Best Infant Car Seats – Safest, Most Natural Options

Seasoned parents like us know there are very few things that you truly need for your baby—food, diapers, clothes and a place to sleep, and… an infant car seat! There are so many car seats on the market; how do you know which one is the best, safest and least toxic?

We’ll give you all the information you’ll need to make an informed decision about your baby’s first ride.

Why an infant car seat?

When we’re talking about an infant car seat, we’re referring to the small bucket seat that you see many parents carrying around with their sleeping infants. (In contrast, there are also convertible seats and booster seats, but those are not the same as an infant car seat).

Use an infant car seat, not a child's car seat

Here are the benefits of using an infant car seat:

  • Convenience: you can leave baby in the infant car seat when going from the car to the house or vice versa, which is particularly useful in cold weather. (It’s nice to be able to bundle baby up in the car seat inside the house and then carry him out and just snap him right into the car seat base inside the car.)
  • You can easily switch the seat from one car to the other with little effort (if you have additional bases).
  • Fits preemies better. While I haven’t been able to locate studies that show that infant car seats are safer than convertible, we do know that one of the biggest problems with car seat safety is that many kids aren’t secured properly. This can be harder to do with a newborn, and especially a preemie, in a convertible car seat.

Some other perspectives on an infant car seat:

My cousin is a labor and delivery nurse and many moms have had to run out and get a infant car seat to leave the hospital because their convertible car seat didn’t fit the child properly (the straps on the tightest setting are still up too high above the shoulders.)

Likewise, my other cousin is a cop and he would probably tell you to put babies under 6 months in a infant car seat based on what he’s seen. I consider neonatal nurses and cops experts because of what they’re exposed to each day in the trenches.

Obviously, if you feel comfortable putting your newborn in a convertible seat because of your experience, knowledge and research, go for it! There are plenty of safe ones on the market and many include little inserts that can make the newborn fit more snug and be safe. Do what works for you.

Drawbacks of infant carseats

One drawback is that you will have to buy a convertible seat for when baby outgrows the bucket seat, which is usually around 8–12 months. You don’t want to let your child outgrow the infant carseat (usually around 20 pounds) as this can be much more dangerous should a crash occur. (Check out this study.)

Some parents will put their newborns into a convertible seat, since it lasts past infancy. Just ensure you install properly and the baby fits correctly into the seat. However, if you have a premmie, or want to be extra cautious, an infant carseat may be worth the extra investment.

When not to use an infant car seat

Infant car seats should only be used in the car. They shouldn’t be used as infant carriers or for a designated place to sleep. It’s OK and inevitable that baby will fall asleep from time to time in the car. That’s fine. And if that’s the only place your baby will sleep for the first few months, so be it.

But, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) states that car seats are not recommended for sleeping in general because of the potential for upper airway obstruction and oxygen desaturation. Check out these infographics on how newborns should be positioned in carseat for maximum oxygen flow.

Babies are also more likely to have misshaping of the head if left in car seats and other positioning devices too often.

Baby Carrier to the Rescue

Many parents will use a baby carrier instead of lugging baby around in a car seat for these reasons, plus it’s much lighter carrying baby this way! (You can also transfer a sleeping baby to a carrier as baby will usually go right back to sleep on mom or dad’s chest.)

You can learn more about baby carriers including different types, safety guidelines and babywearing resources here.

A photo posted by mamanatural (@mamanatural) on

How to choose an infant car seat

You know you need one, but where do you begin deciding which one? Here are some things you’ll want to look for when searching for your baby’s car seat:

Safety

Of course, safety is king for our precious babies! Since all car seats go through rigorous testing and must adhere to safety regulations, safety is built into every single one. That means you can look into other aspects of the seat since safety is inherent in all car seats. However, some seats may have added safety features—some of which you may like and appreciate—that are not required by law. And, some car seats test safer in crash tests than others.

Toxicity

Because this is Mama Natural, a blog dedicated to non-toxic living, many “crunchy” mamas will want a car seat that is made of non-toxic materials. Additionally, you will probably appreciate car seats that use the least toxic flame retardants since they can be pretty nasty chemicals!

Legally, car seat manufacturers have to treat their car seats with flame retardants (even though they are best for small flames versus engulfing ones, so whether they save lives is debatable.) There are many different classes of chemicals used but you’ll want to stay away from brominated flame retardants if possible, since these have been shown to be carcinogenic and harmful to young children. (You can read more about the different types and which are most harmful here.)

