Saturday, March 2, 2013

Baby Gear: Car seats, strollers & travel accessories

Deciding on travel gear for my baby before she was born was tricky, I really didn't have a clue which brands to go for, and I didn't have much to go by other than advice from friends and online reviews. I tried to think ahead and predict which gear would best match our needs and spend the right amount of money in the right areas. Because of all the safety concerns with car seats, I really wanted to be sure that I could get a good deal without compromising on safety.  Here is the list of our travel gear.





Car seats

Before my baby arrived I knew nothing about car seats, I just wanted something affordable with high safety ratings. I was made to understand that I had two main options; a rear facing infant car seat which she would most likely outgrow within the first year or a convertible seat which she could use for many years. This confused me a bit, if the convertible seat could be use from birth all the way through toddler hood then of course that was a better deal than the infant seat that could only be used for the first year right? It sounded as though I could just skip the infant seat and go right to the convertible seat and save money in the process. But I quickly came to realize there are some major differences between the two and they each come with their own pros and cons. We ended up getting both.

We started out with an infant seat which is basically a  reclining bucket seat with a carry handle. It has a detachable base that stays in the car.



Graco snugride 22 infant carseat and base

Graco snugride base that stays in the car



 The advantage of an infant seat is that it doubles as a carrier allowing you to carry your baby around conveniently.  It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but trust me it is. When you have a squishy newborn baby that’s finally fallen asleep in the car, you do not want to dare waking her up by removing her from the car seat.  And with an infant seat you don’t need to. You can easily lift the entire seat out of the base and carry your baby around while you run errands without disturbing her.  The infant seat is also great for keeping them warm and protected from the elements as they can stay warmly bundled up whilst being transported around. Most of them also have a canopy or umbrella to provide shade from sun and rain, and they can be securely mounted on to most shopping carts and stroller frames.

I had heard a lot of good things about infant seats by brands like Peg Perego and Britax but over all I was surprised to find that lower priced brands like Graco and Chicco had the best combined reviews for high safety ratings and user friendliness.  A lot of the more expensive brands were notorious for being extremely heavy and awkward to carry. After much deliberation I narrowed it down to my final two choices;  the Graco snugride 35 and Chicco Keyfit 30. I liked both of these and was about to go ahead and make a purchase but thankfully I hesitated.   The numbers 35 and 30 reflect the max weight limit of the car seat. I thought it made sense to buy an infant seat with a high max weight so I could use it for as long as possible. However I stumbled upon some advice on a blog to stick to the lowest max weight. That’s right the lowest.  The reason for this is that regardless of the max weight on the car seat, they also have a max height. There should always be at least one inch of space between the top of the baby’s head and the top of the car seat. So for the majority of babies, they will outgrow their infant seat in height ( length) long before they reach the max weight. This advice was pure genius and turned out to be true in our case. My baby is tall but slim and she outgrew her infant carseat long before she reached the maximum weight.  With this in mind I decided to try out  the standard Graco Snugride car seat. It  has a maximum weight limit of 22lbs and  usually retails between $75 to $125 but I ended up getting it for almost nothing! I found it on sale as part if the Alano travel system mentioned below for $132!  Which is a pretty good deal for both the stroller and car seat! 

Overall I will say we had a strong love hate relationship with this seat, we loved it because it was lightweight and easy to use. We  also got very attached to it because our baby spent many nights sleeping in it when we first brought her home from the hospital as she refused to sleep in crib. Honestly I love everything about this seat except two main things; the fabric and the strap adjustment.  The fabric of the seat is horrible. It’s a really cheap synthetic type of material almost like a lawn chair that traps a lot of heat and sticks to her body once she sweats.   So it was awful in the summer.  The strap adjustment is really annoying too. I didn’t even realize how bad it was until we switched over to the convertible seat which has a really easy harness adjuster located on the front of the seat. The standard Graco snugride doesn’t have this feature,  the straps have to be manually adjusted on the back of the seat which is truly a pain since the straps have to be adjusted often.  I know that many people just leave the straps on the same setting but for optimal safety of the car seat, the straps have to be adjusted each time you place the baby in the seat. This is beacuse ideally you would loosen the straps to take the baby in and out of the seat and then tighten the straps once the baby is in the seat. We used our Graco snugride heavily for about 8 months and its still in great shape. Fortunately my sister in law still had her snugride base so we ended up having two bases, one in each car for our convenience.

