The 6 Best Infant Car Seats

Shopping for a car seat is daunting. Here’s what you need to know before you start your search—plus, our picks of the top-rated infant car seats.
save article
profile picture of Lynsey Eidell
By Lynsey Eidell, Contributing Writer
Updated March 2, 2023
best infant car seats 2023
Image: Maxi Cosi/Walmart
We have included third party products to help you navigate and enjoy life’s biggest moments. Purchases made through links on this page may earn us a commission.

Latch hooks. Load legs. Rethread harness. Belt paths. For new or soon-to-be parents, car seat lingo basically sounds like a foreign language. But these terms are commonly used in the complex world of infant car seats. And to say that navigating this territory is overwhelming would be a vast understatement. So before you start shopping for what is most definitely not a straightforward purchase, you’ll want to do your due diligence and get up to speed on all the basics of infant car seat usage. So why do you need an infant car seat, how long are infant car seats good for and what features are absolute non-negotiables? We’ve shared it all—plus, our picks for the best infant car seats to buy right now. Buckle in, and read on for the full lowdown.

What Is an Infant Car Seat?

All car seats are designed to protect children from injury during vehicle collisions. But an infant car seat is specifically designed for the youngest babies. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), an infant car seat is a small, portable seat that can only be rear-facing. Baby can use an infant car seat from birth until they hit the seat’s height and weight requirements. Typically, infant car seat height restrictions are capped at 35 inches and the maximum weight capacity is usually between 35 to 40 pounds. While all children develop on their own schedule, most babies will outgrow an infant car seat before they turn one.

However, guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), specify that children should remain rear-facing until they’re at least 2 years old. To that end, you will need to decide whether to buy a rear-facing infant seat or opt for a convertible model that can be used in a rear- and forward-facing position. Decisions, decisions!

Infant car seat vs. convertible car seat

Some parents opt to skip the infant car seat and go straight to a more versatile convertible car seat. The latter can be used both rear- and forward-facing, and has a higher height and weight limit (often 50 pounds and up). But an infant car seat has an undeniably unique set of benefits. Infant car seats feature a carry handle, and can be separated from their base. This means you can move baby in and out of the car without much disruption (a bonus if your little one falls asleep in transport). You can also use some infant car seats without the base, which means you can put it in a friend’s car or a taxi cab, as needed. Additionally, infant car seats are specifically designed for younger and smaller babies—often providing a more comfortable fit than larger convertible counterparts.

How Long Are Infant Car Seats Good For?

Whatever car seat you choose, it’s important to note its height and weight limits, as well its expiration date. Both factors are key safety indicators.

When to switch from infant car seat

Infant car seats typically have a weight maximum of around 40 pounds and a height maximum of about 35 inches (check your seat for its specific numbers). When either one of those maximums are reached, it’s time to make the switch to a convertible option.

When do infant car seats expire?

Infant car seats typically expire around six years from their manufacture date. If you’re using an infant car seat for multiple children (younger siblings or friends), it’s important to check for a small white sticker located on the outer plastic part of the car seat to confirm whether or not the seat is past its expiration.

Considerations When Looking for the Best Infant Car Seat

Beyond the basics, there are other factors and features to take into consideration when shopping for the best car seat for your family’s needs. Here are some items to keep top of mind while searching for the perfect infant car seat for you:

  • Is this car seat safe? The good news: All infant car seats available for purchase in the US must meet strict federal safety standards. To go a step further, check in with Consumer Reports—which offers both overall car seat ratings (evaluating crash protection, installation and the seat’s fit) and independent crash-test ratings.

  • How easy is this seat to use? Ease of use goes hand-in-hand with safety when it comes to infant car seats (because if it’s not installed correctly, all the safety features become moot). The NHTSA evaluates infant car seats on their ease-of-use and publishes ratings, taking into consideration the instructions, installation features, labels and child restraints.

  • Is this seat recalled? The NHTSA is also a great resource. Check the website for any recalls on defective parts or products before purchasing an infant car seat.

  • Does this infant car seat come with a load leg? A load leg is a feature found on the base of some infant car seats that serves as a brace between the seat’s base and the car floor. It offers extra stability and has been shown to reduce the risk of head injury in a crash by up to 46 percent, according to Consumer Reports.

