There are 3 options for anyone that needs to buy a car seat for their baby.
The 3 options are an infant cat seat, a convertible car seat, or an all-in-one car seat.
In this post, I am going to take a look at infant car seats and all-in-one car seats. I will explain the similarities and differences so that you can get a much better idea of which type of seat is best for you and your child.
If you have already decided that you need a convertible car seat instead, you can find my list of the best seats in that category here.
What Are Infant Car Seats?
Infant Car Seats are also sometimes called bucket seats, because of their size and shape. They are a lot smaller than All-in-One car seats are are only designed to be used to carry babies during the initial stages of their lives.
You can see from the image of the Britax B-Safe Gen2 Infant Car Seat above why they are only suitable for use by babies and not older children.
Although specific makes and models of infant car seats have slightly different weight and height limits for safe use, your child will probably outgrow one of these seats when they reach 35 pounds in weight or 32 inches in height.
As the name suggests, all-in-one car seats can be used for a much longer period of time and so can bring significant costs savings over an infant seat. In fact, an all-in-one car seat could be the only seat that you ever need to buy for your growing child.
The question, therefore, is why would you buy an infant car seat and have to upgrade later when you can just buy an all-in-one car seat from birth?
What are the benefits of an infant car seat over an all-in-one car seat for some parents and their children?
Well, aside from the fact that there is something reassuring about the fact that they are smaller seats that are solely designed for smaller babies, there are a number of other potential benefits that come with infant seats.
Infant Car Seats are much more portable and flexible than all-in-one car seats. They have carry-handles and you can transport your baby between a vehicle and home (or any other place) without having to first remove them from the seat. You can’t do this with an all-in-one car seat as it needs to remain within the vehicle and would be much too heavy to carry with a child inside, even if it had a carry handle.
Another aspect of the portability of an infant car seat is that they can be used as part of an integrated car seat and stroller travel system. These systems enable you to remove the infant car seat from its vehicle seat base and then click it directly into a stroller unit when you want to go shopping with your baby or move around for other reasons.
Although most premium infant car seats come with seat bases that remain installed within your vehicle, many also offer the flexibility of being installed within a vehicle without a base. You simply use the vehicle seat belt to restrain the seat. This can make an infant car seat an excellent choice if you are likely to drive your child around in different vehicles and/or are likely to take a lot of taxis/Ubers with your baby.
The Doona Car Seat Stroller actually comes as a single infant car seat/seat base/stroller unit that requires no extra separate stroller to be carried or stored within your vehicle. It is genuinely a single unit. The seat is removed from the vehicle and simply unfolds into a stroller unit without anything extra being added to it (see image below).
You can find my in-depth review of the Best Infant Car Seats here.
What Are All-in-One Car Seats?
All-in-One car seats are very easy to understand because the premium models do exactly what they say.
They are designed to be used right from birth until your child has outgrown the need to use any car seat at all. They can be used either rear or forwards facing during the initial baby/toddler stages and then convert into a harnessed booster seat, and then a highbacked belt-positioning booster seat.
You should use them rear-facing from birth and for as long as the manufacturer’s instructions say that it is safe to do so. Premium all-in-one car seats come with infant inserts to provide a more snug and safe fit when being used when your baby is still quite small.
Seats like the Diono Radian 3QXT Plus (see image above) also come with an anti-rebound bar to provide extra stability when the seat is used in the rear-facing stage.
You should be able to keep your child rear-facing in a good all-in-one car seat for just as long as with an infant car seat.
This means that the average child ought to be able to remain rear-facing in a convertible car seat for the minimum 2 year period advised by the American Academy of Paediatrics.
If you cannot afford to buy multiple different car seats as your child grows, all-in-one car seats are an excellent option.
Provided that your new born baby is not unusually small and provided that the minimum shoulder strap height enables a snug fit, there is no reason not to use one of these all-in-one car seats seats from birth.
The main drawback with all-in-one car seats is that they are less convenient for some parents. They cannot simply be clicked in and out of your vehicle like infant car seats and, as a result, they cannot be used as part of an integrated stroller travel system.
If you have no intention of using an integrated travel system and are unlikely to need to carry your child around in a car seat or frequently use other vehicles/taxis/Ubers, an all-in-one car seat may well be the best option for you and your child.
As in every aspect of life, there is a trade-off between convenience and cost.
You can find my in-depth review of the Best All-in-One Car Seats here.
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