A right of passage of any new parent is schlepping your new little one around in an infant car seat carrier, right? You can buy adorable covers to make them a bit less abusive to your forearm and decorative covers to protect your babe from the elements.
But can you, could you, skip the baby bucket seat all together?
Perhaps you’re one of many new or expectant parents who don’t realize that an infant car seat carrier isn’t required or absolutely necessary. And let me be perfectly clear - YOUR BABY MUST BE IN A CAR SEAT FOR ALL TRAVEL! What I’m talking about is the option of using a convertible car seat for your infant instead of a “pop out” infant seat.
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What Is A Convertible Car Seat?
Convertible car seats accommodate rear-facing or forward-facing babes (you should keep your little one rear-facing until at LEAST 2 years of age). Some have very low minimum size limits and come with additional support inserts to accommodate newborns. Often, the manufacturer's instructions dictate different install position for infants.
Convertible car seats stay in the car. They don’t come with a handle or “pop out” of a base that remains in the car. They are intended for safe travel and that’s it.
Why Skip The Infant Car Seat Carrier?
Our family made the not-so-common decision to skip an infant car seat with both of our babies. WHY?
Even with all my knowledge of how developmentally unhelpful car seat positioning is, how sleeping in a car seat can be a SIDS risk and how the overuse of car seats can contribute to Flat Head Syndrome (Positional Plagiocephaly) and neck tightness (Torticollis), I knew that as an exhausted new parent it would be far too easy for me to let perceived convenience rule the day.
I knew how hard the temptation would be to let my sleeping babe remain in the seat on outings and even in the house. I knew that it would provide an easy seat to keep baby in on stroller walks, errands, restaurants and friends’ homes. I also knew that we would need to purchase a convertible seat in the first year of baby’s life anyway and saw that skipping the infant seat could save us some serious money (read on to learn why it didn't)!
Why It's Not Always Feasible To Skip An Infant Car Seat
Skipping an infant seat isn’t feasible for everyone and I don’t think it’s the best choice for all families or all babies. Here are some situations that might make it more difficult or virtually impossible to skip an infant car seat:
- Very cold weather climates
- More than one child and having to use street parking or a shared parking lot at home
- Babywearing isn't an option either due to baby's temperament/preference or physical limitations of parents
- Multiple caregivers picking up a child from childcare (although at some point in the first year, all caregivers will need to have a convertible seat in their car for pickup)
How To Survive Without An Infant Car Seat Carrier
Since I receive many, many, many emails from readers wondering how we manage without an infant car seat, especially with our second-born joining the family a few months ago. Here’s how we make it work and don’t think twice about our decision:
Leaving The Hospital
As long as you have an appropriate car seat that fits your newborn, there is NO requirement of having an Infant Car Seat in order to be discharged from the hospital.
However, a reader pointed out that you won't know the size of your newborn until they've arrived and they may be too small or too short for your seat. Good point! If you'd like to start out with a convertible car seat, make sure you've picked out an infant seat to buy quickly in pinch or have one lined up one to borrow just in case your baby arrives smaller than expected.
Because it is so much the norm now to buckle baby into an infant seat in the hospital room and carry them out to the car, it is helpful to talk to your birthing place ahead of time and mention that you’ll be using a car seat that will be installed in your vehicle. Due to security restrictions to reduce the risk of infant abductions, both our babes were rolled to the car in a bassinet by a nurse and then we buckled them in their car seats.
Restaurants, Errands and Outings
Wearing baby in a wrap, sling or structured carrier is a fantastic option for outings. It frees up space in your shopping cart, allows you to be hands free, gives baby awesome sensory input and is nice for bonding (added bonus, I can breastfeed my infant while prepping lunch for my toddler). I started wearing both of my babies in their first days of life and both loved it once we found the right carrier.
From my experience, starting babywearing early is very helpful for getting your baby used to it. I’ve collected a total of 4 carriers (several were purchased used) and have different preferred uses for each and have found that each of my babies had one that they most preferred in the first two months - the Baby K'tan with my firstborn and the Moby wrap with my newest addition.
Online or local babywearing groups are great resources for finding the right carrier and may even allow you to try out different carriers before you purchase on.
Babywearing is my go-to for dining in restaurants, shopping and most outings and errands with an infant. How do I eat while babywearing? I use the wrap/carrier itself or a nursing cover to cover baby's head (while leaving their face exposed for safety) and let my food cool down before I start to eat it. I also refrain from drinking hot drinks (coffee, for example) while babywearing. It might sound silly but I also use a spoon sometimes instead of a fork to minimize food dropping on baby (rice, for example).
