Choosing a Convertible Car Seat for a Newborn

Last updated: Aug 15, 2016 @ 7:36 pm

So you want to skip the rear facing only seat for a new baby? Makes sense; instead of purchasing a car seat that will only be used for the first year, pick one that will be used for four or five years. Seems smart, right? Sure! However, choosing a convertible car seat for a newborn can be tricky; newborns are teeny little creatures with a unique set of needs, and not all convertibles are created equal when it comes to fitting a brand new Little. newborn infant seat Why do parents choose a rear facing only, or “infant” seat in the first place? Mainly for convenience. A rear facing only seat has a base that stays in the car, while the carrier can be snapped in and out of multiple vehicles with their own bases, and often a stroller. That click in and out is quite convenient for a small baby, making it easier to carry them from place to place and keep them out of extreme weather. The price for that convenience is a seat that only lasts for about a year, on average, before it is outgrown.

The second option is to choose a convertible seat; one that stays in the vehicle and does not have a convenience base. Most convertible seats are labeled from 5 lbs and up; however, fitting a tiny newborn in a big convertible car seat can be problematic. There are a few things to consider:

  • Strap positioning: when rear facing, straps need to be positioned at or just below the shoulders. Most newborns have a torso measuring around seven inches tall, so if the lowest slots must be at least that low to fit correctly.
  • Harness tightness: the straps need to be tight enough to pass the pinch test. The harness needs to be short enough to accommodate an average seven pound baby; many convertible seats have a harness that is too long to get tight over their small bodies.
  • Angle: newborns need a recline that is generally around 45 degrees; if their head were to fall forward it can constrict the airway and cause a breathing problem for a new baby. Some convertibles are easier than others to achieve that while maintaining a secure installation and having enough room for a passenger in front of the seat. If the seat cannot be installed on its own at the proper angle for a newborn, some allow use of pool noodles (or a tightly rolled towel) to achieve the necessary recline.
  • Fit to child: many seats include an insert that boosts the child’s body to position them correctly in the seat, and provide body and head support. Some convertible seats come with an insert that has been tested along with the seat and is safe to use. If the seat does not come with any type of insert, you may need to use rolled receiving blankets for head and/or body support.
  • With all those things in mind, which seats DO work for newborns? I tried our Huggable Images newborn safety training doll Fiona in a variety of convertible seats to check the fit to see how they stack up. She is 7 lbs, 17″, and has a 7.5″ torso.

Sure Things

Chicco NextFit: Rated from 5 lbs with 5.5″ bottom harness slots when using the substantial newborn insert. This seat provides a great fit for small newborns and has multiple recline settings to easily achieve a newborn recline. Original versions of this seat had large, stiff harness covers that were required and very bulky on a small baby, but Chicco has updated their recommendations to allow the old style to be removed, and seats made after 10/2013 have much smaller, more flexible covers that do not hinder fit for a small baby. One note: on some sloped vehicle seats, the NextFit is difficult to install at the proper angle for a newborn. We suggest trying the NextFit in your vehicle before purchasing one for a newborn.
Graco 4Ever: Rated from 4 lbs and 6″ bottom harness slots with a substantial newborn insert, this seat will fit almost every newborn, and will fit many premature babies. Multiple recline settings make it easy to achieve a safe newborn recline.
Maxi-Cosi Pria 70 with TinyFit newborn
Maxi-Cosi Pria with Tiny Fit: The Tiny Fit system has 5″ lowest harness slots and is rated from 4 pounds. This seat will fit small newborns and preemies. The design of the seat also allows for a newborn angle to be achieved easily without taking up substantial front to back space. The non Tiny Fit Pria 70 is rated from 9 lbs and will not fit newborns or young infants. The Pria 85 is rated from 14 lbs.

Good Bets

Britax ClickTight Convertibles (Advocate pictured): Rated from 5 lbs with 7.5″ bottom harness slots when using the infant insert. With seven recline positions, it is unlikely extra recline help will be needed. All Britax ClickTight convertibles have the same bottom slot measurements, but the top harness slot is 2″ higher on the Boulevard and Advocate. This makes them all a good bet for a newborn.
Britax G4 Convertibles: Rated from 5 lbs with 7″ bottom harness slots when using the infant body insert. The seat will likely need a pool noodle to achieve a newborn recline. All G4 Britax convertible seats have the same harness slot measurements and similarly are good bets for a newborn.
Clek Foonf/Fllo with infant-thingyPurchased separately, the infant-thingy is rated from 5 -22 lbs and 19″ for use with the Clek Foonf and Fllo, which have 8″ or 10″ bottom harness slots. The infant-thingy allows the seat to be used even if the harness is above the infant’s shoulders, making these long-lasting convertible seats an option for many infants from birth.
Combi Cocorro: The only convertible rated from 3 pounds, but unfortunately the 19″ height minimum means it excludes many preemies or small newborns. This seat does have an ample newborn insert and a shortened harness loop to ensure a good fit as long as the child is within the stated minimums.
Cosco Apt 40 or 50: Rated from 5 lbs  and 19″ with 5″ bottom harness slots and coming in around $50, the Apt is a great bet for newborns. The Apt 50 has a 2 year minimum age to use it forward facing. The Apt 50’s top harness position is 3″ taller than the Apt 40 making it a longer-lasting option.
Scenera NEXT Newborn fit

