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A baby car seat is one of the key purchases you’ll make on your journey to parenthood. It can seem like a simple one until you realize just how many options you have and all the various features listed in the product description. You may find yourself thinking, “Well that all sounds great, but what does it mean?”

With that in mind, here’s all you need to know about choosing an infant car seat and Healthline’s picks for the best ones.

An infant car seat is a rear-facing seat that’s designed to provide the safest car ride possible for your precious cargo.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), you should use a rear-facing infant car seat from birth until your child exceeds the maximum height or weight for their car seat. Usually, these limits are around 32 inches or 30 to 35 pounds, but in some convertible car seats, children can rear face up to 50 pounds and 49 inches tall.

It’s ideal to keep your little one rear-facing as long as possible, even if their feet hit the seat.

Most children are ready to switch to a front-facing car seat between 2 and 4 years — but again, for safety purposes, the later, the better.

Designed specifically for infants and young babies, infant car seats face the rear of the vehicle. They click in and out of a base that stays in your car, and most can also attach to compatible strollers.

Convertible car seats are made to be rear-facing to begin, then can convert to a forward-facing seat once your child exceeds the rear-facing size limits. You should be able to use a convertible car seat from the time your child is a newborn until they outgrow a front-facing car seat.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says children should stay in a front-facing car seat until at least 5 years of age.

Sometimes convertible car seats also convert into a booster seat, which is the next phase in your child’s car seat progression. Booster seats should be used until your child can safely wear a seatbelt (when they’re around 4 feet 9 inches tall, around 9 to 12 years).

With loads of infant car seat options on the market today, it’s helpful to narrow your search. When deciding which type of infant car seat is best for you, there are a few things to think about:

  • size and shape of your vehicle
  • size and weight of the seat
  • how many car seats you’ll have
  • how often you’ll use it
  • stroller compatibility
  • ease of installation
  • ease of cleaning
  • safety features
  • price

Again, the AAP recommends that children use a rear-facing car seat for as long as possible — from birth until they exceed the maximum height or weight of that particular seat. Depending on the seat, that can be between age 2 to 4 years, but the older, the better.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration created this fact sheet that can help determine how long a child should stay in a rear-facing car seat.

It’s important to not rush the progression of these stages, as your little one is safest in the car seat that fits them the most securely.

It’s crucial that you follow the manufacturer’s instructions when installing your car seat and car seat base.

Some seats use the LATCH (lower anchors and tethers for children) system, while others rely on a seatbelt. The AAP has deemed both methods as equally safe, so long as your car’s seatbelt locks.

Especially as your child gets older, it’s important to note that there are weight restrictions for using the LATCH system. Generally, the combined weight of the seat and the child cannot exceed 65 pounds.

The various models and special features of infant car seats can be mind-boggling. We’ve selected the best infant car seats in a variety of categories. Our research is based on product reviews, ratings, and customer feedback — that way you can hit the road instead of poring over endless options.

Keep in mind that certified car seats of all prices have undergone rigorous testing to ensure they are safe. So don’t think that by buying a cheaper model you’re compromising the safety of your precious one.

Here are the criteria Healthline looks for in infant car seats:

  • Federal safety standards. All car seats meet federal safety standards (all car seats sold in the United States have to meet these requirements). This ensures that the restraint system is safe, the product comes with a manual for basic use instructions, and that the manufacturer’s name and contact info is listed as well as the date it was manufactured.
  • Made with sturdy materials. We chose car seats made with sturdy materials and ones that enhance impact protection.
  • TSA-approved for air travel. All car seats are approved by the Federal Aviation Administration for use on airlines.
  • Price. We included a range of price options to suit all budgets.
  • Ease of installation. One of the main reasons that car seats fail is from incorrect installation. So a car seat that’s straightforward to install correctly is a big plus.
  • Ease of use. Our car seats have positive reviews from parents who find them easy and convenient.
  • Comfort. We chose car seats that are not only safe, but that will keep your little one comfy too.

Price guide

  • $ = under $150
  • $$ = $150–$300
  • $$$ = over $300

Best overall infant car seat

Chicco KeyFit 30 Infant Car Seat

  • Price: $$
  • Weight limit: 30 pounds
  • Height limit: 30 inches
  • Seat weight: 9.6 pounds without base
  • Stoller compatibility: compatible with Chicco strollers
  • Pros: ability to recline car seat; extra head support
  • Cons: some customers note seat is heavy

This seat from Chicco hits the mark in terms of ease of use, affordability, and quality. The design includes a spring-loaded leveling foot so you can recline it at the correct angle, and the seat is well cushioned and provides extra head support. You can unzip the canopy to provide extra ventilation and it connects to most Chicco strollers.

