9 Best Infant Car Seats of 2021
Best Infant Car Seats of 2021
January 6, 2021
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Best Infant Car Seats of 2021

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An infant car seat is one of the most important items of baby gear that you’re going to need as a new parent. If you plan on ever taking your little one along in your car, it’s a must-have—and most hospitals won’t discharge you without one. But with so many different models, and so much pressure to pick the safest ride for your little one, figuring out which one to choose can be a big decision.

We’ve consulted real parents, our own team of baby gear experts and a Child Passenger Safety technician (CPST) on infant car seats across a range of budgets and styles to help you make the best—and most informed—decision. (Psst: Need help figuring out all the terms? Check out infant car seat glossary to help you decipher it all.)

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What’s an Infant Car Seat?

An infant car seat is a seat made specifically for infants and younger babies. These seats always face the rear of the car and are used from day one until your baby reaches the seat’s maximum height or weight limit (anywhere between 22-35 pounds, depending on the specifics of your seat).

Infant car seats are designed to attach to a base. The base stays installed in your car and the seat clicks in and out, making it easy to get your baby into and out of your car. Most babies outgrow their infant seat around one year of age or so.

Other types of car seats:

  • Convertible car seats: These grow-with-your-child seats transform from rear-facing seats for babies and toddlers to forward-facing seats for older children up to about 65 pounds. Some convertible seats can be used from birth, but they’re not designed to be easily popped out of your car and are much too heavy to be carried around so you’ll lose some of that convenience factor if you decide to use a convertible seat from day one. (More on that below.)
  • Booster car seats: Booster car seats: For kids at least four years old and at least 40 pounds, boosters do just what the name implies—boost your child up higher in your car’s seat. This ensures that your car’s regular lap and shoulder belts cross over your child’s body at the correct points to securely hold them.

What Should You Look for in an Infant Car Seat?

First things first: spending less money on a car seat doesn’t mean it’s any less safe.

Every car seat sold in the US must meet the same federal safety standards set forth by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration. While each individual state may have their own guidelines around car seats (many states, for example, now require that children under the age of two ride in a rear-facing seat), any seat sold in the US must meet the same benchmarks around safety and installation.

So what will a more expensive infant car seat get you? More expensive seats often means more extras like luxury materials, larger canopies, easier installation and potentially some additional safety features not currently required by law.

Here are some factors to take into consideration when choosing a seat:

  • Fits in your car: Car seats range in size and shape. Some are a better fit for larger or smaller cars.
  • Ease of installation: Many car seats can be installed using the regular seat belt or the LATCH system, which is an easier way to secure the car seat using built-in anchors and tethers (available in cars made after 2002).
  • Safety indicators: Some car seats come with built-in leveling systems and indicators to signal they’ve been correctly installed. (Most safety issues with car seats stem from them not be installing correctly. Here’s info on how to get a safe install.)
  • Fabric: Besides looking for a style of fabric that suits your taste, consider its durability and how easy it’ll be to wash if (when) any messes happen.
  • Safety extras: Some car seats include additional shock absorption, padding and higher quality materials.
  • Stroller compatibility: You can snap infant car seats into many strollers or stroller frames. A stroller and car seat that come as a set is called a travel system. But if there’s a car seat you absolutely love that differs from your stroller, check if a separate adapter is available to fit the items together.
  • New vs used: Used car seats might be damaged and may not be up to snuff when it comes to current safety regulations. While we recommend new car seats, if you do end up selecting a used car seat, get it from someone you trust. Be sure to look up the seat’s expiration date and research if that particular model has ever been recalled. If the seat is dirty, be sure to follow the manufacturer’s strict rules around how to clean it. Each car seat has a specific set or rules around how to clean it while maintaining its safety and integrity.

For more details about car seats, read our How to Choose a Car Seat guide.

Why Purchase an Infant Car Seat Instead of a Convertible?

While it seems that purchasing a convertible car seat would be the most efficient, there are a few distinct advantages to using an infant car seat instead.

Babies can stay asleep during the transfer from car to stroller if you purchased a travel system. It’s also much easier to click your infant seat (baby in tow) in and out of your car since it attaches to a base that’s permanently installed.