In 2015, the non-profit Ecology Center released a report analyzing car seat toxicity. (You can view here.) However, there was some controversy with the results so take with a grain of salt ;). They also released a 2016 report which showed some great progress and highlighted some safer brands (more on that below.) Speaking of controversy, I purposely did not include Orbit carseats due to some shady past representation.

Additionally, this is a helpful report conducted by the Washington Toxics Coalition and Safer States, that outlines the different chemicals used in baby products (including some car seats) so you can make an informed choice.

Bottom line: While safety is most important, we ideally want to avoid the more toxic chemicals in car seats. Luckily, there are some brands and designs that contain less toxic materials which we’ll discuss below!

Price

Since every car seat has been tested for safety, you don’t have to worry about a cheaper seat being unsafe. However, a lower price tag will likely get you a very basic car seat without any extras, while a higher price may get you additional safety features not required by law, as well as bonuses like a cup holder.

Size

If you have a small vehicle, you may need to look at the smaller seats so that they fit safely and easily into your backseat. Some examples of smaller seats are the Nuna Pipa or Chicco Keyfit. Some parents even have to use a carseat without a base due to size restraints (more on that below.) If you have a large vehicle, you may not need to worry about the size of the seat.

Style

Some car seats are more sleek and stylish than others. Some parents won’t care a hoot about this, while others will take looks into consideration when choosing which seat to buy. After all, you will be using it a lot!

Best infant car seat

We know that deciding on a car seat for your precious bundle can be overwhelming, so we did some research for you. Here are our favorite picks for best car seats for infants:

Britax B-Safe 35 infant car seat (Most popular)

Britax B-Safe 35 infant car seat (Most popular)

This Britax car seat is excellent in safety and a great all-around seat. (Where to buy)

Pros:

  • Safety features that include side impact protection and energy absorbent foam
  • Excellent price for those on a budget!
  • Easily adjustable straps and a sunshade that covers baby
  • Compatible with many Britax strollers
  • Safe for infants 4–35 lbs., up to 32 in.
  • Doesn’t contain brominated flame retardants

Cons:

  • Large; may not fit in some vehicles
  • Need an expensive adaptor for stroller compatibility

Maxi-Cosi Mico Max 30 (Lightest weight in class)

Maxi-Cosi Mico Max 30 (Lightest weight in class)

The Maxi-Cosi Mico Max 30 is a solid car seat that snuggles and supports baby for extra comfort. (Where to buy.)

Pros:

  • Super lightweight! (The lightest in its class)
  • Excellent for preemies, safely holds babies 4 pounds and up
  • Contains side impact protection and stay-in-car base with rebound protection
  • Easy to clean with removable/washable fabric
  • Does not contain brominated flame retardants

Cons:

  • Quite large in size
  • Flimsy canopy cover

Chicco Keyfit 30 infant car seat (Safest in crash tests)

Chicco Keyfit 30 infant car seat (Safest in crash tests)

This Chicco car seat is a super popular choice and performs extremely well in crash testing. As an FYI, to see full Consumer Reports rankings, you have to purchase a membership. (Where to buy.)

Pros:

  • Best consumer report safety rating
  • Side impact cushioning and extra head support
  • Lightweight and compact: fits any car
  • Comes with a small infant insert to accommodate even smaller babies
  • Compatible with many strollers
  • Machine washable seat cover and cushions
  • Easy installation and simple one-handed release
  • Moderately priced

Cons:

  • Only accommodates infants up to 30 lbs. (though many outgrow the height by then anyway)
  • Cushions could be more breathable to prevent sweating
  • Canopy is small
  • Contains more potentially harmful flame retardants compared with others mentioned

Stokke Pipa By Nuna (Has the uber safe "Load Leg" feature)

Stokke Pipa By Nuna (Has the uber safe “Load Leg” feature)

The Stokke Pipa By Nuna car seat is not as well known, but it has been said to be safer for toxicity and fits the bill in many other ways. It also has a “load leg” feature (a bar comes down from car seat and affixes on the vehicle’s floor, creating more stability). (Where to buy.)

In Consumer Reports crash tests, a load leg resulted in about a 46 percent reduction of head injury risk when compared with other car seat models.

This company also don’t use any flame retardant treatments except Ammonium Polyphosphate in the foam to meet federal laws, which isn’t as toxic as the bromindated ones. There is no lead cadmium, phthalates, formaldehyde, or other harmful substances included in car seats.

