With hundreds of different models, types and variations on offer, finding the best baby car seat can often be one of the more challenging items on your baby shopping list. From the seats designed to be attached to a pushchair to form a travel system, to those that come with ISOFIX fastenings, it can be hard to know where to start.
Most parents mainly want to know which car seat is the safest and most comfortable for their baby, and whether they should opt for a rear-facing or forward-facing car seat. To make things easier, we've put together this helpful guide to help you choose the best baby car seat so that you're fully prepared for that first trip home from the hospital with your newborn.
In this article:
Baby car seats and the law
According to GOV.uk, a baby car seat is mandatory for transporting babies in cars. All children under 12 years old (or who are less than 135cm tall (4.4 ft)) need a car seat in the UK, so you’ll most likely need to invest in more than one car seat as your child grows up. Alternatively, you could look into a complete multi-stage car seat, which will stretch from birth to 12 years old. The laws around the types of child seats that are deemed safe have now been tightened, and in 2017, backless booster seats were deemed unfit for children under 125cm (4.1ft) or weighing less than 22kg (48.5 lbs).
Choosing the best baby car seat for your baby
You need to choose a baby car seat that fits your car and also UK law requirements. You can find out all about the requirements in this checklist on the official government website. To discern which car seat is best for your child, you'll need to know the weight, age and height of your baby as these are the differentiating factors for each baby car seat model.
Types of baby car seat
There are mainly three types of baby car seat available:
Group 0+ can also be called an infant car seat, as it's perfect for newborns. This first type is suitable from birth to 13 kg (or 12 to 15 months). They usually combine with a buggy to form a travel system. Besides that, these seats are rear-facing, as its five times safer for newborns as it offers greater protection to the underdeveloped head, neck, and spine of infants. At this age, by law your baby will be rearward facing. Babies have fragile necks, so in the event of a collision, your baby could be at risk of spinal cord damage if he is facing forward (the way you are driving).
The second type is suitable from birth to 18kgs. This type of baby car seat is usually a convertible car seat, with rear-facing and forward-facing options.
The third type of car seat is suitable from birth to 36 kg. Also called a 3-in-1 or an All-in-One car seat, it will carry your child from birth to the booster-seat stage, and is meant to stay permanently in the car, so you won't be able to carry your child out in it if they fall asleep.
Baby car seat technology
A lot of the new car seats have extra features like a rotating seat or a lie-flat function, but the most important features you can get in a car seat are the safety ones. All the new baby car seats in the UK need to be i-Size (a European-wide car seat regulation, ECE R129), and should also have side-impact protection (SICT). They also need to use ISOFIX (an international standard for attachment points for baby car seats in passenger cars).
Best baby car seat: FAQs
Here are some of your most frequently asked baby car seat questions, answered:
How much does a baby car seat cost?
Car seat prices range anywhere from £50 to £300, depending on quality and type. The longer you are able to use it, the more expensive it will be.
What is the 2-hour rule?
The 2-hour car seat rule is the safest time a baby or a child can be in a baby car seat per 24-hour period, according to safety experts and manufacturers.
How do I install a baby car seat in a car?
Not all baby car seats fit in all cars. Before buying a car seat, you need to make sure that the baby car seat you choose is compatible with your car. Read the manual and head on over to Youtube; most car seat brands have their own video installation guide. If all else fails and you're still not sure, why not ask a professional to install a baby car seat in your car. There are specialised technicians who can make sure everything is working perfectly so your baby can be as safe as possible.
When should I switch to a bigger baby car seat?
If your baby has outgrown their car seat either by height or weight, if their legs are hanging out, and they look uncomfortable, it's time to upgrade the car seat. Pro tip: make a note in your baby's growth chart to remind you that as soon as your baby reaches a certain weight, it's time for a new car seat.
Should I buy a second-hand baby car seat?
It's perfectly fine to buy a second-hand car seat that isn't too old, as long as you get it checked out by a specialist first. For your own piece of mind, opt for a new one with a warranty if possible.
