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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
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4 Answers 4

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
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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
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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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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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