Several customers note that this seat is on the heavy side. However, it’s without a doubt a parent favorite in the car seat department.

Best infant car seat for small cars

Britax B-Safe Gen2 Infant Car Seat

  • Price: $$
  • Weight limit: 35 pounds
  • Height limit: 32 inches
  • Seat weight: 10.9 pounds without base
  • Stroller compatibility: compatible with Britax single strollers without an adaptor and other leading brands with an adaptor
  • Pros: easy to clean; good air ventilation
  • Cons: some customers say it’s trickier to install; heavy

Easy to use and install, this car seat is especially ideal if you have a compact car as it’s on the narrow side. The mesh fabric allows for air ventilation so your baby stays cool, plus it’s easy to clean. It has an excellent safety rating and includes two layers of side-impact protective foam, a steel frame, and a base that absorbs impacts.

You can use this seat without the base, although parents say this is a little trickier installation-wise. Folks also say this seat is super sturdy but also considerably heavy.

Best infant car seat with extra safety features

UPPAbaby MESA Infant Car Seat

  • Price: $$$
  • Weight limit: 35 pounds
  • Height limit: 32 inches
  • Seat weight: 9.9 pounds without base
  • Stroller compatibility: compatible with Vista and Cruz UPPAbaby strollers without adaptor, as well as the Minu stroller with an adaptor; reversible on the stroller, so baby can face you or face away
  • Pros: easy to install; includes a light confirmation once car seat is locked in
  • Cons: some reviewers thought the seat was heavy

Created using high quality materials without flame-retardant chemicals (!), this seat is one of the safest options available. The base includes a light that provides visual confirmation that you’ve successfully locked in the seat, with or without the LATCH system.

It’s also easy to install with or without the base, which makes it convenient if you use public transportation.

This seat has great reviews, but a few folks complain that there’s a large label right on the seat where the baby’s back rests. Several customers also mentioned that the seat is quite heavy.

Best infant car seat for travel

Doona Car Seat and Stroller

  • Price: $$$
  • Weight limit: 35 pounds
  • Height limit: 32 inches
  • Seat weight: 16.5 pounds
  • Stroller compatibility: product converts directly into a stroller
  • Pros: convertible; certified for air travel
  • Cons: heavy; no storage space

If you’re a frequent traveler, consider investing in this car seat — it easily converts into a stroller (the only one of its kind!). You can also retract the wheels, place the seat on the floor, and use it as a rocking chair.

The stroller is small and easy to maneuver even if you only have one hand free, which is convenient when you’re navigating crowds or have your hands full. It also folds down easily and attaches to the car seat base, which you can leave in the car.

Since it’s certified for air travel, you’ll have the option of bringing the seat onboard a plane instead of checking it at the gate. As an added bonus, the removable fabric makes it a cinch to wash.

Some reviewers mention their child was not comfortable in the seat. Others mention their child outgrew it fairly quickly. A few reviewers note the seat was too heavy.

Easiest infant car seat to clean

Maxi-Cosi Mico 30 Infant Car Seat

  • Price: $$
  • Weight limit: 30 pounds
  • Height limit: 32 inches
  • Seat weight: 8.11 pounds without base
  • Stroller compatibility: compatible with Maxi-Cosi Quinny stroller and other brands with adaptors
  • Pros: easy to clean; stain-resistant fabric; lightweight
  • Cons: some reviewers mention straps are difficult to adjust; sun visor is flimsy

With messes and accidents an inevitable part of the baby journey, an easy-to-clean car seat is key. This option features self-wicking, stain-resistant fabric on the seat pad, which you can either clean using a damp towel or put in the washing machine and dryer.

Parents say this lightweight option is easy to carry or to move in and out of vehicles. Safety features include patented technology with side-impact protection to keep your child’s head safe. It also has a stability leg that prevents rotation to protect the head and neck from excess movement.

Best budget-friendly infant car seat

Evenflo LiteMax 35 Infant Car Seat

  • Price: $
  • Weight limit: 35 pounds
  • Height limit: 32 inches
  • Seat weight: 10 pounds
  • Stroller compatibility: compatible with Evenflo strollers
  • Pros: lightweight; removable pads
  • Cons: seat canopy is not adjustable

A smart option if you’re looking for an affordable car seat with excellent safety ratings, this lightweight seat is easy to install, load, and unload. The pads are simple to remove for easy machine washing and the seat has four reclining options and a pillow that protects your baby’s head from excess movement.

