Open any pregnancy or baby book, and you’ll find that list: the baby essentials, the things you absolutely cannot live without. While many accessories are easily recognized as frivolous, certain items are truly indispensable: the basic necessities for life with a baby.
Or are they?
In this weekly series, we’ll be looking at several baby essentials that really aren’t. They may be useful in certain situations, but if money or space is tight, or if you’re just looking to simplify and reduce consumerism and waste, here’s how to get along just fine without these so-called “essentials.“
In Part 1, we questioned the crib. This week, Part 2 bemoans the bucket.
Non-Essential #2: The Infant Car Seat, or “Carrier”
Let me first be perfectly clear: I am not suggesting that we don’t need car seats. Obviously they are essential for safety when riding in motor vehicles. However, we can get by just fine without the “bucket” infant car seats, those only for use up to about 22 pounds, and which are frequently used as baby carriers.
Very tiny babies with low birthweight, such as preemies, require special care. This article does not apply to them and is only intended for babies of average size.
The reported advantages of the infant seats are that they fit small infants better than convertible seats, that it is more convenient to buckle baby into the seat while indoors then carry it out to the car, and that it is better to take a sleeping baby from the car by keeping him in the seat rather than risk waking him.
Best Fit for Infants?
While in general, it is true that infant carseats do fit newborns better than many convertible carseats, more and more convertible seats these days are just as well-designed to fit small infants. Two excellent newer examples are the Radian 80, and the TrueFit, which both come with their own removable infant inserts. There is also the Snuzzler, a safety-tested separate infant insert which can be used in any car seat for comfort and support. (Note: Some states may have regulations against using non-original inserts, please check before using.)
When an infant outgrows their bucket carseat — usually before their first birthday — you will need to purchase a convertible carseat anyway. All too often, parents misunderstand and believe that just because their babies have outgrown their infant seat, they are ready to go straight to a forward-facing carseat. In fact, babies must remain rear-facing until they are at least 20 pounds and one year old, and this is only a bare legal minimum. It is much safer to keep your child rear-facing as long as possible, until they reach the maximum limit of their particular seats. For the TrueFit, for example, the rear-facing limit is 35 pounds, which will last most children until they are three years old.
Since you will need a good convertible seat anyway, it is obviously much more economical to just use this seat from the beginning, rather than spend an additional $70-$300 on a seat which will get less than one year of use. You will also be left with a large chunk of plastic to dispose of, since it is not recommended to buy seats secondhand.
Seats such as the Radian and TrueFit are a more expensive investment in the beginning, but since they can be used as a 5-point harness seat up to 65 pounds, it is much cheaper than buying multiple seats for different weight and age ranges.
Getting In, Getting Out
It certainly is convenient to be able to strap baby in while indoors, and carry them out to the car ready to go, rather than wrestling with the straps while hunched in your back seat, especially in the cold of winter.
However, one fact to consider is that you will have to learn how to get your child to (and into) the car once they’ve outgrown the bucket seat anyway. Why not get used to it while they are small, easy to handle and (mostly) passive, rather than after they’ve turned into opinionated, feisty – not to mention strong – toddlers?
Is it best to let sleeping babies lie? Not necessarily, according to some research. Infants who are left to sleep in their car seat, even when brought indoors, risk collapse of their airway, with potentially deadly results.
In my experience, transferring a sleeping baby from the car to a sling results in only minimal disruption, with the baby quickly returning back to sleep once comfortably nestled in the sling. Doing this in the winter took some practice – but once again, you will need to learn to deal with a sleeping toddler anyway when they are older and have outgrown the bucket. By the time she was old enough to struggle or resist, I was proficient and transfers went smoothly.
Use as Carriers
Using bucket carseats to get your baby in and out of the car easily, can lead to the temptation to lug your precious infant around this way all the time. From the house to the car, from the car to the store or the park, lock the seat into the travel system stroller base, back to the car and home again — when do these babies get held? We know that human touch is essential to the development of healthy children, so it is nonsensical to keep them isolated for extended periods in plastic carriers simply for the sake of “convenience.”
Besides lack of human physical touch, babies carried in carseats generally experience less interaction with their parents and their environment. I have observed, all too often, families simply leaving their babies — even when awake — ignored in their carseats on the floor, while the adults talk among themselves. Once a baby is safely locked away in their plastic bucket, it is too commonly treated like just another piece of luggage to be toted about, rather than a precious and valued human life.
Parents using infant carseats as carriers are also prone to developing dangerous habits, such as setting the seat on a table or other high surface, on soft surfaces where they can tip, or in grocery carts (risk of injury from falls, and parents leaving cart and baby unattended). Often there is a false sense of security, and they are handled quite roughly and carelessly. In fact, the handles on carseats are not tested as rigorously as the seats themselves and are frequently faulty, with disastrous consequences. There have been thousands of injuries — and product recalls — due to faulty handles releasing, dropping babies onto the floor. In 2006, 14,000 infants were injured in car seat carriers from non-motor vehicle accidents.
And of course, as a baby carrier, a carseat is heavy, cumbersome, and awkward — unlike your baby, who is light and portable. Infant carseats weigh, on average, between 7 and 10 pounds. That’s like hefting a large bag of potatoes along with your baby.
Carrying your baby in a sling — or, if all else fails, in your arms — is only as heavy as the baby. A good sling will further distribute this weight across your body, so that your baby can seem almost weightless – plus, your hands are free.
Important note: if you cannot get a convertible seat to fit your car with a proper recline for a newborn, then it is better to use an infant seat. However, you will still need to find a convertible seat which fits rear-facing when your baby outgrows the infant seat.
[This post was written by Heather Dunham]
Photo:  under Creative Commons