If your baby will be riding in multiple vehicles, transferring an infant car seat is also much easier than uninstalling and reinstalling a convertible seat. Just be sure to purchase an additional car seat base so you can quickly click the infant car seat into the backseat base and go.

Babylist’s Best Infant Car Seat Picks

These are Babylist’s picks for the best infant car seats.

Safe, Affordable and Easy

The Scoop
  • Easy to get a safe, secure install
  • Economical
  • Works for babies 4-35 lbs
What Our Experts Say

The SnugRide SnugLock 35 hits the trifecta of things we love in an infant car seat: it’s easy to install, affordable and extremely safe.

Why is ease of installation so important? A properly fitted car seat equals a safer car seat, and the three-step installation process on the SnugRide couldn’t be easier. We’re also big fans of the seat’s low weight limit (four pounds, which is great if you’re bringing home a preemie or a smaller baby), a four-position recline, a removable insert that helps newborns get the perfect fit and a European belt bath which means you can install the seat using either the base or your vehicle’s seat belt.

What’s Worth Considering

This seat weighs almost 15 pounds, so it’s definitely on the heavier side. The lower price point also means the fabric is pretty basic and there aren’t a ton of other bells and whistles.

What Babylist Parents Say

“This car seat is lightweight and comfortable. Nice to have the quick connect function and the click lock system to know everything is in place.” -Mel

Additional Specs
Child Weight/Height Guidelines 4 to 35 lbs and up to 32”
Car Seat Carrier Weight 14.8 lbs

Best Designed and Lightweight

The Scoop
  • Lots of extra safety features
  • Light—weighs under 8 lbs
  • Easy installation
What Our Experts Say

This sleek, lightweight infant seat is more than just good looks. The True Lock safety system uses color-coded indicators to signal proper installation, giving extra peace of mind to nervous new parents. A fold-down stability leg, which extends from the base of the seat to the floor, is designed to absorb impact in an accident. (Stability legs, also called load legs, reduce the amount of force on a car seat and reduce the rebound of a seat. They’re an excellent safety feature to look for in an infant car seat.)

Aside from top-notch safety features, parents rave about the quality materials and extendable “dream drape” that provides full coverage for snoozing babies, as well as the many different strollers the seat is compatible with with the use of an adapter. For those who frequently take taxis, the Pipa is a breeze to install in any car without the base.

  • If you’re willing to spend a bit more, check out Nuna’s latest Pipa with Relx Base seat. It features an open belt path for an easier install and a four-position, on-the-go recline.
What’s Worth Considering

When it comes to cleaning, it’s a pain to remove the seat cover for the PIPA because you have to unthread the harness. Some parents also find the magnet closures on the dream drape tricky to maneuver.

What Babylist Parents Say

“It’s made of high-quality material, which is what drew us to it in the first place. The ease of installment for the base was a nice feature, especially for us as first-time parents. We also like how it is one of the lighter models on the market for toting around.” -Andrea C.

Additional Specs
Child Weight/Height Guidelines 4 to 32 lbs and up to 32 inches
Car Seat Carrier Weight 7.9 lbs

Parent Favorite Infant Car Seat

The Scoop
  • Parent favorite
  • Slim profile, works well three-across
  • Good LATCH install but tough to install with seat belt
What Our Experts Say

From excellent safety features to ease of use, the KeyFit 30 is a fan favorite. The base is simple to install and has just one tightener in the middle that pulls it securely in place. A built-in, easy-to-read level indicates when it’s been correctly positioned—plus you’ll always hear the trusty “click” sound when the carrier is properly inserted into the base.

Other much-loved features include the removable, washable cover and the slim profile that works well in smaller cars or three-across. The KeyFit adapter works on most strollers, so you can go from the car to running errands without disrupting your little one’s snooze.

What’s Worth Considering

The canopy is small, so it doesn’t offer the same coverage from the sun or weather as other extendable canopies. (For a bit more money, the KeyFit 30 Magic includes an extendable canopy and cozy footmuff.) To move the handlebar back and forth, you need to press buttons with both hands, which isn’t doable if you’re holding your baby. Installation without the base can be tricky (not ideal if you plan on using your seat in ride shares or on planes), and getting the right fit for some infants can be challenging.

