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Infant Car Seats

The standard features on these seats are quite universal: They're all rear-facing, they all have a three/five point harness to keep baby in place, and the newer ones are generally equipped for the LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) system - an anchor system, mandatory in all car models since September 2002, that secures car seats without using a seat belt. And the extras? These can include cold weather covers to keep babies warm, canopies, harnesses that can be adjusted with one hand, and ergonomically designed handles for adult comfort.

Real life example: Judy Brown opted to buy a seat that would match the brand of stroller she'd eventually get. What she didn't do? Think about the weight of the seat. "Until Alex was seven months and 17 lb, I used an infant seat, but it got too heavy to carry," says Judy mother who wished she'd opted for the most lightweight model in the store.

Real life example: Ottawa's Jen Tristen liked her son's infant car seat, but found it expensive for the short time she could use it. "We were only able to use it until Lucas was 4.5 months old. He outgrew the length restriction 26 to 29 in. depending on the model]. I find most people are just thinking about the 20 lb weight restriction, and I know many who use them far too long. I wish they could be used longer, even if you have a big baby."

Car Seat/Stroller Systems

These uber-handy all-in-one travel systems feature strollers and infant car seats made to fit together. Most fold with one hand, are LATCH equipped, have a storage area and a stay-in-car base. But SUV-sized luxury versions are accessorized with children's trays, swivel wheels, cup holders and ergonomic handles.

Real Life Example: "With my travel system, you could take the baby out from the car without waking him up. It was so convenient," says Kelly Martin of Limehouse, Ont., mother of two-year-old Neil.

The ease of transferring baby out of the car is also what appealed to Rebecca Coleman, mom of 15-month-old Lydia from Oshawa, Ont. "We've used our system since Lydia was just a week old. The seat snapped and locked into the stroller well and with the additional locks on the stroller, it made it very secure," she says.

But parents should know you don't have to buy a system to get the convenience of taking your infant from the car seat to the stroller. Many strollers are equipped with an adjustable strap to secure a standard car seat, even if they don't manufacture matching car seats. "I fretted about my stroller purchase until I realized that the big-wheeled stroller I wanted would work with any car seat," says Dawn James, Toronto mom of 22-month-old Owen. "In the end, we also ended up buying a $100 universal stroller frame to use with the infant car seat, which was lightweight and totally convenient for the mall."

Three-in-One Car Seats

If you are thinking long term - these car seats are great - they work as rear - then front-facing seats for children between 5 and 30-40 lb and then convert to booster-style seats until the child reaches a seated height of 29 in. If you buy one to use from the newborn stage, however, you should know that they're not recommended for newborns less than 5 lb, and you'll be giving up the ease of a detachable infant seat for the long-term savings of buying just one car seat instead of two. Most features are standard across the brands, including LATCH fixtures, and they're all about evenly safe. If you are feeling alittle richer you might get extras, such as removable and washable pads, mesh pockets to tuck things into and easier-to-use straps.

Real Life Example: "My seat installs easily in a number of models of cars," says Andrea Kamling, Ajax mom of 20-month-old Sabrina. "It also has a good amount of padding, which is great for long drives, and it sits up high enough for Sabrina to see out the window."

Real Life Example: Ease of use is what drew Martin to a three-in-one deluxe car seat. "You can adjust the straps without removing the seat from your car," she says. "But it was very difficult to remove the infant head hugger. I almost ripped it taking it off."

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