TLDR: Just buy a Diono Rainier from Amazon. You’ll be making a fine choice at 1% of the effort.
Since we are getting ready to receive a newborn, I volunteered to look into carseats. Hospitals won’t discharge a baby to you until you have one installed and inspected, so this is a required task.
Infant vs. convertible
If you just Google “infant carseat”, you’ll get infant-only carseats. These do have benefits. They are cheaper, lightweight, and can double as a napper in a pinch. Unfortunately your baby will also outgrow these in a year.
I didn’t want to buy another one in a year, and I doubted we were going to remove the carseat very frequently (we live in a city with narrow parking spaces), so we decided to focus our search on convertible carseats.
These carseats are heavier, bigger, and more expensive, but are designed to take your child from infancy through early childhood.
Which convertible carseat?
There’s hundreds of different models, and hundreds of variables you could optimize. But there’s one factor that should make your choice very simple:
Rear facing is 5 times safer than forward facing. The American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends keeping children rear-facing until at least two years of age. In Sweden, children are kept rear facing until age 4 by law, and they have near zero fatality rates for 0-6 year old children.
Swedish carseats are designed to be rear-facing for much longer, and have weight limits of up to 55lbs. But the vast majority of convertible American carseats are only designed to carry a child up to 40lbs in rear-facing.
Even if you could import a Swedish carseat, they would not be legal to use in the U.S., since they have not passed the American NHTSA safety tests.
Extended Rear Facing in the U.S.
Thankfully there are two brands that make carseats for the American market with high rear facing weight limits. They are Clek and Diono, and they make a few models that allow rear-facing until 50lbs.
The Clek carseats are more expensive, made in Canada (a good thing), and require an expensive infant insert to work for newborns. They also have a lower upper weight limit (for eventual forward facing). If money no object I might buy that and also the infant insert.
The Diono carseats are more affordable, made in China (eh), but do fit newborns without any additional accessories. They also have a higher upper weight limit for eventual forward facing. It overall seemed to be a better compromise for us, and we bought that. Specifically, we got a purple one.
Did we make the right choice? I’m not sure. After all, you have to decide before your child is even born, and probably before you have any experience with children or carseats. But I can sleep at night knowing I did through research to prioritize my child’s safety.