Pros:

  • Safer flame retardants used and only on interior foam (not fabric)
  • Unique safety features like a load leg
  • Sleek design
  • Removable canopy and dream drape
  • Very lightweight
  • Can be installed without base using standard or Euro seatbelt path routing

Cons:

  • High price
  • Dream drape is hard to use, and magnets are not strong enough

(FYI, the Cybex Aton 2 also contains a load leg and is a Car Seat Lady favorite. It contains more of the toxic flame retardants though.)

Uppababy Mesa 2017 (Least toxic with no chemical FRs!)

The UPPAbaby MESA 2017 is yet to be released but it will be the first car seat that will not use traditional flame retardants! Yippee! Instead, they will use a naturally fire-resistant wool material that passes legal guidelines. 

“The MESA 2017 Henry is a wool-blend and is the very first fire retardant-free car seat on the market! Naturally fire resistant yet free of any flame retardant chemicals. Wool blends make up the seat fabric & SIP carriage cover.”

This car seat won’t come to the marketplace until April, 2017, but you can pre-order one here. Be sure to get the “Henry” model, which doesn’t has the traditional flame retardants, and is priced at $349.

Pros:

  • Completely free of flame retardant chemicals
  • Finished bottom to protect car upholstery
  • Sleek design
  • Easy installation; can be installed without the base
  • If consistent with other models, it will have amazing side impact protection

Cons:

  • Heavy
  • High price
  • Patience required; must wait for it to become available

Where to put infant car seat?

Statistically, the safest place to put your infant car seat is in the center seat in the back (never put a car seat in the front passenger seat!). Children are over 40% safer in this position. Unfortunately, not all cars have car seat latches in the middle seat and if you have multiple children, this position may not be available. Keep in mind that infants are actually the safest of all young children in cars due to their protective seats, so don’t stress if you can’t put your child in the middle back!

If you do have a center latch, and have multiple children, according to the Child Seat Lady, you should put your oldest child in the middle since they are the least protected by their car seats. 

put-your-oldest-child-in-the-middle-since-they-are-the-least-protected-by-their-car-seats

How long to use rear-facing car seats?

Did you know that rear-facing seating is 5 times safer than forward facing?

Though the rule of thumb used to be to switch your child to forward-facing on their first birthday, it’s not so anymore due to safety studies. In 2011, the American Association of Pediatricians (AAP) revised their guidelines and asked parents to keep their kids rear-facing until at least age 2.

The British Medical journal states that children should be kept rear-facing until the age of 4. So the answer is: keep them rear facing until at least 2 years old, and longer if it works for you.

Don’t use borrowed, expired or used car seats

Ideally, you don’t want to use borrowed or used car seats since you don’t know if they’ve been tampered with or damaged in any way. Additionally, you want to be sure your car seat hasn’t expired (most car seats will have expiration dates of around 5-10 years).

Finally, if you are in a significant car crash, you’ll want to replace your car seat.

Which is the best infant car seat?

Ultimately, the best (and safest) infant car seat is one that is installed properly and used properly!

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 3 out of 4 car seats are not installed properly.

At the end of the day, this is what’s most important, since we already know that all car seats have to go through rigorous testing and must meet certain safety guidelines. But installed or used improperly, even the safest of seats can become a safety hazard, so be sure you get your car seats inspected by someone who is certified.

Many fire stations will inspect the installation of your car seat for free. If you don’t know where you can go for an inspection, check out this website and enter your location to find your local car seat inspection station.

How about you?

What is your favorite infant car seat? What does your car seat configuration currently look like? Let us know in the comments below!

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38 Comments

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  1. Thanks for sharing, very helpful and interesting to read!

  2. I am about to buy a convertible car seat since my son is outgrowing the infant one. Any tips or suggestions?

  3. All research that I have read states that infant car seats are just as safe as convertible car seats. The main difference is convenience. I would love to see the studies that differ from the ones I have read. Can you please give some sources?

  4. Mama Natural, I’m your biggest advocate, but some of what you have here is incorrect. There is no safety study that claims that a convertible car seat is not safe for an infant under 20 pounds. At least not a reputable one. Please post your source for that information. At the very least investigate where that info came from.

    • Thank you Jessica for bringing this to my attention. I’ve updated post to speak to preemies.

