is rated for 4 lbs and up and fits little ones fabulously.

What I Don't Like: Nothing too bad, but I don't think the Keyfit30 is necessarily worth the extra money. Truthfully I think both seats are going to be outgrown by height around the same time, unless you have a short and chunky baby. That being said, there is a very small price difference between them these days, so it might be worth the extra $10 or $20 for the peace of mind it offeres to have the higher weight limit.

The price: I've seen them ranging from $169 to $189 depending on the model.

This is Britax's newly redesigned infant seat. It is suitable for children from 4-30 lbs and 32". Britax generally does a good job of putting out very well thought out, high quality seats that are easy to use correctly.

What I Like: I love the anti rebound bar, which acts similarly to the rear facing tether in the Britax convertible seats, keeping the infant seat from rebounding into the vehicle seat in a crash. I also like how easily the harness can be adjusted, simply by adjusting the Side Impact headwings, which are also a great feature. It has the push-button LATCH connectors and several other high quality features.

What I don't Like: This is a relatively pricy seat, and it's heavy.

The Price: $229

So there you have it...five seats I recommend. Of course, it's easier to recommend particular seats when I know...well, the particulars of your situation, so feel free to fill me in! I have listed five seats out of many infant seats on the market, so don't assume because I haven't mentioned one that it's not just fine. These are just some of my favorites.

Next up...convertible seats!
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