The difference between an infant car seat and a convertible car seat isn’t always clear. When I was expecting my first baby, researching the best car seat to carry my little bundle of joy out of the hospital was overwhelming. And I imagine it’s pretty much the same for most new and clueless parents.
Do you pick a convertible car seat or an infant car seat? What’s the difference between an infant car seat and a convertible one and which car seat type is the better option for a newborn?
Related: Best Car Seats for Tiny Cars and Other Vehicles
This post describes each of these two types of car seat in terms of what each does, how it works, and which works best for which age range. If this guide misses something you believe it should have covered, feel free to leave a comment in the comments section below.
Don’t have time to read through to the end? No worries. Below are the key differences between an infant car seat and a convertible car seat.
What’s the Difference Between a Convertible Car Seat And an Infant Car Seat?
An infant car seat is a baby car seat specifically designed to carry newborns, infants, and toddlers in the rear-facing position ONLY and NEVER carries the child in the forward-facing position while a convertible car seat supports rear-facing up to when a manufacturer-stated weight or height limit is reached and is reinstalled forward-facing. It secures the child up to an indicated weight and height limit forward-facing, which is when the child is mature enough to use a booster seat.
Related: Different Types of Car Seats
What is an Infant Car Seat?
An infant car seat is a rear-facing car seat designed to transport newborns, infants, and toddlers in the rear-facing position for as long as possible. Car seat safety experts (specifically Benjamin D. Hoffman, M.D in this informative article published on AAP News) recommend riding with babies in this position because it’s the safest position there is, and a dedicated infant car seat makes this possible. Learn how to choose an infant car seat here.
Check out the pic below and see what a dedicated infant car seat looks like.
A convertible car seat can be used as an infant car seat some of the time. Once you read the following section and understand what a convertible car seat is and how it works, you’ll instantly understand why it’s an infant car seat and an older kid’s car seat the rest of the time.
What is a Convertible Car Seat?
A convertible car seat is a type of kids’ car seat that provides 2 seated positions. It allows parents to carry newborns, infants, and toddlers rear-facing up to a stated weight and height limit. And when these limits are reached, a convertible changes to a forward-facing car seat.
Rear-facing installs are different than forward-facing installs, and you typically must uninstall the car seat and reinstall it forward-facing once your child outgrows the rear-facing sitting position.
Some convertible car seats also offer a booster mode. A booster seat allows you to strap in an older kid using the vehicle’s seatbelt and NOT the 5-point safety harness usually used on infant car seats and regular convertible car seats.
Convertible car seats that function as an infant car seat, a forward-facing car seat, and eventually a booster car seat are referred to as All-in-One Convertible car seats. To be clear, a booster seat isn’t a convertible car seat and can be bought and used separately, but SOME convertible car seats offer a booster seat mode.
These car seats are bigger and often bulkier than infant car seats, and because of this, it’s easy to feel like they offer more protection to little ones.
But to be clear, all car seats sold in the US market are safe and can be used without worry. That being said, car seat recalls aren’t uncommon due to safety concerns, which is why it’s critical to keep an eye on these occasional announcements.
Here’s another thought: Some have noticed that not all car seats sold online are safe. Some have questionable safety credentials and may not be safe for carrying kids anywhere.
Keep your eyes peeled for junk when buying online. I suggest that you stick to car seat brands that have consistently earned trust from parents and other caregivers. Brands like Graco, Chicco, Safety 1st, Nuna, Maxi Cosi, Britax, and a few others.
Good news! Convertible car seats have been evolving over the years. Today, there’s a growing list of convertible car seats that rotate. These rotating convertible car seats make getting baby in and out of the car a breeze. They’re a great choice for parents who like convenience as well as those with bad backs. BTW, this new seat type is trending pretty much everywhere.
What’s the Difference Between an Infant Car Seat and a Convertible Car Seat?
There’s a bunch of differences between an infant car seat and a convertible one. And below is a short list of those differences:
Difference #1: Carrying Position
An infant car seat allows for rear-facing carrying ONLY while a convertible car seat carries kids rear-facing up to a certain point, which is when it starts carrying the kid forward-facing.
Difference #2: Weight and Height Limits
Infant car seats typically have a lower weight limit and often a lower height limit compared to convertible car seats. Most infant car seats come with a weight limit of between 5 and 30-35 pounds while most convertible car seats offer a weight limit of between 5 and 65 pounds. Some infant car seats serve babies and toddlers longer though (up to 40 pounds, which is when kids normally start riding in the forward-facing position.
In terms of height, infant car seats typically have a maximum height limit of 30″-32″, but some may be more generous offering a limit of up to 40″.
Difference #3: Ease of Use
Generally, infant car seats are easier to use compared to their convertible counterparts. The design of an infant car seat allows removal of the carrier part of the seat so that you can tote baby in it when outside of the car for a short walk. In other words, infant car seats are more portable than convertible options.
Also, most infant car seats are stroller-friendly, allowing you to instantly build out a travel system for your baby whenever needed.
