How to choose a car seat for your baby

A car seat is one of the most essential items you’ll buy for your baby. Although it obviously doesn’t bear thinking about, they are, literally designed to keep them safe in the event of a crash).  Problem is, with so many options on the market, buying a car seat can seem overwhelming AF (and browsing for cute swaddles and clothes seem way more appealing). 

To help, we consulted Yvette Picthall, of Baby Village, for advice on how to choose the right car seat for your family.

Types of car seat

First up, it’s recommended that young children are in a rear-facing car seat for at least 12 months, or until they reach the height and weight limits set by the seat’s manufacturer. This is because rear-facing car seats provide extra protection for your little one’s head, neck, and spine if a crash does happen. Once they grow out of a rear-facing seat, they’ll move into a forward-facing seat until about age seven and then into a booster seat until about age 12.  

This being the case, there are three main types of car seat that are used for young ones: 

  • Infant car seat
    Known as a capsule in Australia and the UK, this is for newborns and small babies. It can only be used rear-facing and is portable, so you can remove the seat from the car and attach it to your pram, or transfer your sleeping baby in it from the car to the house. An infant car seat can only be used for a short period of time before your baby grows out of it (around six to 12 months, says Yvette), at which point you’d need to buy a bigger seat.

  • Convertible car seat
    This is a seat that can convert from rear-facing to forward-facing as your child grows. It can be used from birth, and its size means children can stay in the rear-facing position for as long as possible. 

  • All-in-one car seat
    This is the ultimate ‘buy now, use for years’ option. It can change from a rear-facing seat to a forward-facing seat and eventually to a booster seat. Like the convertible car seat, it can be used from birth and its size means your child can stay rear-facing longer. 

Tips for selecting a car seat

Now that you know what’s out there, here are four pieces of expert advice to help you choose the right one for you.

1. Make sure it fits your car

Car seats, particularly those that are rear-facing, can take up a sh*tload of space. No matter how big your car is, you’ll likely need to push the passenger seat quite far forward to fit the car seat in and ensure it’s in the semi-reclined position  your baby needs to keep their airway open when using a rear-facing car seat. 

Happily, most stores have tester models available. Yvette highly recommends trying the car seat in your car, in the rear-facing position, before you commit. “The car seat is going to be in that rear-facing position for at least 12 months, and you don’t want your passengers sitting in the glove box,” cautions Yvette. 

2. Decide which features you want 

Car seats come in a wide range of prices. The difference in budget, Yvette explains, comes from the car seat’s features. “All car seats are made from a fiberglass shell, and all have to pass the same safety standards. But generally, the cheaper seats will be made from a cheaper fabric, like polyester, and they may not have as much padding around the child’s head, for example.” 

So while cost is a common consideration when buying baby gear (because really, who isn’t on a budget?!), understanding the car seat’s features and determining what’s important to you will help you decide what to spend, and therefore what car seat to choose. 

A quick note on budgeting: buying second-hand is often a great way to save money when having a baby. However, buying a used car seat can be tricky as you may not know its history, or if it meets safety guidelines. If you’ve got the budget for it, buying a car seat new, from a reputable store, can help give you peace of mind.

3. Pick your stroller first

This is key if you’re going down the infant car seat route, because most can be attached to a stroller… Yvette recommends picking your stroller first. This way you’ll know exactly which car seats will fit from the outset, which will help you narrow down your choice. 

4. Try before you buy 

Make sure you can actually use whatever car seat you buy. For example, Yvette explains, infant car seats can be heavy even without a child in, which may rule it out if you’re not super strong. Plus, she notes, they’re not always easy for left-handers to use (who knew?!). Play around with the car seat before buying to help identify any red flags before purchase. 

At the end of the day, the best car seat for your little one is the one that’s most appropriate for their age and size. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has a handy car seat finder to help you work out what’s suitable. If you’re in Australia, head here for car seat comparisons and here for recommendations if you’re in the UK. 

We hope this has helped, mama. You can scurry back to researching nursery decor and baby shower ideas now! (Much more enjoyable, we know.) 

Read next: We asked an expert what to look for when choosing a stroller

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