The vehicle safety journey for most kids starts in an infant car seat. These seats are perfect for newborn bodies, and they’re very convenient for mom and dad too. The car seats can be removed from the bases. So they can be easily towed around, moved to another car, or even attached to a stroller. During the infant stage, these car seats are a lifesaver! 

However, when is it time to move on? How do you know when to switch from an infant car seat to a convertible? When is my baby too big for an infant car seat? When is your baby no longer considered an “infant” according to car seat manufacturers? With so many car seat misconceptions out there, we’re here to set the record straight and give you a clear guide to infant car seat graduation! Here’s when to transition from an infant car seat to a convertible seat: 

When To Transition From Infant Car Seat 

To get started, let’s review the car seat journey. First, a child is in a rear-facing convertible until they reach the age of about 4 (many start out with an infant seat and then transition to the convertible seat). The American Academy of Pediatrics clarifies a child should ride in a rear-facing for as long as possible. Then, they move to a forward-facing seat with a harness until somewhere between five and seven. 

Finally, they transition to a belt-positioning booster seat that utilizes the vehicle’s lap belt and shoulder belt instead of a harness. Your kids will move to these types of seats after they outgrow their forward-facing harness. They will stay there until they can pass the five-step test to use just the vehicle seat belt (around 11 or 12). At this point, they’ve been through all types of car seats and can likely ride safely without an extra device.

This all may seem simple enough, but we all know that not every 5-year-old or 7-year-old is built the same. A simple rule of thumb that says, “move your child up at this age,” just isn’t sufficient. In fact, every car seat manufacturer has specifications within their manual that account for different body types. These criteria determine where your kiddo is on the child passenger safety journey.  

Car Seat Progression eBook

Take the guesswork out of graduating from one seat to the next with our Car Seat Progression eBook. Children ride in car seats or boosters for, on average, 10-12 years! From infant seat to rear-facing for years to forward facing to the booster stage and finally riding with just a seatbelt, the car seat safety journey is long! As your child grows, take it slow to best protect in the event of a car crash.

Why Your Kid will be in a Car Seat for 10+ Years

So, for today, we’re clarifying when you move out of the infant car seat. But, for more information on when your child will graduate from their other car seats, check out these posts: 

The child has outgrown the weight limit.

This is one of the main indications your child is ready for the next car seat stage. Most infant car seats have a max weight between 30-35 pounds. Though some have a weight limit of only 22 lbs. You’ll need to check your car seat instruction manual to find the right numbers. But if your child is at a higher weight than that limit, it’s time to move up. 

But here’s a spoiler: it’s really rare for a baby to outgrow their infant car seat by reaching the weight limit! They’ll almost always outgrow this stage by one of the other criteria when there are still pounds to go before that weight max. So let’s take a look at those other limits.

The child has maxed out the height limit. 

If a child reaches the max height limit, they’ll have to move up as well. Usually, the max height for an infant car seat is between 30-32 inches. But some are as low as 29 inches. And there are a couple of infant car seats out there that can last all the way to 35 inches tall. Again, check the car seat manual to be sure. Like we mentioned above, almost every baby will reach their car seat’s height limit before they reach the weight limit. And once they reach that height limit, it’s time to move up!

There is less than one inch between your child’s head and the top of the seat.

Curiously, your child can be below the infant car seat weight and height limit but still be too big for their infant car seat. This is because overall height and torso height are different things. Watch this video for clarification, but essentially it means a baby’s midsection may be too tall for their seat. 

For maximum head injury protection, we want our rear-facing children’s heads to be completely contained within the protective shell of their car seat. And to account for movement during a crash, most rear-facing car seats require one inch of clearance between the top of baby’s head and the top edge of their car seat shell (or adjustable headrest, usually whichever is taller). So keep an eye on your little one’s head room! If that noggin is nearing the top edge of their infant car seat, set a one-inch-thick board book on top of their head to measure how much space they have. If it’s one inch or less, it’s time to move up — even if your child is still below the height and weight maximums of their car seat!

(As always, there are a couple of exceptions: some seats require a little more clearance than one inch. And a few seats allow the child’s head to grow all the way to the top of the car seat shell as long as it doesn’t go over. Check your seat’s manual for specifics!)

The infant seat with the child inside is too heavy to carry. 

There’s one more important milestone that can let you know it’s time to graduate from the infant car seat: your own preference as the parent! Infant car seats are a major convenience factor in the newborn days, but that convenience doesn’t last forever. At some point, that infant car seat gets hefty and annoying to lug around. Or maybe your baby looks or acts uncomfortable in their infant car seat, even if they’re still well within all the limits. Whatever the reason, it’s totally okay to move up to a rear-facing convertible seat. Yes, even before they outgrow the infant car seat!

So when the car seat becomes too heavy to carry, that’s a good sign that it’s time to move to a convertible car seat. Your child can still sit safely rear-facing, but no more lugging around a big car seat and a growing baby. Most parents prefer to wait until their baby can sit independently before they make this change. Simply because the infant car seat is usually the easiest way to navigate the world before a baby can sit up in a high chair, grocery cart, or stroller seat without more support.

Oh, and here’s another secret: if you’re tired of carrying the infant car seat around, but baby still has growing room, you can just leave the car seat clicked into the base and remove baby like you would if they had a convertible car seat. This way you can continue to use the seat as long as your child hasn’t reached any of the 3 limits. This can buy you some time to research and select the best convertible car seat to meet your family’s needs!

A child must move out of an infant car seat once they’ve reached the height limit, weight limit, or when there’s less than 1 inch from the top of the seat and your child’s head. 

If your child has hit any of these milestones, congratulations! Moving to a convertible car seat in the rear-facing mode is the next step. You can use our buying kit here to find the best seat for your next stage. Then, use our guide for safely storing your infant car seat if you want to store the seat for the next baby. If not, get it recycled!

To learn more about car seat safety, browse our other blog and Instagram posts to find the answers to all your questions. It’s our mission to provide readers with the facts on car seat safety! For now, do a quick evaluation of that infant car seat and determine if it’s still right for you.

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