You may also want to check out the Chicco KeyFit35. It has the same look and feel as the KeyFit 30 with more room to grow; it works for babies up to 35 pounds and 32”, making it easier to rear-face longer.

What Babylist Parents Say

“Safe, easy to use, highly recommended by Consumer Reports, affordable.” -Claire M.

Additional Specs
Child Weight/Height Guidelines 4 to 30 lbs and up to 30”
Car Seat Carrier Weight 9.6 lbs

Best Affordable Infant Car Seat

The Scoop
  • Affordable
  • Features load leg for extra support
  • Works for babies as small as three pounds
What Our Experts Say

The LiteMax is our clear favorite for an infant car seat that’s both safe and extremely affordable. The load leg, a safety feature often found in much more expensive seats like the Nuna Pipa or Clek liing, is an impressive addition considering the seat’s price. This seat is also one of the lighter on our list and has the lowest weight allowance on the market at three pounds, making it a great choice if you’re bringing home a preemie or a smaller baby. Other features to love include an adjustable headrest, no rethread harness and LATCH install.

What’s Worth Considering

It can be a little tricky to get a safe, secure install with this seat so be sure you read the directions carefully.

Additional Specs
Child Weight/Height Guidelines 3 to 35 lbs and up to 32”
Car Seat Carrier Weight 8.7 lbs

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Best Easy-to-Install Infant Car Seat

The Scoop
  • Easy to both install and to check if it’s installed correctly
  • No rethread harness
  • Beautifully designed
What Our Experts Say

Since UPPAbaby strollers are some of the most popular and well-loved on the market, it makes sense that the brand’s Mesa car seat follows suit.

Installation is one of the best selling points of this well-designed seat. It’s super easy; just clip the LATCH connectors and push the base down with your body weight, with no need to tug or pull at straps like with many other seats. Indicators turn green when the seat is level and tight. The seat clips into the Vista and Cruz without the need for any additional adapters and can be used with lots of other stroller brands too. (You will need adapters for that, though.) Another awesome perk: you’ll never have to rethread the harness (which is a huge pain!) as your baby grows.

What’s Worth Considering

The Mesa clocks in on the heavier side when compared to other similar seats at about 10 pounds. It can also be tricky to get the right fit for preemies and smaller babies and tough to install on certain car models using LATCH where the buckles are farther back in the seat.

What Babylist Parents Say

“It’s very plush and feels like our baby is well protected each time we use it. I wish it were a little lighter, but when you consider the functionality of the car seat I wouldn’t trade a thing.” -Tessa L.

Additional Specs
Child Weight/Height Guidelines 4 to 35 lbs and up to 32”
Car Seat Carrier Weight 9.9 lbs

Slim Profile

The Scoop
  • Lots of safety features
  • Easy to install, but no European belt path
  • Slim profile
What Our Experts Say

The B-Safe offers standout safety features at a great price point. The deep, narrow seat has sidewalls with energy-absorbing foam for side-impact protection along with a steel frame and an impact-absorbing base. It’s also a cinch to install. If you’re using the LATCH system, you’ll tighten it using straps that extend from the middle of the base, not the sides, a feature that lots of parents really like. (However, installation isn’t so simple without the base. So if you’ll need to use this seat in cabs and friends’ cars, the B-Safe may not be your best bet.)

What’s Worth Considering

This seat is on the heavier side. (But that’s because of the steel frame, so at least you know it’s for a good reason.) And as we mentioned above, it’s not a great choice if you’ll need to install it without the base; check out the Ultra model if you’d like that option.

What Babylist Parents Say

“This car seat feels very sturdy and has some of the best safety ratings! Baby was comfortable in it since day one and still uses it now at 16 months. The only downside is that it is heavier than many other car seats out there.” -Maureeca W.