Right around the time it was totally impractical to wear baby while eating was the same age that we also began to "protect naps and bedtime." So we didn't venture out to a restaurant with our 6 month old during his sleeptimes. Not long after, he was able to sit independently in a high chair and we would go out to eat when he was awake.
No Stroller? No babywearing carrier?
This might sound obvious, but without an infant car seat carrier I wind up holding my babies more. I hold them in church, when visiting friends, at a restaurant meal when they're awake (we play "pass the baby" and take turns eating), and so on. Is it inconvenient? Rarely (for me).
Aside from all the snuggles, the biggest perk is that I get tons of chances to hold my baby in a Tummy Time position or place her belly down on my lap. That's one of the biggest factors in reaching our Tummy Time goals!
Using A Stroller
For our first baby, we opted for a single stroller that reclined flat and began using that once baby was about a month old (the Baby Jogger City Mini). With our second babe, on most outings we still use the single stroller for the toddler and I wear baby. The nice thing about this option is that when toddler is out and exploring (at a park or library, for example), I can recline the stroller seat flat for the baby.
For neighborhood walks, I used a double stroller (the Baby Jogger City Select) with a bassinet attachment. When my super tall baby outgrew the bassinet at only 2 months old, we moved her to the stroller seat fully reclined.
Getting To and From The Car
This is, of course, highly dependent on your living arrangements and for some may be the single factor that necessitates an infant car seat carrier. If you have more than one child and have to use street parking or a parking lot, an infant car seat carrier might be a must.
Since we have a private driveway (and two kids), I load toddler in the car first with the house door open while baby plays in her Pack 'n Play in the living room. I unload baby first and bring her into the house to her Pack 'n Play while I run out to unload brother.
Since I can't load toddler into his car seat while wearing baby, If I happen to be loading the car on a rare outing without a stroller I quickly place baby in her seat unbuckled, load and buckle toddler and loop back to get baby buckled in. I leave my car keys next to baby to remind me to go back and buckle her (since I have only 2 remaining brain cells left and could totally imagine forgetting to strap her in!).
Without an infant car seat carrier, there IS a little more strategy involved when you're preparing to go on a new outing. Sometimes I do find myself in an unexpected moment of problem-solving. For example, when I took my 4 month old swimming without bringing our stroller and had to figure out what to do with him while I got dressed. But I have always been able to figure out a solution (I dried off while holding him as best as I could and then laid him down on both of our towels on the floor while I changed. The towels were going in the wash when we got home anyway!).
If I need to fill out paperwork or do another two-handed task while out with baby without a stroller or babywearing carrier (which is rare), I've mastered sitting with one ankle crossed onto the other knee and letting baby lay in my lap. Parents are master problem-solvers and the occasional head-scratcher has always been easily tackled for us.
When Your Baby Falls Asleep On An Outing
This is hands-down the biggest concern I hear from parents when we talk about car seat options. First of all, let's face facts. Your baby will be in "sleep on the go" mode for only a few months. Most sleep books (and I've unfortunately had to read a lot) recommend that you have a sleep routine and designated sleep spot in place by around 4 months for nighttime sleep and most naps.
So what do you do when your newborn falls asleep on outings? When you don't have any other option, you unbuckle her and put her in a babywearing carrier or stroller. Or, you carry her inside and put her in her designated sleep spot in your home. Most every parent I've spoken to who has skipped an infant car seat has said that their baby would transition to the next spot to sleep just fine.
If you have a particularly high needs baby who can't, this might present a barrier to skipping the infant car seat carrier (but a barrier that you would only know after you had your baby and could then go purchase an infant car seat).
Choosing A Convertible Car Seat
Not all convertible car seats are ideal for infants. You'll want to look for a seat with both very low weight minimums and very low harness slots (these should be at or below your baby's shoulder).
We used the Combi Coccoro seat with both of our babies and absolutely loved it. HOWEVER, it has very low upper weight and height limits and so we knew it wouldn't be the only convertible seat we'd ever own. My son is off-the-charts tall and outgrew the seat at around 11 months - thereby not saving us money in the long run over having an infant car seat carrier.
Other seats to consider (all of which have higher upper size limits than the Combi):
If You Do Opt For An Infant Car Seat Carrier
If you're on the fence about whether or not you can survive without an infant car seat, why not give it a try? You can always run out and buy a seat a few weeks into your parenting adventures if you need one.
If you weigh the options and decide that an infant car seat is a better fit for your family, that's absolutely fine! I would, however, suggest that you:
- Limit your baby's time in the carrier outside of the car
- Avoid baby sleeping in the seat when out of the car
- Never place the carrier on the seat portion of a shopping cart or on an upside down restaurant high chair.