Using an infant car seat is the best way to protect your baby while traveling in a car. Most states have laws about when you should use an infant car seat and for how long.
Additionally, manufacturers of infant car seats have guidelines about when to stop using infant car seat. These are usually in the form of weight and height limits.
But with so much information, from the government, owner’s manuals, even pediatricians, it can be difficult to know the answers to questions like: “When to stop using infant car seat?”, “When do babies change car seats?” and more.
We have created this easy and parent friendly guide to help you make sense of all the information regarding how long you should use an infant car seat.
When determining how long you can use an infant car seat, the first thing to check is your specific car seat’s height and weight limits. These numbers display how long you can safely use your child’s car seat.
When it comes to infant car seat weight limits, most fall somewhere around 30 pounds, but they can range from 22 pounds to 35 pounds.
The height limit is another consideration. Sometimes there is not a specific number for the height, but a guideline. Such as “when the child’s head rests one inch below the top of the car seat”.
In most cases, the infant car seat height limit is around 32 inches or less.
Usually, parents end up transitioning their child from an infant car seat to a rear facing convertible seat or toddler seat around two years of age. Some children may exceed the height or weight limit prior to two years.
It is important to know that these numbers reflect infant car seats. Convertible car seats often have higher numbers when it comes to capacity limits.
A convertible car seat is one that transitions or grows with your child. It often converts from rear facing to forward facing, and even sometimes into booster mode. It often has infant inserts that can be added or removed to accommodate your child.
While an infant seat is often chosen by parents to bring their baby home from the hospital and travel in the car seat for the first few months, a convertible car seat can also be used.
Convertible car seats may have weight limits as high as sixty pounds. They have additional instructions regarding use and installation when they are being used with an infant.
They are nice because they can take some of the guesswork out of wondering how long can you use an infant car seat because they can be adjusted to suit children from infant to young child.
But, the answer to when do babies grow out of infant car seat, is when your child exceeds either one of both the height and weight maximum capacities (depending on the product’s instructions) it is no longer safe to use the infant car seat.
Remember that a baby will not grow out of their convertible car seat but instead will need it adjusted to suit their growth.
You will know when to get a bigger car seat because your child will outgrow their infant car seat as per the weight or height limits. However, they are not ready to sit in a traditional vehicle seat.
They must be transitioned to another age-appropriate car seat. For many people, this is a convertible car seat.
These car seats make it effortless to know when to switch baby to convertible car seat from the infant seat because they are rated for such a wide range of ages, heights, and weights. You can use them from birth through toddlerhood and some even until age six.
If you do not want to purchase a convertible car seat a forward-facing seat is typically the next step provided your child is the right size and age. There are recommendations regarding the correct next car seat.
You must be very cognizant of the weight and height limits; both the maximum and minimums. Experts recommend keeping your child rear-facing, in an infant car seat or a convertible car seat, until at least age two. Some recommended beyond age two.
These guidelines released by the US Department of Transportation provide clear instructions for how long to use infant car seat. They show that a rear facing car seat, such as an infant car seat, should be used for any child under 1 year of age.
Depending on your individual baby’s height and weight and your specific car seats height and weight limits, you may be able to use the infant seat longer. Until your child reaches these milestones, they should not advance to the next seat type.
So we know that you should switch your infant car seat when your child exceeds the maximum age, height, or weight limits as per your seats manufacturer’s instructions. But these aren’t the only answers to the question, when do babies switch car seats?
You should also switch your infant car seat if it is expired, even if it appears perfectly safe and usable. It is not safe or advised to use an expired car seat.
You should also switch it if it has been in an accident. This is true even if it was a small accident and you cannot visibly see damage.
Finally, you should switch your car seat if there is any visible damage, wear and tear, or missing parts.
You cannot “skip” the infant car seat in regards to just using a forward-facing seat. But, you do not have to purchase an infant car seat if you opt for a convertible seat that accommodates infants.
Parents with convertible car seats don’t have to wonder when is baby too big for infant car seat. Instead, they can make adjustments to their convertible seat to accommodate their child’s growth.
Skipping the purchase of an infant seat and instead just buying a convertible seat can be a money saver and provide you with peace of mind. These seats can often stay rear-facing longer, which is recommended by most health professionals.
With convertible seats available, you may wonder if an infant car seat is worth it. Infant car seats can be more affordable, and they do have benefits.
Infant car seats can be easily taken in and out of the car. They have a base in addition to the actual car seat. They are easy to install and uninstall and you can have more than one base to make switching cars hassle-free.
Infant car seats can also be attached to most strollers. They have a convenient carrying bar as well. Features like these mean that you don’t have to worry about taking your sleeping infant out of the seat, instead you can remove the entire car seat and take it with you.
On the other hand, convertible seats are stationary (for the most part). The base is attached to the car seat and they cannot be removed. Therefore, they cannot be attached to strollers or carried.
In order to remove your baby from the car, you will need to take them out of the car seat entirely.
The bottom line is, your infant needs an age and size appropriate car seat, whether it be a convertible seat or an infant car seat.
If you do end up buying an infant car seat, and your little one outgrows it, you might wonder if it is safe to reuse for a sibling.
Generally, the recommendations are that as long as it is in safe working order (no wear and tear or missing parts), has not experienced a car accident, and is not expired, then it is safe for reuse.
You should refer to your specific car seats owner’s manual and instructions. If your car seat meets the safety criteria then you can likely use it again.
Hopefully, we have been able to answer how long do babies use infant car seats. An infant should use an infant car seat until they exceed the weight, height, and/or age limitations as per the manufacturer’s guidelines.
The NHTSA recommends an infant car seat until at least age one. If you have a convertible car seat, there is often no need to switch seats, but instead just transition it from infant mode as your child grows.
If your child has grown out of their infant car seats you should switch to the next age appropriate car seat.
Leave a question in the comments if you are still wondering about any infant car seat use guidelines!