When you have a baby on the way, you’re likely bursting with excitement as you consider things you’ll need! You know what the take-home outfit will be, how you’ll design the nursery, and what personalized blanket would be cutest. The shopping endeavor that could cause a little anxiety is selecting a baby car seat. 

Car seats are the most important purchase you’ll make for your baby. This is one of the few products that directly affects your child’s safety. We know the car seat shopping experience can be overwhelming and confusing because no two seats seem to be alike!

So below we’ll walk you through how to choose a car seat for your newborn. Specifically, our top tips for choosing a car seat for your precious new baby! If at the end of the article, you’re still a little lost or just want hands-on help to find your perfect car seat match, make sure you check our course and buying kit for infant car seats. 

How To Choose a Car Seat For Your Newborn

You know that your baby needs to ride in a car seat with a high safety standard and you’ve likely seen hundreds of car seats and a lot of jargon that you may not understand. 

Buying a car seat isn’t something that can be put off forever either. Hospitals require you to have a car seat to take your baby home. If a hundred choices, the time crunch or the volume of research stresses you out, have no fear! Follow these tips, and you’ll be one step closer to choosing and using a car seat that is ready when your baby is!

Refresh on Safety Requirements 

Is side impact protection really that important? What are the standards from the highway traffic safety administration? The American Association for Pediatrics regularly updates the safety recommendations on car seats! Researchers are continually doing studies on car seat practices and collecting more crash data, so periodically the recommendations change. 

If you’re a first-time mom, or you haven’t had a newborn for a while, before you click those harness straps, definitely take a look at the updated recommendations to ensure you’re providing the best for your new babe!  Child passenger safety technicians are your best resource for the most up-to-date information on best practices and practical information. You can find one local to you here.

In this sample lesson from our Infant Course, you will learn why car seats and their proper use, such as using a rear-facing car seat, are so critical to keeping kids safe. Want to learn how to keep your child safe on every ride? Check out our Infant Course or Convertible Course on the how-tos of installation, harnessing, and troubleshooting.

What happens in a car crash?

Consider Whether New or Used is Right For You

Are you thrifty? There are so many baby items you can get for much cheaper than retail by doing some looking online or hunting at garage sales. The same is true about car seats but understand the risk.

All car seat manufacturers have expiration dates on their seats. You want to make sure you check that expiration date. If it only has a couple of years left and you were hoping to use it with another child down the road, a new seat will probably be better for you. 

Once the seat expires, it’s no longer suitable for use. This is not the area you want to take a risk! If you’re looking for more information, check out our post about why car seats expire.

Additionally, car seats are not suitable for use if they’ve been in a moderate or severe crash. If you’re wondering what a “minor” crash would look like, the National Highway Traffic Safety Association has a great resource here.

The problem with purchasing a car seat from a stranger is that you can’t be sure of the car seat’s history. And it’s history matters! If a used car seat financially makes sense for you, we recommend buying only from trusted friends and family. You need to know details about the treatment and history of the car seat.

More on new versus used car seats here.

Review Your Car Model and Available Space

Car seats come in different shapes and sizes. And certain ones will fit better in your vehicle and space than others. If you’re driving a compact car with limited back seat room, make sure you consider the recline angles needed to achieve a proper installation and take measurements to confirm the car seat will fit properly. You’ll also need space to attach anchors and tethers.

If you ride with your seats scooted far back, you’ll need to measure to determine your available space. Since your baby will be rear-facing, they’ll need more of that rear passenger “leg room” space now than when they’re older. 

If you have other children in car seats in the vehicle, you’ll need to think about how their car seats may or may not fit together in your space. A single bench seat with three car seats, for example, will require a slimmer fitting model. 

Always Prioritize Features over Aesthetics

Just like any baby products, sometimes companies grab us with beautiful aesthetics. Even if you really like the color or sleek design, you should always remember that the features are more important. Plus, these seats are going to get grubby quickly and lose the attractive appearance—trading it for smears of dried applesauce and crunched-up crackers. 

Features can include the car seat’s safety, of course. But, it also includes things like washability, newborn fit settings, weight of the seat, etc. These features, more than the appearance, will give you peace during quick trips around town as well as long car rides! 

Give Thought to Cleaning the Seat

As we mentioned earlier, that seat is going to get MESSY as your child grows. From blowouts to snack spills, your car seat will see some grime and stink. You’ll need to clean it, so take your list of top car seats and research the cleaning process for each. 

Some seats include special fabric that resists liquids and wipes clean easily! Others have machine-washable covers and removable inserts. Consider how you’ll clean the car seat before making your pick! 

Weigh the Length of Usefulness vs Convenience

As you’ve been searching car seats, you’ve probably seen a lot of confusing language like ” infant seat”, “convertible seat,” “booster seat,” and “travel system.” Basically, children must ride in proper car seats of some sort until they’re about twelve, according to the NHTSA. So naturally, the type of seat changes as they age.

Some car seats only work for one stage of the car seat journey, while others evolve with your child. An infant car seat has a carrying handle allowing you to easily carry it in and out of the car. Infant car seats also are designed to fit newborn babies well. But, be warned that they likely will only fit your baby until they are around a year old. Though sometimes less depending on their growth!

Each car seat has height and weight limits and once you hit one of those limits, your child will progress to the next car seat stage. After the infant car seat, you will purchase a convertible car seat that will last for YEARS. Your child will ride rear-facing until they reach the limits of that seat in that rear-facing direction and then you will “convert” that car seat to forward-facing mode where they will ride harnessed for a few more years.

