Baby is on the way! From slings and cribs to teethers and bibs, there is a lot of equipment to stock up on, but none is more important than your baby’s first car seat. In this guide, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about rear-facing infant car seats, and we’ll help you decide which seat will cradle your most precious cargo.
BABY’S GOTTA FACE BACKWARDS
The first thing to know is that a baby must ride rear-facing in his or her car seat for the first year of life, and generally, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and American Association of Pediatric recommend keeping baby rear-facing until two years old or as long as possible.
Why is rear-facing safer than forward facing? In the event of a car accident, everything in your car will continue traveling forward, including your child! When your child is rear-facing, the motion of their body will press into the car seat, giving their neck and spine the support it needs. If they were to be forward-facing, their body would continue to travel forward where their neck and spine is not supported. This can cause serious bodily harm.
There are some who say that their child does not fit in their car seat rear-facing because their legs are too long, but this is not a valid concern. True, your child may not be able to stretch out their legs fully, but in the event of a car accident, they will be far safer facing backwards.
THE REAR-FACING INFANT CAR SEAT
A rear-facing infant car seat is made specifically for infants and only faces backwards. It has a base that it can snap in and out of with the push of a button (or can be secured using a seat belt), so you can transport Baby without having to take him or her out of the car seat. Generally, this type of seat will last a baby about a year before he or she outgrows its height and weight limits. Once this happens, you’ll have to transition to a convertible car seat with a 5-point harness that has higher weight and height capacities for older babies and toddlers.
A convertible car seat has the option of facing forward or back, so it can grow with your child, and while you can’t transport Baby in it outside of the car the way you can with an infant seat, some people choose to bypass the infant seat altogether and start off with the convertible.
So how can you know which seat to start with? Let’s look at some points about the infant car seat to consider:
Infant car seats are extremely convenient for transporting Baby everywhere, not just in the car. Most infant car seats come with a detachable base which you will install into your vehicle for easy attaching and detaching. When you’re ready to go for a ride in the car, simply snap the seat into the base. And once you’ve arrived at your destination, you can conveniently unsnap the seat and either carry it on your arm or snap it into a coordinating stroller.
Being able to move Baby from one place to another without having to remove him from his car seat can be life saving -- especially when he’s just fallen asleep or just stopped crying and you do not want to disturb the peace! Plus, once the base is installed correctly in your vehicle, you won’t ever need to move it. (However, it’s smart to check it every now and then to make sure it’s still secured properly.)
If you plan on having the car seat in more than one car, you can purchase an extra base so it will be ready and waiting for you in the other car. This is a feature you won’t get with a convertible car seat, which is meant to stay put in the car, not carried or transported. Additionally, if you travel a lot by taxi or car hire and don’t want to lug around a base, make sure the infant car seat you choose has the option to secure it with only a seat belt.
Remember: Infant car seats come in a variety of shapes and sizes. If you expect to be carrying your seat around a lot, consider a lightweight option like the Nuna Pipa Lite. Some seats are featherweights, weighing less than 10 lbs., while other more bulky options can weigh up to 30 lbs. before adding the baby. Also keep in mind how much space you have in your car -- if your vehicle is compact, look for a more petite car seat. While car seats may come in different shapes and sizes, you can rest assured that they all meet the highest safety standards.
DO YOU WANT A TRAVEL SYSTEM?
Another big plus with infant car seats is that they are often part of larger travel systems -- this means they have coordinating strollers to which they can easily and conveniently attach and detach. Though travel systems can be big purchases, keep in mind that even after your baby outgrows their infant car seat, the stroller can still accommodate them well into childhood.
If an entire travel system isn’t an option, or if the stroller you like doesn’t coordinate with the car seat you’ve chosen, you can also search for a car seat adapter, as some brands do offer these for their seats.
Another option is to purchase a snap and go system that allows you to attach your infant car seat to a frame specifically built for it. There are even infant car seats that are a car seat and stroller in one from Doona. These systems make transporting your car seat a snap, but remember that once your baby outgrows his or her infant seat, the stroller frame will be obsolete, too, so you’ll need to purchase a new stroller.
When it comes to rear-facing infant car seats, the fact is that you will have to buy another car seat in a year or so as your child outgrows it. If budget is a big consideration, you do have the option of purchasing a convertible car seat and using it rear-facing, and bypass the infant seat altogether.
Do keep in mind that if you do plan on having another baby soon, you can hang on to your infant seat and save it for baby #2.
SAFETY IS KEY!
When it comes to taking Baby for a drive in the car, safety has got to be your top priority. Here are a few points to remember as you’re getting ready to choose a car seat.
Each car seat has its own specific height and weight specifications. Make sure you are abiding by them. Don’t compromise safety by putting your baby in a seat that is either too big or too small for him/her. And make sure you buckle Baby in according to the seat manufacturer’s instructions -- not too tight and not too loose. Beware of additional clothing or blankets blocking the buckles or making Baby too hot. The padding in the seat is enough to keep Baby cozy. If using a blanket, keep it above the buckles and straps.
Infants must ride rear-facing. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and American Association of Pediatrics both recommend keeping baby rear-facing as long as possible, but at least up to two years old.
It is easy to install a car seat the WRONG way. A parent’s intuition is wonderful, but installing your car seat just using your intuition is a terrible idea. Make sure to carefully read the manufacturer’s installation guide when you secure your seat in your vehicle.At The Baby Cubby, our Cubby Moms are certified Child Passenger Safety Technicians -- this means we can help you make sure your seat is perfectly installed. If you’re not able to stop by our retail location, you can contact a local fire or police station or visit the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website to find a location with a certified technician who can help ensure installation success.
Car seats expire! It’s true. Car seats do not last forever. Over time, safety standards change and the materials in the seat can break down. Therefore, it’s very important that you don’t put Baby in an expired car seat. The manufacturer should have dates clearly printed on the seat to let you know if it is still safe; but if a seat is older than six years, it shouldn’t be used, so be aware if you are using a second-hand seat.
If it has been in a car accident, it is a no-go. If you get in a car accident while using your car seat, you should discard it and get a new one. Even if the seat looks fine to you, there could be structural damage to elements you can’t see. If you are using a second-hand car seat, it is very important to know whether or not the seat has been involved in a car accident. If it has, find a different car seat!
Infant seats should ALWAYS face backwards and stay in the back seat. We know you want to see your baby’s adorable face, but you should never install an infant car seat facing forward. In an accident, an infant seat cannot protect your baby the way it’s intended to if it is positioned this way. It is also extremely unsafe to put any car seat in the passenger seat of your car. Keep Baby in the back!
Register your car seat. Your car seat manufacturer should provide you with information to register your car seat. This allows them to contact you if they issue any kind of recall on the seat, and that’s something you’ll definitely want to know.
Check out The Baby Cubby's entire collection of Rear Facing Infant Car seats here, and remember we are always here to help you with any questions you may have! We know what it is like to find the perfect fit for your family, and we want to help you on your parenthood journey!
For more information and help deciding which kind of car seat is right for you visit nhtsa.gov/equipment/car-seats-and-booster-seats