What type of baby car seat do you need?
Last week I brought you my buyer’s guide to strollers. Since car seats go hand-in-hand with strollers (in many cases, literally!), I thought I would write a complementary post all about what type of car seat you need for your baby.
While choosing a stroller is largely a matter of convenience and lifestyle, choosing a car seat is a matter of safety for your baby.
If you’re new to car seats, as I was when I had my daughter, this article will explain what you need to know about different kinds of car seats.
Put your coffee in your cup holder, and let’s go for a ride! (Oh and by the way, there are literally no free stock photos of baby seats on the internet. So until I can afford a pro account somewhere, please enjoy these cute but marginally applicable stock photos! Maybe I’ll have to have another baby and take some of my own pics!)
The different types of baby car seats you may need
Car seat specs and requirements may vary by country. Below are the 3 most common types of car seats.
Always remember to read the label before you purchase a car seat to make sure it meets the safety standards where you live.
You will need a car seat that is adapted to your child’s weight.
Rear-facing baby car seat
For: Newborns and babies
When you bring your newborn home from the hospital, you’re going to need a rear-facing car seat. This means your baby will not face the road with you; she will face the back of the car. In the event of a crash, your child is best protected when facing the rear.
Rear-facing car seats are small, and the baby is slightly reclined when harnessed in. This position helps when babies cannot yet sit upright by themselves. Still, remember to take a break about every 2 hours of your baby being in the car seat. This is known as the 2-hour rule, and it’s to protect the development of the spine as well as to ensure proper air flow to the lungs.
You can choose to install the rear-facing car seat in the front or in the back. Remember, the safest place for children to ride is in the back seat in the middle, where they are least exposed to impacts in the event of a crash.
However, depending on your car’s design, the middle back seat might not be ideal for installing your baby’s car seat. This was the case for my car when I had my daughter. (I drove a 1995 Renault Clio, a very small 4-door car.)
Because of the way my shitty car was designed, the car seat actually fit best up front on the passenger side, where it felt most secure. If you decide to go this route, too, make sure your passenger airbags (front and side) are turned OFF. When inflated, they can cause brain injury or death to your baby.
I will say that it was very convenient and pleasant for me to drive with my baby next to me. We were able to see each other at all times.
Generally, your baby will grow out of a rear-facing car seat when she is able to sit upright on her own, but please check the car seat manufacturer information for the weight limits to know exactly when, for safety reasons, you need to move on to the next category car seat (see forward-facing, below).
All-in-one baby car seat
For: Newborns, babies, and infants
All-in-one car seats are convertible. Start with the rear-facing installation for your newborn. Then, as she grows, she will need to sit more upright and face forward.
Simply adjust your all-in-one car seat according to the manufacturer’s instructions, and you can reinstall it facing forward—but never on the passenger side. It’s time to install your baby in the back of the car if you haven’t already.
If your middle seat isn’t ideal for a car seat, either side is fine. I personally chose the side opposite to mine because I could see my daughter better, and I didn’t have her feet kicking me in the back!
As you can see, all-in-one car seats are a nice option if you want to make one purchase instead of buying a newborn rear-facing car seat, then a forward-facing one.
Forward-facing baby car seat
Best for: infants and small children
Once your baby has grown out of her rear-facing car seat and can sit upright, she is ready for a forward-facing seat.
This means that if your rear-facing car seat is not also an all-in-one car seat, you’ll need to purchase a second car seat to size up.
Again, always follow the weight instructions of the manufacturer to know when you need to change your baby’s car seat.
And remember, the forward-facing car seat should be installed in the back of your car.
The forward-facing baby car seats will still cradle your baby’s head. It’s not until your child is in school that she will graduate to a booster seat, which can also have a high back or none at all. But I won’t get into the booster seats in this article.
Accessories for your baby’s car seat
Cause who doesn’t like to accessorize?
For the ultimate convenience, get yourself a detachable base for your car seat. Install the base in your car with your seatbelt, and your baby’s car seat simply clips in. Then secure the seat belt around the rear-facing car seat. This is great when your car seat also clips into the chassis of your stroller.