The best baby car seats
To make things easier, our panel of mum testers put some of the best car seats to the test, living with them for a month, then giving us their feedback. A number of these are also previous Mother & Baby Awards shorlisters and winners...
If you’re looking for a good-value car seat that’s a dream to install, seriously comfy – yet doesn’t compromise on safety features or style – this is it. Our testers agree this feels really sturdy and secure. It could do with a deeper recline for naps, but that’s a low priority in a seat that can be used up to age 12.
The Apramo Ostara Fix is a comfortable, adjustable car seat suitable for 3-12-year-olds. It offers 7 different positions and made from thicker fabrics for higher-level comfort and security. Parents can also rest assured as the removable covers on the seat are quick and easy to wash.
The MYTI is an ultra-resistant forward-facing car seat that has nine adjustable positions to suit your child's preference. It also has a headrest and adjustable shoulder width, which expands while your little one grows.
The new multi-stage Balance car seat from Silver Cross is made from the softest natural bamboo fabrics while being secure and safe. With its smart easy lock ISOFIX system, nine headrest and four recline positions, the long car journeys that may be a pain, have never been so comfortable for you and your child.
Ensure your little one can sit back and travel comfortably in the ADVANSAFIX IV R. As your child grows, you can switch from the integrated 5-point harness to the 3-point seat belt. This car seat provides maximum comfort and security when on the road.
The highly flexible, supportive and comfortable KIDFIX² R is a 2-in-1 seat from Britax Römer's award-winning KIDFIX range. Suitable for little ones aged between 3.5 to 12 years, it also comes with a padded headrest to provide the ultimate safety and comfort your little one needs for every trip.
When it comes to great value for money, Joie has it covered with their Every Stage FX car seat – lasting from birth to 36kg. Light enough to transfer easily between cars and quick to adjust, making this clever car seat a great option if you want to easily alter one car seat for two children.
Maxi-Cosi's Kore Pro i-Size car seat is an easy to use and innovative seat that provides the safety and security you need for your little passenger. Its simple design and ultra-comfort padding won't let you down.
Another car seat that goes from birth to 12 years old, the price tag makes it an absolute bargain investment. The Graco milestone can be used as a rear-facing, forward-facing or highback booster seat.
The headrest can be adjusted with one hand (perfect for mums on the go) and the harness height automatically adjusts when altering the headrest height. The only downside is that this car seat is pretty heavy, so it won’t be the easiest to transfer between different cars.
Another Mother & Baby award winner, Chicco’s multistage car is supportive, easy to adjust and stable. Lasting till your child is 12, this is great value for money.
Our team of mum testers wished the covers were machine washable, but overall, gave this multistage car seat four and a half stars out of five.
The Cosatto Hug is suitable for 9kg to 36kg, which is approximately nine months to 12 years. With five reclining positions and an in-built ISOFIX base, you can rest assured your little one will be safe whilst you drive.
Features include an adjustable headrest, plush chest and stomach pads and padded inserts that can easily be removed and washed, the car seat lives up to its ‘huggable’ name! Our mums also loved the fun design (you can get this is different colours and patterns) and the value for money.
With excellent protection and support, the Cybex Pallas 2-Fix is easy to put together and thanks to its ISOFIX base, you’ll be able to quickly install it in your car without a headache. Key features include an adjustable recline, a headrest, side-protection pads and a front impact restraint, which stops your little one from wiggling out of the straps whilst you are focusing on the road. It’s light and manoeuvres between cars and our mums loved how spacious the car seat felt.
This is not only a car seat but part of a travel system. A removable infant carrier that provides an all-in-one solution for travelling on the road and with a stroller.
With this car seat is all intuitive and it can be operated one-handed, with indicators to show a complete safe installation with the inbuilt ISOFIX base. The Zero1 has extensive cushions for newborns that can be removed in various pieces as they grow.