  5. How old is this post? The Dec 2016 Ecology report linked to in this article identifies the Stokke Pipa seat as having brominated chemicals. Does it or doesn’t it?

    • I don’t see the Stokke Pipa mentioned at all in the Ecology report. If you can point me to that info I’ll update the post.

  6. Looking into a less toxic car seat, looks like the britax brand is probably my best bet, but I’m just wondering if it’s actually worth it for an extra $300 from other car seats. Isn’t the interior of my car all flame retardants anyway? I already bought a Evenflo Triumph car seat before considering the flame retardant issue and was thinking to just wipe it down and leave it to off gas outside for a week. But I am willing to put out the extra money if it would actually be better for the health of my baby.

    • I love love love my britax. When I was choosing in store it seemed less “flimsy” than evenflo imho. I did a lot of research too and from what I read, britax came out on top. This article just strengthened my views that a britax was the right choice for us! I will only use this brand now!

      • Hey, if you read this I would love to know your continued opinion on the Britax. I have read people say that their baby didn’t fit quickly, as the seat is so narrow. Has this been your experience?

  7. Hi I’m just wondering (and panicking) if the Joie stages 0+ 1&2 car seat has high toxins ect? We’ve just purchased this for our 2 nearly 3 month old due to its safety ratings, I never gave it a thought regarding chems and toxins!

    Help please

  8. I just wondered where you got your info on the Pipa seat because the HealthyBaby test did reveal high Bromine levels and chlorine levels in that seat.

  9. I am so happy to hear about the Uppa Baby Mesa (Henry) car seat!!! I think its way past due that we get a car seat sans flame retardants. We are expecting to adopt our second child come March and even though I have a perfectly good infant car seat (Chicco Key Fit) I pre-ordered the Mesa because i think its so important to support companies who are trying to do the right thing. The price is steep but if this car seat sells well can you imagine the companies that will rush to follow suit? Reducing our child’s chemical exposure is way worth the cost!

  10. We got the Chico Fit 30 one listed in this article! My babe is 5 months, it’s worked great so far. The canopy is really little though 🙁

  11. Hi! My babies were born about 8 pounds, and I chose the Britax convertible car seat because I did n’t want to buy one in 6 months! I did put more time into putting baby into the car seat and taking baby out and making sure that baby was cozy with extra blankets and strapped in properly. It was worth while to me and I did invest in baby front carriers and baby backpacks because I didn’t want baby to sit too long in the car seat. You do have to consider the time and effort it takes to get into the car when you get the convertible right away instead of the bucket, but I did it just fine.

  12. Do you know what’s considered safer, in the back on the driver’s or the passenger’s side?

    thx 🙂

    • Both positions are thought to be equally safe (though middle is thought to be safer than either passenger or driver’s side, but not all car models can accommodate middle)

  13. One thing you didn’t discuss with infant car seats is their weight. I have back issues and am looking at buying a Graco Clickconnect because it’s well rated and weighs 7lbs. The britax seat you list is 11.5 and the Chicco keyfit weighs 16.4lbs! Lugging around a heavy bucket seat with the added weight of the baby is a con in my opinion. I have back problems so I’m more aware but here’s my advice parents, take care of your back, it’s easy and common to injure it and have long term problems.

    • Hi there! I just happened upon your comment and I’m not sure if it maybe an older Chicco KeyFit, but I have a new Chicco KeyFit and it’s only 8lbs! I wonder if that weight was listed with the base and packaging too? I love our KeyFit!

  14. We had a BabyTrend infant seat for our son, until I got into a bad accident with a school bus. We liked it but replaced it with the Graco ClickConnect35. I like this one even more. It’s lighter and accommodates a higher weight and height limit. For our daughter we have a Graco Nautilus 3 in 1. Also really like it.

    • We just bought the click connect as well, but havent opened the box yet. Im wondering if you need to buy the base for the carseat? Thanks!

  15. Perfect timing for this post! I just started looking at car seats for baby number two 😉 Thanks for doing the research for me!

  16. I got an organic cotton fitted replacement cover for my Chicco Key Fit 30 from Etsy. The print is actually really cute. Just another option when looking at minimizing toxicity.

    • Actually, that is potentially dangerous, as most car seat manuals specifically state not use any after market products. They aren’t crash tested and/or flame resistant.

      • I have to agree with you. Also the after market cover is not approved so it can void out your insurance replacing your car seat if there is a crash.