A Convertible seat  on the other hand stays inside the car. You can’t carry the baby around in it or use it anywhere other than in the car.  It is called convertible because it converts from being a rear facing reclining infant seat to a forward facing upright toddler seat.  Although it can be used for infants, with the aid of a padded insert, it is not as convenient as an infant seat. It is also not as safe for newborns as an infant seat.  We switched over to a convertible seat when my little one was about 8 months old.  We decided to switch the seat even though she hadn’t reached the maximum weight or height  for two main reasons.  Firstly she was fast outgrowing the seat by her height and she didn’t like the recline position of the infant seat.  Once she learnt how to sit up by herself she would constantly keep trying to sit up in the car seat and didn’t like reclining at all. She was also getting pretty heavy and it was hard carrying her around in the car seat.

Based on our experiences with the low quality fabric with Graco I was a bit hesitant to buy another Graco car seat.  I decided that since we would be using the convertible car seat for a much longer period it was worth investing in a higher quality seat so our baby could be as safe and comfortable as possible.  After going back and forth over a few brands, I ended up choosing the Britax Marathon 70 G3 in black onyx. 





  



This is the newest Britax Marathon available and has a max weight limit of 40 pounds for rear facing   and 70 pounds for forward facing.We have been using this seat for 2 months now and so far we love it! It has so many great features such as safe cell technology, Energy-Absorbing Versa-Tether, side impact protection and a tangle-free, no-rethread, five-point harness. Best of all the seat has velcro tabs to hold the harness out of the way whilst placing my baby in the seat. 



When we made the switch over to the new seat I seriously had a hard time adjusting, I didn’t realize how convenient the infant seat truly was. Especially with all the cold and snowy weather its pretty tricky carrying her in my arms since she is so strong and squirmy. Meanwhile I have to also keep her wrapped up and warm whilst carrying other things like my handbag, her diaper bag, her lunch bag , other shopping bags, umbrella (if its raining) and keys.  And then still have to find a free hand to grab my keys and open our front door!!! 

I started out wanting a really jazzy stroller, I've always had a crush on the Uppababy strollers, they are sleek and stylish with a minimalist design that I adore! 







I especially love the retro look of the bassinet, so reminiscent of the old school buggies.  Not to mention how small it folds down! But alas I didn't want to spend $750 on a stroller and that doesn't even  include the cost of all the accessories. I set my stroller budget at $200 and I had my eye on the jogging strollers by Jeep.

I'll admit I don't jog and thus don't need a jogging stroller but I just really liked the look of the Jeep jogger. I also have several friends who use joggers even though they don't jog so I assumed it didnt really matter.  But once I started shopping in earnest and checking out the strollers in the stores, I realized that the jogging strollers can be harder to manuever since they have a fixed front wheel  and a lot of them have air filled tires which might end up being more of a pain in the neck to me. 


As I mentioned earlier I ended up buying a Graco Alano Travel system which comprises of the classic Alano stroller and the snugride carseat. I only bought this set because I found it on sale for $130 which was such a steal! I also knew deep down that I wouldn't use the stroller much so I couldn't justify spending a ton of money on it. 

I chose the Meadow Menagerie print because it has a fun element to it with pops of color without being too loud or gender specific. 

I was warned to stay away from a travel system because of how bulky their strollers are even when folded down, but when we tried folding it down in the store it didn't seem that bad to us.

Of course we didn't have anything to compare it to, but we soon learned the hard way that it basically takes up all the room in our trunk. We went shopping at Costco and for the first time ever all the stuff we bought didn't fit in the trunk because our monster stroller was taking up all the space! So that's a lesson learnt, the next stroller I buy will not be part of a travel system set.

Overall it's an okay stroller, its no Uppababy, but it works. The harness of the stroller is slightly annoying, I feel as though the straps are a bit too narrow and a bit irritating because you always have to thread the waist straps though the shoulder straps, but other than that, I don't have any complaints. We only use it about once a week when we go to church, sometimes we will take it for walks too, but I often prefer to wear her in our Ergo baby carrier instead.  So I'm definitely glad I didn't splurge on an expensive stroller. I love the huge basket underneath, it's perfect for storing all the gear I carry around with us on days out.