  • Does it need a base? Some infant car seats can be safely installed using only a seatbelt (not a separate base), making it a great option for parents who frequent taxis or Ubers.

  • How heavy and big is it? Save your biceps by selecting an infant car seat that isn’t too large and hefty to lug around.

  • Does it connect to any strollers? An infant car seat and stroller often go hand-in-hand. After all, one of the main convenience factors of an infant car seat is that you can connect it to a stroller system without disturbing baby. Before making a purchase, check to see if your stroller and car seat are compatible, and if adaptors are needed.

  • How much will it cost? Infant car seats run the gamut from affordable to astronomically expensive. It all depends on materials, styles, add-ons and more. Keep a budget in mind, and sort options by evaluating the features that are most important to you.

It’s natural to be nervous about this decision. You want to keep your kiddo safe and sound, and the infant car seat options seem endless! Whatever seat you choose, always read the manufacturers’ instructions for installation.

Best Infant Car Seats to Shop

From safety to style and everything in between, there’s a ton to consider when it comes to the top-rated infant car seats. No need to feel overwhelmed. Here, we’ve rounded up the best infant car seats available now.

Overall Best Infant Car Seat

Nuna PIPA lite RX Infant Car Seat & RELX base
Image: Nordstrom

The world of infant car seats isn’t a popularity contest—but, if it was, the Nuna Pipa Lite RX would win, hands down. Top-rated by Consumer Reports, this lightweight infant car seat uses the latest technology in car seat safety. A combination of Aerospace aluminum and Aeroflex foam provide superior side-impact protection while the load leg feature reduces the amount of car seat movement in the event of a collision. In addition to being one of the safest infant car seats on the market, the Pipa Lite RX has a UPF 50+ canopy that shields baby from the elements and an adjustable headrest for optimal comfort. Thanks to a no rethread harness and magnetic buckle clips, it also installs in seconds (literally!). In fact, it was awarded four stars by the NHTSA for ease of use. The seat weighs just under 7 pounds, living up to its “lite” name, and making it easy to transport baby wherever you go. Plus, this Best of Baby winner can be used with or without the base—making it perfect for both city dwellers and suburbanites.

  • Max weight capacity: 4 to 32 pounds
  • Height limit: Up to 32 inches
  • Car seat weight: 6.9 pounds
  • Car seat dimensions: 27.25 x 17.5 x 23 inches
What We Love
  • Stroller adaptors included
  • Five-second installation
  • Safety features: five point harness, load leg and side-impact protection
Things To Consider
  • High price point
  • Some parents say the fabric pills over time

Best Lightweight Infant Car Seat

Maxi Cosi Coral XP
Image: Walmart

Looking for one of the lightest infant car seat options? Look no further! The Maxi Cosi Coral XP features an innovative nesting design that makes it easy to tote around. The car seat has three parts: A lightweight inner carrier, an outer carrier and the base. The inner carrier is only 5 lbs. and can be removed and carried with either a cross body strap (keeping you hands free) or two side handles (perfect for those car-to-home transitions). You’ll appreciate how light it is when you add a rapidly growing infant to the equation, and your car seat quite suddenly gets real heavy. The Coral XP can also be carried like a standard infant car seat and connects to most strollers, giving parents plenty of options for getting around.

  • Max weight capacity: 4 to 22 pounds
  • Height limit: Up to 29 inches
  • Removable car seat liner weight: 5 pounds
  • Car seat dimensions: 15.50 x 18.00 x 31.50 inches
What We Love
  • Unique nest design
  • One-click LATCH connector base
  • Compatible with Maxi Cosi strollers
Things To Consider
  • Lower weight and height limit than other options
  • Although the removable carrier is lightweight, when the parts are used together it is rather heavy

Best Narrow Infant Car Seat

Clek Liing Infant Car Seat and Base
Image: Strolleria

If you have a smaller car or need to squeeze three car seats across your back row, this is the infant car seat for you. The Clek Liing is less than 17 inches in width, making it one of the narrowest offerings on the market. But despite the compact size, it's still packed with great features: The Liing offers up to seven recline positions, side-impact protection, an energy-absorbing metal load leg (that even works in the center seat) and a simple one-handed release. Installation is simple, thanks to rigid LATCH connectors that simply slide into the lower anchors in your vehicle. Clek is also the first car seat company to offer seats made without any added flame retardants, and this car seat is available in three washable fabric options.

