One of the very first purchase decisions you will make as a new parent-to-be will be a car seat. With the number of brands and variety of styles - from infant carriers to convertibles - how do you know which is best for you? Here are some factors that you need to consider.
Before you start your search, let me address 2 questions that most new parents-to-be will have: “Should we buy it from the US, and save some money?” and “Should we buy used?” Here’s my answer: No and no.
Cross border shopping
If you’re going to use your car seat in Canada, buy your car seat in Canada. It is illegal to import and use a car seat that does not comply with Canadian standards. All car seats in Canada must have the National Safety Mark sticker - attesting to the fact that the authorized manufacturer is certifying that the seat meets the prescribed Canadian safety standards. Your best source of information is the Transport Canada website. You can find answers to many of your questions here.
New versus used
Before our daughter was born, we thought about this option as well, but in the end decided to buy brand new, and here’s why:
You don’t know if a used car seat was ever involved in a major accident, and what kind of impact it had on the car seat. When it comes to baby’s safety, better err on the more cautious side.
You don’t know if the car seat was ever part of a safety recall and whether or not the defective parts were replaced/repaired.
You may not get the instruction manual, which you’ll need for proper set up and to help with trouble shooting. I keep everything…but I’m not sure everyone else does.
Car seats expire. Frequent use and exposure to sunlight can damage and weaken plastic. So if you are considering buying a used car seat, check the expiration date. And also consider if you’re going to have a second baby and how soon you’ll plan to grow your family. You may be able to use a new car seat longer, than if you were to buy a used one that may have a couple years on it already.
Lastly, think about the stroller you want to get. Now days, you can buy most strollers with a car seat adaptor that will let you use a number of different car seat brands. So if you do buy a used car seat, do your research on the brand and if it’ll be compatible with the stroller you want. Better yet, ask if the seller has a car seat adaptor and if they’re willing to throw it in with the purchase.
Here are a few other tips to prep the car and car seat before baby comes:
Read the instructions and be comfortable with installation in your car – depending on the make and model of your car, you may use a lap belt, a shoulder belt, a LATCH system (lower anchors and tethers for children) or a combination to install your car seat. Practice installing the seat and base, and putting it in and taking it out before baby comes. You want to make sure the car seat is held tightly in place and has very little sideways movement.
Make sure the car seat is rear-facing – babies will need to be rear-facing in the car seat for at least the first 12 months. Again, read the instructions of your specific seat for height and weight recommendations for when they can be forward facing.
Blankets, protective head pillows, and the cute car seat covers that make it all snuggly for the baby – get rid of them all! Yes, you read it correctly. I remember buying the cutest pink JJ Cole Bundle Me for the car seat and a little head pillow and bringing it to the hospital, only to have the nurse have me take everything out. Why? You don’t want any extra space between the baby and the seat in case of a crash. You want them to be in as snug as possible, and blankets, and covers and the like only add space. What you should do: once you put the baby in, strap them in (and make sure the harness is snug – it’ll be more snug than you think it should be on your little bundle, but it’s for their safety), then you put the rolled up blankets on their sides, and around their head for protection.
Look for a car seat that has padding – side impacts, as well as in the back and seat area. They’ll be spending a lot of time in the car seat for the first few months, so you want to make sure they’re comfortable.
Look for removable, machine washable covers. You’ll be doing a lot of spot cleaning in those first few months.
And last but not least…drive safely – this goes without saying, but it’s a good reminder. The first time I took my daughter for a drive in the car, I was a nervous wreck. I had my hands positioned perfectly at 10 and 2 (I guess now it’s 9 and 3 with the new recommendations) and driving below the speed limit the entire time. I slapped on a “Baby on Board” sign, put up a baby mirror so I could quickly glance at her every time I checked my rear view mirror, and slowly became comfortable being on the road with her.
Now that you're ready to buy a car seat, here are your options:
Infant Car Seats
There are a number of car seat options out there – from infant only to convertibles. For newborns I like the infant car seats for a few reasons: newborns are teeny – and convertible car seats can be too big. You want them to be as snug and secure and supported in all the right places as possible, and infant car seats are better for that. Here’s another reason: newborns sleep…a lot. An infant car seat gives you the flexibility of taking baby in and out of the car, stroller, house without having to unbuckle, buckle in and disturbing baby and their precious nap (aka mommy and daddy break) time. Also, if you’re visiting friends, going out for a coffee or to a restaurant, it’s much easier to bring in the car seat than to take baby out of the seat, into a stroller and navigate in between tables.
For those smaller babies, the Safety 1st1st OnBoard Air is a great option – supporting infants as tiny as 4 lbs, it comes with customizable preemie insert and low harness slots, 5 point harness system and side impact protection.
Weight: Safety 1st: max 9.96 kg
Height: Safety 1st: max 73.7 cm
Infant/Toddler Car Seats
With an infant/toddler car seat, you’ll be able to extend the use of your car seat for a little bit longer, as they’re designed to be both rear and forward facing.
I like both the Safety 1st Complete Air LX and Cosco Convertible car seat. The Complete Air LX has side impact technology and a 4-position recline which is awesome for those long car rides when baby needs a nap. Make sure you read the instructions fully and follow guidelines for both height and weight recommendations before making the car seat forward-facing.
Weight: Safety 1st Complete Air LX: max 29.48 kg Cosco Convertible: max 18.0 kg
Height: Safety 1st Complete Air LX: max 132.1 cm Cosco Convertible: max 101.6 cm
Rear-facing first, then can be forward-facing
Convertible (Combination) Car Seats
If you want something that will grow with your child, the convertible 3-in-1’s may be the right seat for you. They start off rear-facing, then move to forward-facing, and finally transition into a belt positioning booster seat. Both Safety 1st Alpha Omega Elite 65 and Cosco Alpha Omega will do the job.
Weight: Safety 1st Alpha Omega Elite 65 3-in-1: max 45.35 kg Cosco Alpha Omega 3-in-1: max 36.29 kg
Height: Safety 1st Alpha Omega Elite 65 3-in-1: max 132.1 cm Cosco Alpha Omega 3-in-1: max 132.1 cm
Rear-facing first, then forward-facing, then used as a booster seat
And those long nights when you’re at home, recording contractions to determine if it really is time, or just Braxton Hicks, practice putting a “baby” (substitute teddy bear/doll) in and out of the car seat – adjusting straps, buckling in and unbuckling; because when you’re nervous and excited to take your baby into the world for the first time, it’s actually difficult to do.