Scenera NEXT Newborn fit

Cosco Scenera NEXT: Rated from 5 lbs and 19″ with 5″ bottom harness slots, the Scenera NEXT will fit most average newborns. This seat also has a 2 year minimum age to use it forward facing. The Scenera NEXT is a great option to get most Littles from birth – 3 years old rear facing at a budget price.
Evenflo SureRide : Rated from 5 lbs and 19″ with 6.5″ bottom harness slots. It may need a pool noodle to achieve a proper angle for a newborn, as well as rolled receiving blankets for body support; but will provide a good fit for a newborn. At around $100, it also is a great budget-friendly option.
Graco My Ride 65: Rated from 5 lbs and 19″with 7″ bottom harness slots, multiple harness loops and a newborn insert. This seat has a deep natural recline and is a good fit for newborns.
Graco Size4Me/Head Wise/Fit4Me/MySize or Graco Contender: Rated from 4 lbs with 7″ bottom harness slots. This seat has an infant body insert as well as a head insert that adjusts below the big headwings to provide proper support. The seat may need a pool noodle to achieve a newborn recline.
Safety 1st Advance Air and Safety First Advance EX 65 Air + : Rated from 5 lbs and 19″ with 7.5″ bottom harness slots and a small newborn insert, the Advance Air and Advance EX will fit newborns easily. The required recline for infants under 22 lbs takes up a very large amount of space in the vehicle. When installed at the newborn angle, these seats are only suited for large vehicles.
Safety 1st Grown and Go: Infant Fit

Safety 1st Grow and Go: Infant Fit

Safety 1st Grow and Go: Rated from 5 lbs and 19″ with 6″ bottom harness position when using the required infant insert, the Grow and Go will fit newborns easily. The required recline for infants who cannot sit unassisted takes up a very large amount of front-to-back space in the vehicle. This seat also has a 2 year minimum age to use it forward facing. When installed at the newborn angle, these seats are best suited for large vehicles.
Peg Perego Primo Viaggio Convertible: Rated from 5 lbs with 7.5″ bottom harness slots and a large newborn insert, the Peg will fit average newborns nicely and tighten sufficiently. The seat will likely require a pool noodle to achieve a newborn angle, and caregivers may want to remove the large harness covers, which are bulky on a newborn.
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Graco Extend2Fit Convertible : Rated from 4 lbs with 7″ bottom slots with the use of the infant insert, the Extend2Fit will not fit premature or very small babies, but is a good bet for most singleton term newborns. The seat is compact and will work well at the required newborn angle for most vehicles.

Hit or Miss

Diono Radian R120 / RXT: Rated from 5 lbs with 8″ bottom harness slots, it may not work for all newborns at birth. The R120 and RXT models come with a head and body insert that is necessary to provide a good fit. Diono also sells separately a shorter harness that may be necessary. The Radian is a tall seat, and does not allow use of a pool noodle to adjust the angle. Generally, the Radian naturally installs at an angle appropriate for a newborn but in some vehicles it may take up a large amount of front to back space or may install too upright for newborns.
Evenflo Triumph: Rated from 5 lbs and 19″ with 8″ bottom harness slots, it may not work for all newborns at birth. This seat will likely need a pool noodle to achieve a newborn recline. The crotch buckle depth is a bit long for a newborn and will likely need a small rolled receiving blanket to keep baby from slouching.
Graco Milestone: Rated from 5 lbs with 8″ bottom harness slots and a newborn insert, it may not work for all newborns at birth. The single recline line is sufficient for newborns and the straps were easy to get snug enough to pass the pinch test.

Seats to skip:

Safety 1st Guide 65, Complete Air 65 Safety 1st Alpha Omega Elite  and Cosco Easy Elite: Though rated from 5lbs and 19″, with 9″ and 10″ bottom harness slots respectively, neither of these seats will fit a newborn or young infant. The included insert only adds support behind the child, not under him.
RECARO Performance RIDE: Though rated from 5lbs, with 10″ bottom harness slots, this seat will not fit a newborn or young infant even when using the included infant insert.

Conclusion:

The safest seat is the one that fits your child, fits your vehicle, and can be used properly every time. If you decide to skip the infant seat and move straight to a convertible, we hope this guide will help you narrow down your choices to make a choice that will fit your brand new Little correctly from their very first ride. Read reviews of some of the seats listed above on our recommended seat list.