When to Switch From Infant Car Seat to a Convertible One

Mother buckling child into car seat

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Car seats are essential for your child's safety, so it's important to stay up-to-date on the most recent information about recommended usage guidelines.

While you may elect to use a convertible car seat from when your baby is born, most new parents choose an infant seat for their newborns. This is primarily because of the convenience infant car seats provide. However, it's worth noting both are safe options so long as you follow the manufacturer's guidelines for that particular car seat.

Let's explore the different types of car seats, how to use each option safely, and when it's time to transition to a convertible seat.

Infant and Convertible Car Seats: What's the Difference?

Parents have the option of choosing between an infant and a convertible car seat when traveling with their baby. Both are safe options if your baby meets the car seat's height and weight recommendations. You also have to make sure you know how to securely install the seat. It's important to choose the seat that works best for your baby and your needs. Here are the key differences between infant and convertible car seats.

Infant Car Seats

Infant car seats are the more popular choice for parents of new babies. These car seats attach to a base installed in your vehicle and can only be used rear-facing. Parents can easily remove infant car seats from their base with the click of a button. Infant car seats also have a handle for carrying your baby to and from the car, making it easy to transport your baby without having to remove the child from the seat.

Another benefit of infant car seats is they are often sold as part of a travel system. Travel systems generally include a car seat and stroller that are compatible. This means you can affix the infant seat to the stroller without having to take your baby out of the car seat.

While babies often fall asleep in their car seats, it's recommended that parents remove their baby from their car seat as soon as possible. When it comes to sleep, it's best to place them on a firm, flat surface to prevent possible suffocation.

Convertible Car Seats

Unlike infant car seats, convertible car seats can be used rear-facing for infants, and then forward-facing for older children. Children can safely ride in a forward-facing convertible car seat until they reach the maximum height or weight limit for the seat, at which time they will move to a booster. Many convertible car seats have an upper weight limit of 40-50 pounds.

Convertible car seats are installed in the vehicle on their own without a base. This means a baby using a convertible car seat must be carried to and from the vehicle with each use.

"The convertible seat has a higher weight and height limits for rear-facing than the infant rear-facing only seats," said Eric Anderson, MD, pediatrician at Atrius Health in Burlington, Massachusetts. "This makes them perfect for larger babies and toddlers."

These car seats tend to be larger than infant car seats, so you may wonder how your little one could fit in a convertible car seat securely. It's important to review the specifications for each seat to ensure your baby meets the minimum guidelines to travel safely in your chosen convertible car seat.

Your convertible car seat may come with inserts that can be added and removed based on your baby's size. Use these inserts as directed in the manual, and do not add any accessories to your baby's car seat that the manufacturer hasn't approved.

When Should You Make the Switch?

Most infant car seats can safely fit children until they reach 22 to 40 pounds, depending on the brand and model. It would be best if you familiarized yourself with your car seat's height and weight requirements to ensure your child is riding safely.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends transitioning your baby once they meet the minimum height or weight requirement for their infant seat. However, new reports indicate it's safer to make the switch once your child reaches a year old, regardless of their height and weight. 

The recommendation comes after crash tests found a test dummy simulating a 1-year-old hit its head in more than half the crashes using an infant car seat. By comparison, this only occurred in 4% of crashes involving a convertible car seat.

Important Safety Considerations

Switching to a convertible car seat is a major transition that parents should not take lightly. When selecting and installing your new car seat, it's important to keep certain safety considerations in mind to protect your child in the event of a crash.

Be sure the car seat is installed correctly. The car seat should be installed using either the seatbelt or LATCH system—not both. Be sure to refer to the manual when installing your child's car seat. Note that a correctly installed car seat should not move more than one inch side-to-side or front-to-back.

Know your state laws. Some states require children to ride rear-facing in their car seats until age two, although many states allow you to turn your child forward-facing at a year legally. Children under two are statistically safer in a rear-facing car seat, with studies showing they are 75% less likely to be severely or fatally injured in a crash than those in forward-facing car seats.

Harness your child correctly. Car seat straps should be at or below your child's shoulders when rear-facing and at or above your child's shoulders if forward-facing. Straps should lie flat and be free of any twisting. Once buckled, you should adjust the harness until the straps are snug but not too tight. If you're unsure, try the "pinch test:" you will know the harness is tight enough if you cannot pinch any extra strap material at the shoulders. Finally, position the chest clip at armpit level.

A Word From Verywell

Most parents begin with an infant car seat and later transition their child to a convertible. While the AAP has recommended children be switched from an infant to a convertible car seat once they reach the seat's maximum height or weight guidelines, reports have indicated it's best to make the switch at a year regardless of whether or not your child has outgrown their seat.

It's important to choose a car seat that works best for you and your child. A safe car seat is one that has been approved by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), has not been in an accident, and can be securely installed in your vehicle.

Keeping your child rear-facing until at least age 2 is the safest option for preventing injuries and fatalities in the event of a crash. Be sure your child's car seat is installed and harnessed as outlined in its manual. If you have questions about your child's car seat, don't hesitate to reach out to the company directly for more information.

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Article Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Durbin DR, Hoffman BD. Child passenger safetyPediatrics. 2018;142(5). doi:10.1542/peds.2018-2460

  2. Thomas, Emily A. Consumer Reports. When It's Time to Upgrade Your Child's Car Seat. Last updated: April 1, 2021.

  3. Durbin DR, Hoffman BD. Child passenger safetyPediatrics. 2018;142(5). doi:10.1542/peds.2018-2460

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