Once I started going out regularly with my baby it quickly became apparent that no matter how hard I tried to travel light, I always ended up carrying a lot of gear with me. It occurred to me that my life would be somewhat easier if I had a place to hang at least one or two of my bags. I decided to try out the Mighty Buggy Hooks by  Think King.



Most experts will tell you not to have hooks on your stroller because of the risk that you may place heavy bags on the hooks which will cause the stroller to tip over.  This makes perfect sense to me, so I only use it if I really need to and I am careful to only place lightweight bags on the hooks if necessary. I like this brand because the hooks are lightweight and streamlined but still very strong and sturdy.  It is easy to attach them to the handle bars of the stroller and I'm really glad I bought them since I used them every single time I take the stroller out.


There are many different types of car seat covers and canopies designed to protect the baby from the elements. I received a promo code for a free car seat canopy by carseatcanopy

But I wasn't really in love with the look of it, so I didn't bother with the promo code since I still had to pay for shipping. For the first few months when she was born, I would just throw a blanket over the carseat if it was windy, raining or a bit cold. But when winter rolled around, I realized I needed a better plan. All the experts agree that babies should not wear winter jackets or coats inside the carseat because the thick layers of the jacket affect the ability of the car seat harness to effectively hold the baby tightly in place in the event of an accident. For this reason I would always dress her in light layers with a light fleece hoodie before strapping her in. Once she was securely fastened into the seat,  I would wrap thick blankets over her but her face was still exposed to the cold.

I started looking around for a better alternative to a loose blanket but most of the options out there interfered with the safety of the carseat. For optimal safety there shouldn't be any after market products between the baby and the car seat itself. This includes any inserts, body supports or blankets that are not made by the car seat manufacturer. Placing thick layers of fabric between the baby and seat increases the chances of serious injury in the event of an accident. So even though I liked the look of the JJ Cole Bundle Me cover. I decided not to get it.


The Bundle Me cover is made in such a way that it lines the inside of the car seat and the harness of the seat has to be threaded through the slots inside the cover. This is highly unsafe, you should never have anything between the baby and the seat especially not thick fabric like this.


After searching a bit more I found the "shower cap" style cover by JJ Cole collections. It is not as thick or as warm as the Bundle Me but it sure is a heck of a lot safer. 


This cover is called a shower cap style because it has elasticized edges and it fits over the car seat once the baby is already safely strapped inside. It doesn't intefere with the harness or the safety of the seat in anyway. This cover also works with the stroller. It can be a bit annoying to get it to fit properly though, but once I got the hang of it I use it all the time.


Cart cover
In the very beginning, whenever we went shopping I would either wear my daughter in one of our baby carriers ( Ergo or Baby bjorn), or we would mount the carseat on top of the shopping cart. This wasn't always ideal because certain stores have carts that aren't the right shape or size for the car seat  to click on securely. Once we stopped using the infant car seat, we no longer had the option of mounting it on the shopping cart.  Since she was sitting up well by this point we decided to get a shopping cart cover. I know many parents just put their child directly in the shopping cart, sometimes wiping it down briefly with the disinfectant wipes provided by the store. But based on my experience working in a supermarket I can tell you that it would take a lot more than a wet wipe to get a cart clean enough for a baby. Don’t get me wrong I’m not a germaphobe by any means and I do understand how exposure to certain germs can actually build immunity, but shopping carts are far beyond disgusting. Think of it logically people pack groceries in these carts, sometimes fresh produce like raw meat or dairy may spill on the carts, then they are left outside exposed to all the elements and also at the mercy of bored teenagers in the neighborhood. Not to mention the fact that other babies suck on the handle bars all the time. In short most carts are covered in a nasty cocktail of illness causing germies that I don’t want my baby exposed to, especially since she licks everything!! 
We opted for the Infantino Cloud cover . I like this cart cover because it's big and padded and fits over pretty much every shopping cart, even the over sized costco carts.  It just takes a quick minute to put over the cart and then my daughter can sit comfortably and enjoy the ride while we shop.






This cover features a safety strap that attaches to the cart and goes around the baby’s waist. It also has two loops which you can attach toys to. Best of all it also works for the wooden high chairs at restaurants too! 







