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Are Convertible Car Seats Safe For Newborns?

When it comes to car seats, one thing you can count on is options.  You have options within a budget, within a weight bracket, within a height bracket, and options for vehicle fit. There are two types of car seats that will fit infants; convertibles and rear-facing only.

Convertibles can be used rear-facing and forward facing for many years, so they are larger simply because they’re made to accommodate the average 6 year old. Most parents opt to use a rear-facing only seat for their newborns; these are more commonly called “infant seats” or “bucket seats” because, well, they sort of resemble buckets if you squint a little bit and they hold infants.  They’re typically outgrown at around a year old. They’re handy because they can easily attach to a stroller, plus their installation is usually pretty straightforward.  The other bonus is that you can purchase additional bases to stay in each vehicle your baby might be in so you can easily transport them without having to completely uninstall and reinstall the car seat.

One other perceived bonus is that infant seats are safer than convertible seats.  I suppose it makes sense; the infant seat is called an infant seat, after all!  Plus it’s smaller, so it seems like it’d offer more protection for a teeny newborn’s body.

The truth is that this is one of those car seat old wives tales (yeah, I’m pretty sure those are a thing).  Infant seats are not safer than convertible seats provided that the seat fits the baby well.  We have absolutely no evidence that an infant seat is safer than a convertible for the child that fits well in both. There is a checklist of criteria that must be met for proper fit on any car seat.  These rules also apply to infant seats, and keep in mind that not every infant seat available at Babies R Us will fit your baby, regardless of how it is marketed.

  • Harness straps must be at or below the baby’s shoulders.  The torso length of the average newborn is around 7″, so the lowest strap position should be at least 6.5″-7″.  Many convertible seats don’t have straps that low, but this can also be true of infant seats (Baby Trend and Combi seats come to mind).  If your baby is likely to be born pre-term or if there are concerns that your baby might be small even at full term this is something you should pay attention to in any car seat you consider. 
    Harness slots below baby’s shoulders in a Graco Extend2Fit VS
    Harness slots above baby’s shoulders in a Britax Advocate CS-70 G3
  • The crotch buckle should provide a snug fit against the baby’s body. If it does not, your baby could slouch down which will allow their chin to touch their chest – effectively cutting off their air supply. Some car seats include inserts meant to use up any space that may be between the crotch buckle and the baby, some offer a different way to route their crotch buckle to make it fit better, some allow the use of a rolled washcloth to do so, and some include nothing and/or allow nothing.  It’s important to know before it’s time to take baby on their first car ride.  You can find that info in the manual, on the manufacturer’s website (sometimes there will be an FAQ section), or by calling the company directly and asking to speak to a CPST
    Two buckle slots in a  Britax Advocate CS-70. 
  • You must be able to recline the seat to a safe setting for newborns. It’s safest for new babies to be in car seats installed at a 45 degree angle due to their lack of head control; the angle makes their head lay comfortably without obstructing their airway. Some convertible seats will also push the child’s head forward, which isn’t an issue for older kids with good head and neck control but can be deadly for newborns.
    Everything about this seat fits this newborn – except the recline.

You may not have a need for an infant seat right now; maybe you don’t have a stroller or don’t need the seat to go into multiple vehicles.  Maybe you’d rather spend the money on a longer lasting option.  Keep these tips in mind when shopping for a convertible seat to fit your newborn and if the seat fits, use it!

Author: Dana

Dana is the lucky mother to two incredible kids (aged 10 & 6) and the happy wife of Nate. She stumbled around in her adult life for a while before finally realizing that she could get paid to pursue her passion: keeping kids safe. In 2013 she started working at Modern Natural Baby in Ferndale where she eventually became a Child Passenger Safety Technician with additional Special Needs training. Dana also runs the child passenger safety-focused Facebook page Buckle Up Detroit and works with the amazing lady bosses at Metro Detroit Doula Services offering car seat classes, consultations, and more!