The best car seats of 2017: Safe, crash-tested, and ranked

An infant car seat is one of the few pieces of baby gear that is an absolute must-have purchase. Since it is a life-safety device  it is an important decision for you and your baby.
Looking for a car seat? We can help. We evaluated more than 100 car seats, then narrowed down to the 26 best car seats which we put through a robust testing process. Every seat went through crash testing as well as a gauntlet of practical day-to-day use tests to help you find the perfect seat for your family and baby. With so many competing products on the market, choosing a seat can be confusing. But that's where we can help. Whether you have a newborn and this is your very first seat, or your baby is getting ready to transition to his first convertible seat, our detailed analysis, based on actual use and testing of each seat, can make it easy to find the seat that fits your budget and is the right option for your family.
 
Review by:
Juliet Spurrier, MD & the BabyGearLab Testing Team

Last Updated:
Sunday
March 12, 2017

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First, our favorite infant seats


You'll need an infant seat to leave the hospital and you'll find our favorites below (you'll find our favorite convertible seats further down). These standout products earned more points overall in our Infant Car Seat Review and in key metrics like ease-of-installation, making them great choices for any family. This is the kind of seat you will be looking for infants and young babies from birth to 9-12 months.

Best overall infant seat


Chicco KeyFit 30


Chicco KeyFit 30 Editors' Choice Award

$199.99
at Amazon

Easy to install using LATCH
Better crash test results
Price
Hard to install without the base
Heavier
The Chicco KeyFit 30 is our favorite infant seat, and the one we feel is the best choice for most people. The Keyfit 30 impressed with the second highest crash test score and a good score for ease of installation using the LATCH method, thanks to a cinch assisted strap that takes the hard work out of getting a seat tight and secure. This seat is easy to use and looks nice with a list price at least $100 less than the other top scoring seats in the review and it is only $40 more than our Best Value winner for infant style seats. While it is a great seat, it isn't the best for city dwellers as our tests showed it is harder than most to install without the base and it is relatively heavy to consider carrying it long distances. However, the Keyfit 30 is compatible with the largest range of strollers, making it a good option for parents looking to create their own travel system and want the flexibility to choose from a wide variety of strollers. This seat works with the majority of the strollers (10 of 15) you'll find in our Best Stroller and Car Seat Combo Review, including the UPPAbaby Cruz Combo, the Chicco Keyfit Caddy, and the Bugaboo Bee3 Combo, all of which won awards.

Read full review: Chicco KeyFit 30

High quality infant seat


Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35


Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35 Editors' Choice Award

$299.99
at Amazon

Easy to install without the base
Above average crash test results
High quality and comfortable
Price
Harder to install using LATCH
The Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35 is a quality, high-end seat that earned the second highest crash test score, indicating an additional margin of safety. We think this sleek looking seat is super easy to install without the base, making it a good choice for parents who frequent public transportation, and it is almost as easy to install using the vehicle belt with the base. The Peg Perego features an anti-rebound bar at the foot of the base, offers nice padding and fabric for a comfortable ride, and is easy to use. Unfortunately, the Peg has a higher price tag and it isn't compatible with many strollers outside of the Peg Perego brand. However, if it fits within your budget and you are flexible with your stroller options, or aren't interested in combining it with a stroller, then the Primo Viaggio 4-35 could be a good choice for your family.

Read full review: Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35

Best bang for the buck in infant seats


Safety 1st onBoard 35 Air


The Safety 1st onBoard 35 Air Best Value Award

$139.99
(13% off)
at Amazon

Price
Easy to install without the base or using the vehicle belt
Above average crash test score
Hard to install with LATCH
Not compatible with most full-size strollers
Harder to use
The Safety 1st onBoard 35 Air is a budget friendly choice with higher performance than the cheaper infant seats we tested. This seat has above average crash test results and is easy to install using the vehicle belt and without the base. Outside of being easy to install, this seat is fairly average with no real standout features, but it doesn't have disappointing functionality either. For parents on a budget, we think it is an easy to use option, at a good price, with better crash test results. The big drawback to the Safety 1st is the lack of compatible strollers. In fact, none of the full-size strollers we tested will work with the Safety 1st, making it a poor choice if you want to create a travel system. Your only option would be the Baby Trend Snap-N-Go EX Universal, which did not fare well during testing. However, if you have a limited budget and aren't interested in using your infant seat with a stroller, then this is the seat we would recommend.

Read full review: Safety 1st onBoard 35 Air

Baby Wearing
Tula Ergonomic Baby and Onya Baby Outback: After months of testing  BabyGearLab chose these as dual Editors' Choice Award winners.
Instead of attaching an infant carrier to a stroller, or even taking the carrier out of the car, you might consider baby wearing as an alternative for taking baby from place to place. Wearing baby close to you (in a carrier designed for this purpose) is a great way to bond, and usually keeps baby calm and soothed. Many modern carriers also keep both of your hands-free, which means you can get things done with baby on board!

