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Babylist Gear Glossary: Infant Car Seats
Updated on
August 18, 2023

Babylist Gear Glossary: Infant Car Seats

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Babylist Gear Glossary: Infant Car Seats.
Babylist Gear Glossary: Infant Car Seats

No-rethread harness. Anti-colic vent system. Stability Leg. Flip-flop friendly break.

Ever feel like baby gear lingo is written in a completely different language—one you never learned?

The Babylist Gear Glossary is your one-stop resource to help you unlock the techie terms and insider jargon you’ll run into as you build your baby registry and shop for gear. The series breaks down what you need to know about all things baby gear in short, easy-to-digest definitions and explanations. Each glossary covers a different category like car seats, strollers, baby carriers and more.

Infant Car Seats

An infant car seat is one of the most important pieces of baby gear you’ll register for or buy as a new parent. It’s also one of the categories of baby gear that’s filled with the most technical (and confusing) terms.

Since so much of your little one’s safety rides on this one item—literally—it’s worth a few minutes to get familiar with car seat terminology before you choose a seat.

Infant Car Seat: An infant car seat, sometimes also called a bucket seat, is a seat made specifically for infants and younger babies. An infant seat always rear-faces in a vehicle and can be used from birth until your baby reaches the seat’s maximum height or weight limits, which usually happens around one year of age.

Car Seat Base: All infant car seats attach to an infant car seat base. Infant seats sold within the US come as a package and include (at least) one base. Separate bases can be purchased for additional cars. The base stays installed in your car and the seat clicks in and out, making it easier to get your baby in and out of the car.

Almost all infant car seats can be used without a base, however, and installed with your vehicle’s seat belt. (The one exception is the Nuna PIPA Lite, which always requires a base for installation.)

Travel System: A travel system is an infant car seat and a stroller that attach to each other. There are two types of travel systems: a car seat + stroller sold together from the same brand, or a “make your own” set that combines a stroller and a car seat from different brands. Travel systems from the same brand are guaranteed to work together, while DIY systems from different brands require separate adapters.

You may want a travel system if your stroller doesn’t recline fully or come with a bassinet attachment (meaning it’s not suitable for newborn use and can only be used once your little one can sit up independently) or for the convenience factor of being able to seamlessly transfer your baby from the car to the stroller and back again.

Car Seat Adapter: Car seat adapters connect an infant car seat to a stroller. Adapters make it possible to safely snap together a car seat and a stroller from different brands to make a travel system. They’re often sold separately from your car seat and cost anywhere from about $20 and up. Not every infant car seat is compatible with every stroller, however; the Infant Car Seat and Stroller Compatibility guide will help you check.

Rear-Facing vs. Forward-Facing: Rear-facing versus forward-facing refers to the direction your car seat will face when it’s installed in your vehicle. All infant car seats must be installed rear-facing—which means your baby (and your car seat) will face the back of your car.

As your child grows and moves to a convertible car seat or a booster, you’ll be able to turn them forward-facing. But don’t rush it! There’s a growing body of research that proves riding rear-facing is safer for babies and children than riding in a forward-facing seat. Never turn your baby forward-facing in an infant car seat, and when it’s time to switch to a convertible, choose a seat with a high rear-facing limit so you can extend the opportunity to rear-face for as long as possible.

Five-Point Harness: A five-point harness consists of two shoulder straps, two waist straps and a between-the-legs strap that all meet in a middle buckle. Five-point harnesses are safer than three-point harnesses because they spread the force from a crash over more areas of the body.

No-Rethread Harness: As your baby grows, you’ll need to adjust your seat’s shoulder straps to accommodate the correct fit. A no-rethread harness means you’ll be able to move the straps up and down without having to manually reroute them through the back of the seat.

A quick note on fit: on rear-facing car seats, the shoulder straps should come through the car seat slots at or just below your child’s shoulders.

Chest Clip: A chest clip holds the shoulder straps of your baby’s car seat together. A chest strap should always be placed over your baby’s chest at armpit level.

LATCH: LATCH stands for Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children. The LATCH system is an alternate way to secure your car seat that uses built-in anchors and tethers rather than your vehicle’s seat belt. The system consists of two lower anchors found in the seat crack of your car that clip or hook onto two lower attachments on your car seat and a tether anchor behind the back seat that clips onto a tether hook found on the back of your car seat. LATCH is also not available in every seating position, so you’ll need to consult your vehicle manual.

Both LATCH and seat belt installations are safe, but are not to be used at the same time. There are also LATCH weight limits that you need to be aware of before utilizing this system to install your seat.

European Belt Path vs. American Belt Path: A belt path is how you’ll install your car seat when you’re not using a base. (Think for travel, ride shares, etc.) Both belt paths start by routing your car’s lap belt over your baby’s lap area. A European belt path wraps the belt around the back of the infant seat for extra protection. Car seat safety experts recommend the European belt path as it allows for a more secure installation and decreases crash forces.

Safety Indicators: Some car seats come with built-in systems to signal they’ve been correctly installed. These most often include level lines or bubble level indicators that ensure your car seat is at the correct angle. This is important both for safety in the event of a crash and to reduce the risk of positional asphyxiation.

Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards: These are government standards that guide manufacturers as they make and test car seats. All car seats sold in the United States must meet these standards in order to be sold in the US market.

Anti-Rebound Bar: In the event of a crash, a car seat will move toward the point of impact. An anti-rebound bar reduces the movement of a car seat as it moves back into your vehicle’s back seat. It halts the rebound and causes the seat to come to a stop sooner than it would have without the anti-rebound bar.

Stability Leg (Load Leg): A stability leg, also called a load leg, helps to reduce the amount of force on a car seat and reduce the rebound of a seat in the event of a crash.

Side Impact Protection: About a quarter of crashes involve a hit from the side rather than the front. Side-impact protection can help keep your baby safe in the event of this type of crash. Currently, side impact protection is unregulated, so be skeptical of claims that one brand has “more” than another because there’s no objective testing standard yet.

Carry Handle: A carry handle is the top handle of your car seat and how you’ll carry your seat when it’s not in use. Carry handles fold down for easier access to your baby when you need to get them in and out of their seat.

Canopy: A canopy is the extendable piece of fabric found at the top of a car seat. Canopies extend and retract to provide shade, protection from the elements and privacy for your baby.

Peekaboo Window: A peekaboo window is a small opening found in the fabric of a car seat canopy. It’s often made of mesh or another type of sheer fabric and lets you get a quick peek at what your little one is up to without having to retract the canopy or sneak around the side of the seat.

Three Across: Three across refers to the ability to fit three car seats in a row across the back seat of a vehicle. Families with multiple young children close in age are often most interested in seats that fit three across. Many car seats don’t meet this criteria, so you’ll want to look for seats with a slimmer profile if this is something you need.

Aftermarket Products: An aftermarket product is any product that isn’t included with the original purchase of your car seat. (Examples include things like infant positioners, shoulder belt positioning pads or car seat mats.) Aftermarket products are not subject to federal regulations and are therefore not safe for use. Only use accessories that have been tested and approved by your car seat manufacturer.

Interested in learning more about car seats and car seat safety? Check out these resources.

This information is provided for educational and entertainment purposes only. We do not accept any responsibility for any liability, loss or risk, personal or otherwise, incurred as a consequence, directly or indirectly, from any information or advice contained here. Babylist may earn compensation from affiliate links in this content. Learn more about how we write Babylist content and review products, as well as the Babylist Health Advisory Board.