It’s what I had for C, but actually not for convenience’s sake. When I had purchased her car seat, I tried to install it in my old, shitty car—but it wouldn’t fit! It was too big for the short seatbelts! I did some research online and discovered that the same brand, Peg-Pérego, also manufactured a detachable base. Installing this was perfect, because it actually used up less of the seatbelt’s length so that I could install everything without making any illegal and unsafe modifications to my car…
If you want to get REALLY fancy, you can use an Isofix base. Isofix is a feature of newer car models; check for the labels in the back seat of your car. With your baby harnessed in the car seat, you can then clip the car seat directly into the built-in Isofix base without then having to pull a seatbelt around the car seat.
If your baby is installed in a rear-facing car seat in the back of your car, consider getting a mirror to sit near the headrest. When you look in your rearview mirror and into your baby’s mirror, you should be able to see her.
Another item you might want to get for a baby installed in the back is a shade. Get one for both sides of the car to prevent lots of direct sunlight to fall on your baby. Better for her eyes and skin!
How many baby car seats do you need?
If you have a car, and you plan on transporting your baby around in it, then you need a car seat.
To be sure you are ready for your first trip, purchase your car seat ahead of time. For most parents, this means before your baby is born, because her first car trip will be coming home from the hospital.
Then, you must remember to install the car seat before you give birth. I really must insist on this point. Make sure you know how to install it, and make sure you know that it fits in your car, and where. This is how I knew that our car seat would not work in the back seat in the middle, and that I needed a detachable base to work with my car’s seat belts.
Had I discovered those things only on the day I was due to come home from the hospital, we would have had a problem. Avoid all that stress by installing everything ahead of time!
Why would you need 2 car seats?
If you have 2 cars, installing a car seat in each is soooooo handy. Trust me!
In C’s first year, Papa and I were both working our day jobs. I dropped off C at the nanny’s house on my way to work, since Papa had already left. Then, Papa was first to finish his day at work, so he picked up C at the nanny’s. But if the car seat was still in my car, what car seat was he using to transport C?
The answer: the second car seat!
So take some time in advance to think about the child taxi situation in your family. Who is dropping off and who is picking up? What’s the timing?
If you want to stick with just the one car seat, or maybe can’t afford a second one (they are expensive!), then my suggestion would be to either leave the car seat at childcare or some other middle point (knowing you’ll have to take it out and reinstall it between 2 cars constantly).
The right type of baby car seat you need
So now you know about the 3 main types of car seats for babies and young children.
Always check the manufacturer’s labeling to make sure your car seat is appropriate for your baby’s weight.
Finally, remember to install the car seat in your vehicle(s) well before you need to put your baby in it for a drive. Make sure that the car seat fits securely, preferably in the back middle seat, and that the air bags are off on the front passenger side if necessary.
As with strollers, try to go to the store to see the car seats in person and speak to a sales associate. They will be able to explain in-depth about the car seats they offer.
Getting ready to welcome bébé? Check out my other articles here on Mamas Café Society:
- Buyer’s Guide to Strollers—Car seats are a matter of safety, but strollers are a matter of convenience. I break down the 5 main types of strollers so you can figure out which one you need!
- All the clothes you need for your first baby—If you are confused about the jargon and sizing for baby clothes, I explain everything for you right here! Get equipped with enough of the right stuff.
- The Complete Guide to Cloth Diapers—If you know you want to use diapers, why not check out reusable cloth ones? I break it all down for you in my complete guide here.
- Maternity Bag Essentials—Don’t forget anything on your way to the hospital! Now that you know more about what baby clothes you need, are you sure you know what you need for yourself?
Let me know in the comments if you found this article about baby car seats helpful!-Jessica
About the Author
Jessica is an American expat living the dream in Normandy. She is wife to a French hubby and mama to a Franco-American daughter, born in 2018, and one whippet. Passionate about all stages of writing, this Francophile created her blog in 2020 to help others navigate motherhood with a focus on conscious parenting and bilingual parenting. Bonne lecture !
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Other helpful resources
- Pregnancy Series: She’s here! M’s birth story
- Pregnancy Series: Month 9
- Pregnancy Series: Month 8
- Pregnancy Series: Month 7
- Pregnancy Series: Month 6
- Pregnancy Series: Month 5
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