I bought the Safefit car mirror so I could keep an eye on her whilst driving and also so she can see herself and see me too. Car safety experts believe that car mirrors are unsafe because they can become projectiles in the event of a collision or sudden stop. They also believe car mirrors distract the driver because a parent will take their eyes off the road more often to check on their baby.  I considered all this but decided to go ahead and get a mirror anyway. It is much more distracting to me as a driver if my baby is crying up a storm and I can't see whats going on. Sometimes it is much more reassuring to be able to glance at the mirror to make sure everything is okay.  The Safefit mirror has been crash tested and is made out of a flexible shatter proof reflective surface rather than a real glass mirror. It is also firmly attached to the headrest by a hook as well as velcro tabs. I do like this mirror better than a few other brands out there,  it's nice and wide and works great in both landscape and portrait orientation.  We also received the Fisher Price monkey mirror as a gift and we planned to use that in our second car, but for some  unknown reason our daughter hates that monkey and cries whenever she sees it. So we can't use it and may have to give it away.




Sun Shades

During the summer months the sun was especially bright and hot and even with the canopy up it would still bother her a lot. We decided to get shades for the back seat windows  because if she wasn’t happy in the car she would scream her little head off. This is another product that experts believe should be avoided if possible because in the event of a collision or sudden stop the shades can become projectiles that cause more harm than good. This is especially true of shades that are solely attached by suction pads. We opted to try the Brica Keep it Cool reflective shades that clip over the top of the window and have one suction pad at the bottom of the shade.  These shades are retractable with the touch of a button and are more securely attached to the window than other brands.





Travel toys


At my 6 week post partum doctor checkup  I noticed that other moms had toys hanging over the handle bar of their infant car seat which helped to keep their babies occupied. It gave them something to look at and try to reach for. I hadn’t even thought of this option by this point, so I decided to look into it to find some travel toys for my daughter.  I didn’t want any of the hard plastic toys that are commonly sold for car seats because I worried they might somehow fall off and hurt her. I searched for soft toys that weren’t too large to block her view.  I was pleased when I found the Sassy go-go bugs





They are a set of 3 bright colored soft bugs and each of them makes a distinct sound. These Sassy bugs are really awesome, they have symmetrical smiling faces that capture a baby’s attention as well as contrasting color combinations. Each of them makes a unique sound; chime, rattle and crinkle, but the soft chiming sound was my baby’s favorite and would happen every time we hit a bump on the road or drove around a corner. She loved these toys so dearly and as she got older she enjoyed  reaching out for them and batting them around. She would talk, coo and laugh with them in her own special babble language. Now that she no longer uses the infant seat we have the sassy bugs in her play pen and she still loves to pick them up and shake them.


12 comments:

  1. those colored sassy bugs are adorable. I never knew there was so much to the choice of baby gear car seat and stroller wise. I think it is amazing how one is able to chose one from the wide array of choice.
    Great breakdown

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    Replies
    1. Indeed the amount of choices are endless!!

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  2. Infant strollers are babies' residence when out of the house; it is their sanctuary while on a trip. You ought to be watchful when buying an infant stroller for your little angel to enhance its safety and well being.

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  3. Your post is very nice and awesome.Car seat is the very important items,when child go out side on a trip.Car seat should be very soft as comfortable for child.Thanks for this tips. Car Seat Accessories

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  4. Wow!!! what a great baby stroller hooks are given in this blog for many times I am also looking for this kind of amazing stroller hooks if you are having any information related to the online store from where I can get it then plz tell me about this....More Info

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  5. Thanks Robert, I purchased these hooks from Amazon!

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  6. I wouldn't be a propionate of putting the car seat on top of the shopping cart- a quick google search will tell you about the risks of toppling and damaging the clicking mechanisms making it less effective in a crash. Babies have died.

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  7. Thanks carriertly you share a so fantastic thing,,
    i do when i will get free time..
    Kashmir tours

    ReplyDelete
  8. Cool post. All Images are so cute. I like the way you written the post. I like to buy best baby car seat. There are many website who famous for kids toys online.
    Thanks for sharing such a nice post.

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  9. The most important thing, their comfort. So you should keep good eye while buying these things.

    ReplyDelete