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Is it better to get an infant car seat or a seat that converts from one stage to the next? Is there any benefit to the infant car seat that justifies paying for an infant car seat and a toddler car seat?

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By "convertible", I thought you meant a car whose roof can be folded back. Like you were planning on your kids being launched to safety in the event of an accident. – Graham Borland Apr 9 '11 at 21:04
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@Graham - and I'd already gone and bought that Miata… oops… – Dori Apr 10 '11 at 3:18

Better for your wallet: the convertible.
Better for your infant's spine: the infant seat.

The Austrian automobile club recommends to use infant seats for infants and not convertibles and my wife who is a trained physio therapist explains why: infants' spines are not fully developed, which means that infants should never sit or even recline until they are able to sit by themselves. Only then do they have the muscular strength that we adults aren't even aware of to keep the spine from collapsing on itself.

This medical opinion might be different in your region, so I would recommend that you ask your automobile club and/or your pediatrician or physio therapist if you have one.

The automobile clubs in several countries I know actually offer approved infant seats for rent at ridiculously low (symbolic) rates. That made our decision for a (rented) infant seat and a (self-bought) child seat very easy.

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The infant seat can also often work WITH a stroller system so when they fall asleep in it, you can just pick up the infant seat and move it to a stroller base - a MUCH more helpful feature than you may realize until after the fact. – balanced mama Nov 20 '12 at 22:13
    
My sons pediatricians recommends infant car seats first, then moving on to a convertible so babies can be rear facing longer. – Wayne Oct 15 '14 at 15:29
    
Our convertible car seat reclines almost flat when in rear facing position. It's the same position as a dedicated infant car seat. The convertible seats still meet all the Australian regulations. – user1751825 Feb 20 at 23:15

Getting a convertible car seat saves you money in having to purchase two seats, but I would recommend an infant seat. When you first bring that little peanut home, they are so tiny and dwarfed by any car seat. The infant seat has them in a reclined position that I have not seen in a convertible seat. When my son was a little over a year and we were preparing for the birth of our second, we purchased a convertible seat for him that goes up 65 pounds in a five point harness and then to a booster till he is 100 pounds. My favorite part is that if they fall asleep while running errands, you can take the bucket out and get things done while they sleep on. I truly missed this feature when my son outgrew his infant seat.

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+1 for pointing out that it's sooo much easier to move a sleeping baby in an infant seat. – Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Apr 9 '11 at 18:06
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I believe that this answer would be generally valuable if you removed the weight specifications. They are only valid in certain areas, and quite wrong in others, as car seats are extensively regulated in various countries throughout the world, and vary state-to-state in the US. – HedgeMage Apr 9 '11 at 18:17

We bought a stroller that came with an infant seat which made it really nice because the infant seat locked right into the car or into the stroller without waking our son.

The infant seat lasted us a while too so we did not have to buy a car seat for a while. If I remember correctly the seat was adjustable so it could sit upright a little bit making it work for us longer.

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There are pros and cons to each:

If you buy an infant car seat, it can do things like attach to shopping carts and strollers so that you don't have to move and wake your baby, and acting as a standalone carrier or rocker when you travel. I don't know of any convertible car seat that can do these things.

If you buy a convertible car seat, you forgo the features mentioned above, but you save money, having only bought one seat.

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I have been told by several doctors to NEVER attach a car seat to a shopping cart. Carts become top heavy and dangerous. – Wayne Oct 15 '14 at 15:33
    
@Wayne Carts don't magically fall over on their own. Don't do anything stupid--including EVER being more than an arm's reach from your infant in a public place--and that isn't an issue. – HedgeMage Dec 16 '14 at 17:03

The infant car seat is a much safer option for newborns than the convertible car seat and can typically support a newborn as small as 4 pounds, whereas the convertible starts at 5. This could make a difference for newborns with low birth weight/preemies. You shouldn't place the infant car seat in anything for which it wasn't intended, though, such as a shopping cart.

A couple years ago I was in a parking lot and a woman parked near me had her infant in the car seat sitting in the front portion of the shopping cart. As she was loading the cart with items from her car trunk, the cart tipped completely over and the infant landed upside down on the ground, still strapped to the cart.

The infant was wailing, and I watched, horrified as the woman picked the baby up, looked at him for a few seconds, and then went into the store to shop. I assume the baby ended up being okay, but it's not worth the risk.

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You do need to think of practicality as well. We opted for a high end convertible seat so we could use it for much longer. From the reviews and safety ratings we were satisfied it was just as good as the infant seat. The infant capsules only last until around 6 months.

It's of much greater importance to be aware of your driving, and always drive cautiously.

It's much much better to do everything you can to avoid getting into an accident in the first place.

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