A travel system is a fancy word for when an infant car seat or toddler car seat pairs with a compatible stroller (typically through a car seat adapter). This capability makes air travel a whole lot easier for parents and their kids.
Related: Best FAA-approved car seats for air plane travel
Difference #4: Switching Between Vehicles
It’s way easier to move switch an infant car seat between cars if you’re a multi-car family than it is to move a convertible car seat between vehicles.
Convertible car seats are normally a single-piece design. For the most part, you can’t detach a convertible car seat from its base because they’re permanently joined. Since you have to uninstall the convertible car seat and then reinstall it in the other vehicle, convenience suffers a major blow.
For this reason, most parents use convertible car seats as a kind of permanent car seat, one that mostly stays in the car. Note that the base of an infant car seat also remains in the car when you take the carrier out to unite it with a compatible baby stroller to make a travel system. If interested, here’s a nice little list of budget travel systems for parents who love convenience.
Difference #5: Car Seat Cost
There are cheap infant car seats and cheap convertible car seats (under $100 options in either category). That being said, high-end convertible car seats tend to cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $300 or way north of that! As for infant car seats, pricier ones cost $200-$250.
But is there a difference between a cheap infant car seat or convertible car seat and an expensive one? I have found that cheaper car seats of any kind are GENERALLY harder to install compared to high-end options. Nothing frustrates a tired mom or dad than a cheap car seat that just won’t install right even after a thousand trials.
To be clear, cheap car seats are safe and are fine as long as you install them CORRECTLY. A car seat technician I know likes saying the safest car seat of any kind is one that installs correctly and safely regardless of its price.
Most pricier convertible and infant car seats come with certain features and technology that makes installs that much easier. With the cheapest options, it’s easy to make mistakes when installing the seat especially in the rear-facing position. But most high-end car seats have a way of letting you know whether your install is correct and safe.
Take Graco car seats for example. The majority of Graco infant car seats and Graco convertible car seats have a bubble/ball of some sort or a level line that indicates when the seat is in the correct recline angle for the kiddo.
Bottom line: You can purchase a cheap infant car seat or convertible car seat provided you can install it correctly and safely. This works best in a situation where you aren’t installing and reinstalling the car seat all the time.
A pro tip: it’s critical to have a CPST inspect the install to make sure you’re not carrying your little one unsafely.
Difference #6: Build and Longevity
Convertible car seats tend to be bigger in size and bulkier, and they feel sturdier compared to infant car seats. But this doesn’t mean that all convertible car seats are heavy and bulky and impossible to move between vehicles.
Some convertible choices are more or less lightweight, and they’re narrow and compact enough that you can fit three across on most backseats. If you’re interested in convertible car seats that fit 3 across, here’s a list of car seats that work well in small cars and sub-compact SUVs.
Lest I forget, both infant car seats and convertible car seats come with newborn inserts which makes it possible to customize the fit. It’s not a good idea to use a blanket in place of a manufacturer-recommended newborn insert because doing this doesn’t get the final fit to
What is an All-in-One Car Seat?
An all-in-one car seat is a convertible car seat that serves families right from the day the baby arrives through their big-kid years (up to year 10 in most cases). It grows with your child and eliminates the need to purchase 2-3 car seats as is often the case when you choose other options.
All-in-One vs Convertible Car Seat: What’s the Difference?
An all-in-one car seat is actually a convertible car seat that allows for booster mode use. With this kind of car seat, you don’t need to buy a booster seat when your kiddo outgrows the forward-facing position. Some options have this additional feature while others don’t.
Don’t overthink the decision as to whether you need the booster mode or mode though. Because booster car seats are inexpensive and readily available online and offline.
While these options work for newborns and infants, many parents still choose to go the traditional route. This route looks like this: buy an infant car seat initially and use it until the child becomes too heavy or grows too tall for it. Then, graduate baby to a convertible car seat and finally get a booster seat.
Pros and Cons of an Infant Car Seat
Why should you buy an infant car seat instead of a convertible car seat? There are certain advantages of choosing an infant car seat for a newborn or infant and not a convertible car seat.
Infant Car Seat Pros
Infant Car Seat Pros
- They come in smaller, more compact design compared to convertible car seats.
- Even though both kinds of car seats use a infant head support padding or insert, an infant car seat tends to provide a better fit for newborns.
- They allow parents to strap baby in before baby + carrier snap into the base, making buckling baby in tight spaces less of a hassle.
- They’re lighter and more portable thanks to the integrated carry handle.
- Since they have a detachable base, they’re a breeze to get in and out of the car, and usually without waking baby up. As long as you have a compatible additional base in a different car, transferring the car seat to the other is easy.
- Pretty much all infant car seats are stroller-compatible, allowing parents to instantly create a travel system.
- All infant car seats are rear-facing-only car seats, and the American Academy of Pediatrics promotes carrying kids rear-facing as long as possible.
- They’re designed to provide support for weak necks, backs, and heads while protecting infants and toddlers from crash impacts.
- It’s easy to remove them from the backseat when not in use to create extra room there.