Additional Specs
Child Weight/Height Guidelines 4 to 35 lbs and up to 32”
Car Seat Carrier Weight 10 lbs

Best All-in-One Infant Car Seat

The Scoop
  • Car seat + stroller hybrid
  • Perfect for city dwellers and frequent travelers
  • Will need a second stroller as your child grows
What Our Experts Say

The Doona is the first of its kind: an infant car seat that instantly transforms into a stroller with the click of a button. When it’s time to get in the car, stroller legs and wheels pull up and fold under the car seat. Why is this a big deal? It makes the Doona the ultimate, all-in-one system for frequent travelers. It’s also ideal for city dwellers who need to quickly get in and out of public transportation, parents who live in an apartment complex and have a long way to walk between their apartment and their car or if you’re in and out of the car a lot dropping off older siblings and don’t want to disturb your sleeping baby.

What’s Worth Considering

Once your child outgrows the infant car seat, you won’t be able to use the stroller anymore. Also, the sleek design doesn’t have any extra cargo space for a diaper or shopping bag.

What Babylist Parents Say

“Since we don’t own a car and live in a city this stroller is perfect as it allows us to easily take Uber/Lyft or use friends/family cars without having to take both a carseat and stroller. Perfect for navigating small restaurants and stores as well as travel.” -Francesca

Additional Specs
Child Weight/Height Guidelines 4 to 35 lbs and up to 32”
Car Seat Carrier Weight 14.3 lbs

Sleek, Modern and Ultra-Safe

The Scoop
  • Packed with safety features
  • Expensive
  • Slim profile, eco-friendly fabrics
What Our Experts Say

Safety and style meet brilliantly in this high-end seat from ultra-modern (and ultra safety conscious) Canadian car seat brand Clek. There are three different (and easy) ways to install the liing: base with Rigid-LATCH, base with seat belt or no base with seat belt. The seat performs just as well in crash tests in any install configuration. There’s also a metal load leg built into the base that provides extra support in the event of an accident.

What else do we love about the liing? There’s a giant canopy that provides almost full coverage with SPF 100+ protection. There’s also a two-stage infant insert that gives snug support for newborns, lots of recline options and three eco-friendly fabric options.

What’s Worth Considering

There’s no getting around the price of this car seat—it’s expensive. But it’s built to last. The liing has a nine-year expiration date so you can definitely use it for multiple kiddos.

What Babylist Parents Say

“This car seat is chemical free and one of the top, safest car seats on the market.” -Nichol

Additional Specs
Child Weight/Height Guidelines 4 to 35 lbs and up to 32”
Car Seat Carrier Weight 9 lbs

Easiest to Clean Infant Car Seat

The Scoop
  • Lightweight—under 9 pounds
  • Straightforward, simple installation
  • Easy to clean
What Our Experts Say

The Mico Maxi has a few great features going for it, namely its light weight and how easy it is to clean. Weighing in at just under nine pounds, it’s one of the lightest seats on our list, making it easier on your arms when you need to tote your baby around in their infant seat. The seat’s pad can be easily removed and machine washed. Plus, the fabric is self-wicking, which keeps babies dry and comfortable, especially in warmer temps.

The seat is easy and straightforward to install. And when it comes to safety, its features include extra side-impact protection and an anti-rebound bar.

What’s Worth Considering

The anti-rebound bar adds some length to the seat base, which makes it a tight fit in compact cars.

What Babylist Parents Say

“Super lightweight and easy to use without the base. A bit narrow for my wide baby.” - Stephanie H.

Additional Specs
Child Weight/Height Guidelines 4 to 30 lbs and up to 32”
Car Seat Carrier Weight 8.9 lbs

Infant Car Seats We’re Keeping an Eye On…

  • The Maxi-Cosi Coral XP Infant Car Seat ($399.99) is a super innovative seat and the first of its kind. It solves for the problem of how awkward it is to carry an infant seat with an integrated car seat and carrier nesting system. The inner carrier pops right out of the shell of the seat with the push of a button (and without having to remove baby), allowing you to pull out the carrier, put the cross-body strap over your shoulder and be on your way.

Choosing the Right Infant Car Seat For You

Once you get the car seat, be sure to test it out in your car(s) right away before removing the tags or throwing away the box. You’ll want to make sure it’s a good fit and that it lives up to your expectations.

Remember, any new seat you choose will be safe. What matters most is that the seat makes commuting around town and going on road trips to see grandma and grandpa easy for you and your family.

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