    • That’s great! I personally wouldn’t worry about the non crash testing, the seat’s crash integrity is based on it’s internal construction & shape, not so much the padding–

  17. Please cite all of those experts who think that Infant seats are safer than convertibles for newborns? So long as the Infant fits properly in the seat than an infant seat is no safer than a convertible. Some convertibles fit newborns better than others but if fit is good then it makes zero different. That is a false claim and comes down to personal preference.

    • While I haven’t been able to locate studies that say that infant car seats are safer than convertible, we do know that one of the biggest problems with car seat safety is that many kids aren’t secured properly in their seats. And this can be harder to do with a newborn, and especially a premmie, in a convertible car seat. My cousin is a labor and delivery nurse and many moms have had to run out and get a infant car seat to leave the hospital because their convertible car seat didn’t fit the child properly (the straps on the tightest setting are still up too high above the shoulders.)

      Likewise, my cousin is a cop and he would probably tell you to put babies under 6 months in a infant car seat based on what he’s seen. I consider neonatal nurses and cops experts because of what they’re exposed to each day in the trenches.

      Obviously, if you feel comfortable putting your newborn in a convertible seat because of your experience, knowledge and research, go for it! Many of these carseats include little inserts that can make the newborn fit more snug and be safe. Do what works for you. 🙂

      • In all the research I did pre Miss 22 months I never read that infant seats were safer than convertible. I went by official crash testing and other safety reports.

        You see so many babies go from car to restaurant to car all in their infant seat which seems to be a much bigger safety issue. Too easy to leave bub in the infant seat but I know personally of one who died and read many other tragic stories online. Also not great for spine development.

        There are great safety records for convertible seats (as well as average ones) as well as great safety records for infant seats, and average ones. Convertible seats prevent bubs from being able to stay in the seat longer than necessary and so far mine is still rear facing in hers with more room to grow before she reaches the height limit.

        I normally love yourt articles, been following for over 3 years. I feel like this article though is misleading. A review of the best infant seats and best convertible seats would have been better.

        My bub fitted well into the seat (born 7 pounds 3). Premmie or small bubs may be different. Buying an infant seat that is used for a few months only seems like a waste of money and resources that affects the environment. Just some thoughts.

      • I think everyone was taking the section about infant seat is safest, a little too harshly. It was never said that infant seats were BETTER in anyway, it just said that many experts agree that it is the safest OPTION…keyword there being OPTION, not this is the only seat you should use, its an option for parents to make based on their beliefs and experiences. Personally, I received a convertible car seat for my baby as a gift and thought, hey why waste the extra money on an infant seat? I delivered my 7 lb 13 oz baby girl and when I put her in that convertible seat (which was set for newborn stage and had an insert) I was terrified that whole ride home! I didn’t take her ANYWHERE else until I had an infant seat. It was NOT a waste of money and baby girl was soooooo worth the investment. We are on month 4 using our infant seat and we are perfectly happy waiting until she out grows it (which is probably soon because she’s a tall one!) and moves on to the convertible.
        And to comment on it not being safe to carry baby from car to different places and back to car…. once baby is growing and advancing, they are not going to want to ALWAYS be in the infant seat, naturally. babies have instincts…they are NOT going to just lay back in the seat just because you’re putting them there. my daughter, will yell at me (lol) if I don’t take her out to get a good view when we are out somewhere, of course, if she is sleeping, ill put her back in while we are still out and am able to place her in the car without disturbing that peaceful slumber! Car seats, are a beautiful thing…all of them. its all up to preference and experience… We read blogs to get opinions, still up to us as mamas to choose the best option for our bundles 🙂

    • I thought this seemed an interesting perspective, too. I’ve followed car seat blogs and techs for years, and none of them say this. Convertible or infant seat, the risk of being installed incorrectly is no different. http://Www.csftl.org has great guides on convertibles that fit all babies and sizes. Shoulder strap height can be an issue, but you just have to reseach a proper seat.

  18. Do you have a list like this for regular car seats and booster seats? We have a 4 year old and 7 year old. I’d like to find the least toxic car seat available. Thanks!

    • Carseatblog.com has a list for every category though it’s not as specific about flame retardants.

    • I’m going to do a post on convertible and booster seats too!

      • yay! looking forward to the post on convertibles and boosters! on the hunt for the best right now!

      • Wondering if you done a post about the booster seats yet?

  19. Make sure your oldest child has a seat back or head restraint behind their head and a shoulder strap- this might not be the center seat.

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