  • Max weight capacity: 4 to 35 pounds
  • Height limit: Up to 32 inches
  • Car seat weight: 9 pounds
  • Car seat dimensions: 26.8 x 27.7 x 16.9 inches
What We Love
  • Load leg base
  • Narrow footprints means you can fit three car seats across
  • Air-travel certified and can be installed without a base using a European belt path
Things To Consider
  • High price point

Best Infant Car Seat with Advanced Safety Features

Cybex Aton 2 SensorSafe
Image: Walmart

Safety is a top consideration when it comes to any car seat, which is why many infant car seats now feature both side-impact protection and a load leg to help absorb the effects of any impact. But the Cybex Aton 2 takes safety a step further with its SensorSafe technology. Built in to the chest clip of the car seat, SensorSafe connects to your smartphone and alerts you of any critical situations—including if your child is left unattended in the car, if temperatures in the car are too hot or cold, if your child unbuckles the clip or if they’ve been seated for too long. It lets you focus on the road while keeping a close (virtual) eye on baby.

  • Max weight capacity: 4 to 35 pounds
  • Height limit: Up to 30 inches
  • Car seat weight: 9 pounds
  • Car seat dimensions: 25 x 17.25 x 15.25 inches
What We Love
  • Good value
  • Load leg and linear side-impact protection
  • SensorSafe technology
Things To Consider
  • Sunshade only comes down halfway
  • Some parents say the dual-release buttons are difficult to use

Best Affordable Infant Car Seat

Evenflo LiteMax Infant Car Seat
Image: Target

Of course, infant car seats don’t have to cost the earth to be reliably safe. Enter the Evenflo Litemax 35. The easy-to-install base comes with a vehicle belt lock to make sure the base stays secure—and Evenflo offers free live video support to help with any installation questions that pop up along the way. In terms of safety, it’s rollover tested, temperature tested and structural integrity tested at energy levels approximately twice the federal standard. The Litemax is also lightweight, and features an ergonomic handle to make transporting your little one to and from the car seamless. Plus, this infant car seat safely fits babies as small as four pounds all the way up to 35 pounds—giving you even more bang for your buck.

  • Max weight capacity: 4 to 35 pounds
  • Height limit: Up to 32 inches
  • Car seat weight: 8.17 pounds
  • Car seat dimensions: 24 x 19 x 28.5 inches
What We Love
  • Affordable price point
  • Lightweight and reliably safe
  • Machine-washable materials
Things To Consider
  • Large base takes up a lot of space
  • Some parents say the lap buckle is hard to unfasten

Best Infant Car Seat and Stroller Combo

Doona Convertible Infant Car Seat/Compact Stroller System with Base
Image: Target

One of the pros of using an infant car seat is being able to go from vehicle to stroller without disturbing baby—and the Doona has taken this perk to the next level. That’s because the Doona eliminates the need for a separate stroller and adapters; instead it transforms from a car seat to a stroller (and back again) in one swift, singular motion. To switch to stroller mode simply squeeze a lever at the back and watch in awe as the wheels pop out. Designed with safety at the forefront, this stroller-seat hybrid has a five-point harness, three layers of side impact protection and a handle that doubles as an anti-rebound bar. Great as a travel infant car seat, it saves on the amount of gear needed and is approved for use on an airplane. It's a perfect pick for families—and little ones—who live life on the go. With so many standout features it’s no surprise this pick was voted a “unique standout” in our Best of Baby awards.

  • Max weight capacity: 4 to 35 pounds
  • Height limit: Up to 32 inches
  • Car seat weight: 16 pounds
  • Dimensions: 17.3 x 23.6 x 26 inches folded; 17.3 x 32.3 x 40 unfolded
What We Love
  • Functions as an infant car seat and travel stroller
  • Can be installed with or without LATCH base
  • TUV and FAA aircraft approved for travel
Things To Consider
  • Lacks storage space
  • High price point
save article

Next on Your Reading List

Article removed.
Name added. View Your List