While some families choose to start their newborns in a convertible car seat from their very first ride, here at Safe in the Seat we typically recommend an infant seat as your first car seat. We know these seats fit newborns really well and are super convenient for parents! If you do choose to start with a convertible car seat, make sure you choose one that has the proper settings to fit a newborn. We can help you with that here.

What about an all-in-one?

Technically a forever seat can take you from a car seat for a newborn to a car seat forward-facing to a booster seat. But, just because you CAN do something doesn’t mean you should. Check out this video where I compare a forever seat in its final stages with a better alternative to keep your current or future big kid riding safely and confidently.

Why forever isn’t forever

Consider Accessibility of All Users

Who is going to be using this car seat? Are there any limitations to those users? For example, if elderly relatives will frequently use the car seat with your kiddo, you may want to select features like a lighter-weight seat or quick-release latch system. 

If you’ll be going out and about a lot on your own with your baby, you might want a single-button release on your infant car seat handle. Or maybe you’ll want the car seat to turn right into a stroller! Make sure to consider who will use the car seat and what needs they might have.

Contemplate Your Lifestyle

Finally, you’ll want to examine your lifestyle. If you’re someone who will take the baby out every day for errands and excursions, a travel system might be a good fit for you! You won’t have to carry a heavy car seat around or commit to baby-wearing when you have your car seat hooked right into the stroller! 

What about an infant car seat to stroller combination? The Evenflo DualRide has 4 installation methods and can be used with or without the stroller base. The Doona has 3 installation methods for the car seat rear-facing.

This infant seat-to-stroller combination could be a good choice for you if:

✔️ you want to be able to detach the stroller frame from the carrier.
✔️ you want the added safety feature of an anti-rebound bar.
✔️ you’re looking for a base with easy seat belt installation.
✔️ you want to be able to install the seat baseless using European routing.
✔️ you’re looking for a seat that will fit small babies well.
⭐️ BONUS SensorSafe is available on all models.

You may want to reconsider if:

❌ you want a lightweight seat.
❌ you need to fit multiple seats side by side

Evenflo DualRide

Doona and Evenflo DualRide are the only two seats on the market with the unique feature of an infant seat and stroller in one. This car seat review video will compare car seats and detail their similarities and differences to help you choose the best infant car seat for you.

Here are the notable differences:
  • DualRide can detach the stroller portion from the carrier
  • DualRide will fit small babies better
  • DualRide has a higher shell height to fit a baby longer
  • Doona’s wheels are a bit more substantial
  • DualRide’s base has a StrongLock tension arm for easy-to-install car seat
  • DualRide’s stroller handle height is 1.5″ higher
  • Doona has a rethread harness. DualRide’s harness is no-rethread
  • DualRide has buckle tongue holders
  • DualRide has a SensorSafe chest clip
  • Doona is lighter by 3 lbs
  • DualRide’s stroller has a detachable carry-all basket
  • Doona has a parent attachment and cargo basket on some models
Doona vs Evenflo DualRide

Read our full review of the Doona here and the Evenflo Shyft DualRide here.

If you don’t like the bulkiness of a travel system and heavy infant car seat, and instead prefer to place your baby in a cozy wrap or carrier, consider this when choosing your infant car seat as well.  Also, if you are someone who flies often and wants to take your car seat with you on the plane an infant seat with a European belt path might be a feature that is important to you.

The plan to have more children might also sway your decision. Looking at that used car seat might be tempting, but not if it expires before the next baby. And, the car seat that checks all your boxes but is expensive, might actually be worth it if gaining multiple uses. 

Take a moment to visualize how the car seat will impact your day-to-day life now and into the future! 

Newborn Car Seat Insert

While shopping for your new infant car seat, you notice newborn and infant car seat inserts on the shelves. This is an important reminder that using these aftermarket inserts compromises the safety of your car seat. You should only use any inserts that come with your car seat or from the car seat manufacturer (and it’s approved for use with your seat!). Most infant seats will come with inserts that you can remove as your little one grows.

Remember, choosing the right infant car seat is one of the most important decisions you’ll make as a new mom! 

Purchasing a car seat is not something you should take lightly, and because you are here reading these we know you won’t! Each factor of the car seat buying process should be carefully considered to ensure you are purchasing the right car seat for your child in your car for your lifestyle. Once you have made your selection and have it purchased, knowing how to use it properly is the critical next step! Seek out a child passenger safety technician to help you learn all the ins and outs of how to install the car seat. 

In this sample lesson from our Infant Course, you will learn the different types of installation methods for your infant car seat, such as using an infant seat base. Whether you are starting your journey on Team Base or Team No-base, in this lesson you’ll learn about all the possible infant car seat installation methods and how to connect your car seat to a vehicle. Want to learn how to keep your child safe on every ride? Check out our Infant Course on the how-tos of installation, harnessing, and troubleshooting from certified child passenger safety technicians.

Installation methods

We hope this post helped you consider every element of the car seat experience and make a good choice for your family. If you’re still looking for more information to take you all the way from which car seat to buy through how to use it properly, check out our course and buying kit on infant car seats

Meet first-time parents, Jamie and Mike, who are just weeks away from the arrival of their little one.

They used our Car Seat Buying Kits to find their best car seat for newborns. An important part of prepping for the baby is to get the infant seat installed AND practice before the big day. Watch as I put them to the installation test, teach them proper harnessing, and help them make critical adjustments to the car seat for infant to keep their baby safe from the first ride. Expecting? Take this free quiz!

Watch first-time parents install a car seat!

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