On the negative end, several reviewers mentioned that it’s not possible to adjust the seat canopy. One person found that the design of the handle made it difficult to carry the seat on their arm.

Best lightweight infant car seat

Graco SnugRide SnugLock 35 Infant Car Seat

  • Price: $
  • Weight limit: 35 pounds
  • Height limit: 32 inches
  • Seat weight: 8.5 pounds without base
  • Stroller compatibility: compatible with Graco strollers with Click Connect Technology (the brands one-click attachment system); not compatible with other brands
  • Pros: lightweight; easy to install
  • Cons: not comfortable

Coming in at around 8.5 pounds without the base, this car seat is a great option if you plan on carrying the seat long distances, have multiple babies to carry, or simply want the ease of a lightweight carrier. It also easily connects to any Graco stroller.

It’s simple to install and adjusts to four different positions to suit your baby’s size and comfort level. Parents say the harness is secure and easy to adjust, but it’s not the comfiest seat in terms of materials or cushion. Another consideration: Only the carrier portion is approved for air travel, not the base.

Easiest infant car seat to install

Nuna PIPA Infant Car Seat & Base

  • Price: $$$
  • Weight limit: 32 pounds
  • Height limit: 32 inches
  • Seat weight: 8 pounds without base
  • Stroller compatibility: compatible with all Nuna strollers and select strollers
  • Pros: lets you know when installation is correct; flame-resistant fabric
  • Cons: high price point

The Nuna PIPA seat features a safety system that lets you know the installation is correct. You can install it with or without the base, making it a city-friendly option for parents who primarily use ride-sharing services or taxis.

It features quality micro-knit fabric that’s flame-resistant, yet free of fire retardant chemicals. It’s also Greenguard Gold certified. With a Nuna or Maxi-Cosi adaptor, you can connect it to several stroller options. If you want to shave off a few extra pounds to carry, check out the lighter (and, of course, more expensive) Nuna PIPA lite lx.

Best infant car seat for twins

Baby Trend EZ Flex Loc Infant Car Seat

  • Price: $
  • Weight limit: 30 pounds
  • Height limit: 30 inches
  • Seat weight: 7.7 pounds without base
  • Stroller compatibility: details listed on their website
  • Pros: uniquely designed handle for easy carrying
  • Cons: heavy; some reviewers say it’s not sturdy

If you plan on carrying more than one kiddo at a time, this is the car seat for you. It’s lightweight and narrow while still being sturdy enough to offer proper protection, and the price is right for doubling up.

Easy to install, the EZ Flex Loc features a triangle-shaped handle so you can switch between hands or hold it at different angles. On the negative side, one reviewer was unsatisfied with the lack of recline options.

What infant car seat is the safest?

While all car seats have to meet certain minimum safety requirements to be sold in the United States and are all considered safe, some score better on these tests than others. The Chicco KeyFit 30 has scored the best on crash tests commissioned by the government as well as other third-party researchers.

It’s also important to consider ease-of-use ratings when shopping for an infant car seat, as many injuries occur due to improper installation rather than how the car seat is manufactured.

Should a baby car seat go behind the passenger or driver?

If possible, it’s recommended that you install the seat in the rear middle position. Of course, not all cars have this option, and having multiple children in your car at the same time also makes this impossible. In those cases, the rear passenger side is preferred because left (driver’s) side impact car crashes are more common than right side crashes.

What type of car seat is best for a newborn?

A rear-facing car seat is always the safest option for newborns. You can purchase convertible car seats that allow rear-facing when your baby is just born that later convert to front-facing when your child is big enough. You can also purchase infant car seats designed to be rear-facing only, as these are meant for newborns.

Can you use an all-in-one car seat for a newborn?

Yes. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, all-in-one car seats, also called 3-in-1s or 4-in-1s, are great for children as they grow. These seats can change from rear-facing to forward-facing, then a booster as soon as your child reaches the age limit.

To check for height and weight limits, make sure to refer to your car seat manufacturer’s guides and information. The consumer-based safety organization Car Seats for the Littles also mention that all-in-one car seats are great for your child as they grow.

Is it OK for my child’s feet to touch the back of the seat?

Yes, this is still safe. The most important factor is that your child uses a rear-facing seat until they are a minimum of 2 years old, even if that means their feet touch the back of the seat or their legs are bent. Children should face the rear as long as possible.