You are having your first baby. You have a car. You like your car. You just ventured into the world of car seats, and are terrified and overwhelmed. You’re in the right place.
Of all pre-baby decisions, the car seat one was overwhelming and I hated it! I came into my 1st pregnancy clueless (and pretty uninterested in everything because I was dealing with other big events in my life) and my brain imploded when I got to brands of car seats and understanding whether the car I had just bought would even fit children in it.
My goal here is to ease some of your fears and start with the absolute basics in human speak, then, once your anxiety is back at a normal level and you are ready to move on armed with the basic knowledge, you may google yourself to your hearts’ content.
I also want to advise you right now, if this is your first, sign up for the pregnant chicken newsletter, (CANADIAN TOO!) you will receive advice oriented newsletters PERFECTLY TIMED throughout your pregnancy and she has just such a great way of demystifying, normalizing and explaining everything from your body, to the overwhelming process of buying baby gear, creating a registry and getting a stroller. She also has a great sense of humour! My mum died in the middle of my pregnancy so her advice was amazing for me. (I know, morbid and blunt but that’s what it was!)
Then, you won’t find yourself crying at the base of a mountain of car seats, stammering out the following “I just want to fucking drive from A to B with a kid in the back! THAT IS ALL!” To this day I haven’t gone back into the same store.
Okay? Let’s go. Let’s start with the baaaasic beginner stuff.
First car seat you get is what is called an infant/baby rear facing car seat, often referred to as a bucket seat by your friends.
Tadaaaa! This is what those bad boys are. There’s two pieces to a car seat.
The base, which plugs into your car seats.
And the seat itself, which you unplug from the base and carry around with you. Do not let the stock photo deceive you. The baby will not be this chill.
The car seat weighs about 10lb give or take a few pounds. You can customize car seats A TON. Some brands are smaller, some bigger. Some narrower, some wider. Some lighter, some heavier. You can get lost in the googling and details. Go for a mainstream brand so that when you get a stroller and all the other
crap baby gear, you won’t have issues with compatibility. Chicco or Gracco are mainstream.
When you buy a stroller, there is usually one extra attachment (usually called an “adapter” – so just google the brands of your car seat, stroller and the word “adapter” together in one search) you can buy for whatever brand infant seat you have, that allows you to attach the car seat to the stroller.
For example, I have a Bob Stroller. If I wanted to attach the car seat to it, I need that silver metal bar there, which is about $60 and is called a chicco bob stroller adapter.
Another consideration is your car. In all honesty, you will be fine with a 4 door car and a car seat! You’ll receive pressure (or good natured jesting) to upsize to a minivan or suv.
I spent SO MUCH TIME stressing, looking through male car forums for advice on what car seat brands would fit my sports car. Really, the difference between brands comes down to centimetres. However, if you have unique needs like a really small / compact car, just do some googling, the car seat lady for example has some great links, as you can see in the image below. My favourite overall comparison of different brands of car seats is here at Car Seats for the Littles – this is a great review.
Consumer Reports also has a great “terms to learn” part that will help you survive reading the instruction manual and thinking wtf is the latch? Where is the recline indicator? WHAAAAT? Go here and flip through the terms to learn slideshow in part 3. There is also a good car seat buying guide here, but honest, the more information you gather, the more confusing it will get.
It’s kind of like buying a wedding dress. the more you research, and the more you try on, the more confusing and stressful the process becomes.
Pick 3 brands max, look at the specs and ease of use, weight and size, make a decision, and stick with it.
When you put the baby in the first few times, it’s terrifying. They are so mad at you if they are not sleeping, and expect a protest. Though newborn protests are pretty cute 🙂 And if you feel like a novice putting babykins in there the first time, don’t worry, you’ll see your partner experiencing the same novice feeling when they drive you all home for the first time at about 20km under the legal speed limit. It’s very sweet.
Installing the car seat is worth just enjoying, grab a tea or coffee and prepare to get up in that shit (or ask your partner.) THANK GOD FOR GOOGLE because it’s the only way I could figure it out. But my mind was still blown by how tight and secure my friend (certified car seat specialist) managed to get those seats in there, so it’s worth double checking your handiwork with someone.
Installing a car seat base using the LATCH system (lower anchors in your car seat) most cars have them these days and it’s very easy!
Installing an infant car seat base with the shoulder / lap belt.
An accessory I would not go without is a car seat canopy, car seat cover, whatever, there’s a gazillion names for them, but they look like this, and they’re great for napping babies and preventing the winter chill from getting in.
In case you are wondering wtf minky lining is, it’s not a cute small furry creature, it’s a soft fabric that is popular with baby goods. It has an absurd name, much like many baby goods. Welcome to the world of goo goo, poo poo, goochy woo stuff.
JJ Cole has great winter (read Canadian) baby car seat covers that are very warm and protect from the elements (and make you feel a bit jealous of your own kid.)
*Just ignore the happy mom / baby / car seat photo. Lies all lies.
You buckle your feisty little creatures in with a five point harness. I started off clueless, so I wound up using the car seat lady website which has good links like this one on buckling up a baby safely which was surprising to me, because you pull those suckers (straps) tight! You bet that went down really well with a feisty baby.
If you are still overwhelmed, just remember, it’s 2016 and we’ve come a looooooooong way from the car seats you rode in, in 1985. For perspective, please peruse this fascinating perhaps slightly disturbing, history of the car seat, courtesy of good house keeping magazine.