Buying safety products for your children can be incredibly stressful. You need to balance the need for features you think are important with a budget that feels logical. You want something easy to use, but you don't necessarily know what features you want until you have (or don't have!) them.

One of my daughter's teachers is pregnant with her first child and she's been driving herself crazy with this right now - specifically with car seats. It feels like a hugely important decision and you don't want to feel like you're being cheap or cavalier with your child's safety. Is the $50 seat safe? Is the $500 seat just taking advantage of nervous parents?

When online reviews just serve to confuse parents more, here are a few things to consider when buying a car seat. 
  • All seats are required to meet federal safety regulations. When used correctly, the inexpensive seat is just as safe.
  • Because so much of the effectiveness of the seat is based on using it correctly, choosing a seat that is user friendly is key. If you can look at the seat in person, take the time to look at how the seat will latch into the car, and how easy it is to secure, and to check that it's installed correctly. 
  • Look at how easy the seat will be to adjust as the baby grows. Having a correctly fitted harness is key for a baby, but babies grow quickly. The first time we had to adjust the harness, we found that we nearly had to take the entire seat apart, and I remember how nervous we were getting everything back together. A friend who had a different seat had a much easier adjustment procedure for her harness, and I remember being green with envy every time I had to move the harness. Neither of us had any idea when we purchased the seats that this would be a concern.
  • Choose a seat that can be cleaned easily. Washing car seats can be difficult. Some seats are easier than others. Every baby at one point has had a diaper leak, a spit up situation or something else that requires a thorough cleaning, and every seat has its own protocol in the manual. It's worth looking that manual up online before making that final purchase.
  • Look at how long the seat will last. We chose an infant seat, rather than a convertible seat for the ease of transporting in and out of the car, but we were happy with the weight limit that would definitely last at least the first year. Some babies don't hit 20 lb until they're over a year old, but some hit it by six months. And although some seats look like they'll last forever, car seats do expire. Find a balance you're comfortable with.
Take your time, go online and read the manuals to find out the details that may not be on the box or the marketing materials, and talk to people you trust!