Our favorite for urban dwellers


UPPAbaby Mesa


UPPAbaby Mesa Top Pick Award

$300.00
List Price

Easy to install without the base
Easy to install with LATCH
High quality
Average crash test results
Heavier
The UPPAbaby Mesa is a stylish infant seat that is really easy to install without the base, making it a good choice for parents that frequently use taxis or Uber. We really like the unique LATCH system that self-ratchets and takes the guesswork out of installation helping parents get it right every time with a color-coded indicator. We love the way this seat looks and how easy it is to use, but it has rough fabric on the seat bottom that could chafe bare legs. For parents considering creating their own travel system, the Mesa is also compatible with several award-winning strollers including the UPPAbaby Vista, UPPAbaby Cruz, and the Baby Jogger City Mini. The Mesa has a high-end price on par with the Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35, so it might not be the best fit for families on a budget. However, the higher quality materials, ease of installation, and stroller compatibility indicate the price is worth it if these features are important to you and your budget allows.

Read full review: UPPAbaby Mesa

Our favorite convertible car seats


The products below include the convertible seats that earned top points and awards in our Convertible Car Seat Review. These seats are appropriate for older babies starting between the ages of 9-12 months (depending on size) and going up to 50-65 lbs depending on the model. Transitioning from an infant product occurs based on size, not age, so reading the manual on your infant seat is the best way to determine when it is time to make the switch to the convertible seats. At some point, baby will need this style of seat as required by law in the US, so it is a good idea to get the lay of the land before baby outgrows their infant style seat.

Best overall convertible seat


Britax Boulevard ClickTight


The Britax Boulevard ClickTight Editors' Choice Award

$304.00
(20% off)
at Amazon

Easiest to install
Easy to use
Comfortable
High quality
Heavier
Average crash test performance
The Britax Boulevard ClickTight is the perfect seat for parents who are worried about installing the seat correctly (probably all of us), which is why we would highly recommend this seat to friends. This convertible option earned perfect 10 of 10 scores for installation using both the LATCH system and the vehicle belt, making it a standout option and the only seat we feel is practically foolproof. This seat is easy to use with impressive comfort and quality construction. We think parents will love the look, feel, and features of this unique seat. The ClickTight has a slightly above average score for crash test results, but we remind parents that this means it exceeded the Federal requirements, and given that poor installation often translates to more injuries, we think the installation performance of this seat makes up for the average crash test results.

Read full review: Britax Boulevard ClickTight

Crash testing standout


Britax Marathon


Editors' Choice Award

$219.98
(24% off)
at Amazon

High crash test score
Easy to install using both methods
Easy to use
Hard to access belt pathway for installation using the vehicle belt
The Britax Marathon has the best crash test results, earning it the highest crash test score for convertible seats. Given the importance of this metric, we think the Marathon is definitely a finalist option for most parents. This seat also performed well in our tests for installation, which is the co-contributing factor to keeping baby safe in a car. Across the board, it is hard to find anything not to love about the Marathon, which makes it one of our personal favorites. This seat features an easy to use non-rethread harness adjustment, it is comfortable and well made, and is relatively light compared to other high scoring seats. With a reasonable middle of the road price, there are few families that won't find this seat in their final options list.

Read full review: Britax Marathon

Best budget-friendly convertible seat


Britax Roundabout


Best Value Award

$135.99
(24% off)
at Amazon

Price
Easy to install using both methods
Above average crash test results
Lightweight
Rethread harness adjustment
The Britax Roundabout is very similar to the Britax Marathon with the exception of the rethread harness adjustment. This makes it a good option for parents on a tighter budget who still want a high quality, easy to install seat. This option is lightweight and good for parents that may need to carry or move their seat frequently, but it still manages to be comfortable and nicely padded for comfort. This Britax option is missing some of the frills found on its more expensive brothers and it sports the harder to use rethread harness adjustment system, but luckily you will only need to mess with this occasionally when baby grows taller. In the end, we don't think parents will miss most of these additions and the price savings of more than $100 will leave you smiling all the way through installation. Even better, the above average crash test results mean you aren't compromising potential safety for a cheaper price.

Read full review: Britax Roundabout

Best on a tight budget


Evenflo Tribute LX


Best Value Award

$45.49
(35% off)
at Amazon

Least expensive
Above average crash test results
Easier to use
Bare bones
Poor score for comfort/quality
The Evenflo Tribute LX didn't score that high in our review of 11 convertible competitors, but what it did do is impress us in its crash test results. This put the Evenflo in a unique position of being the cheapest seat we tested and having some of the best crash results we analyzed. This seat won a Best Value award because it offers a higher margin of safety to families with even the tightest budgets. The Evenflo is easy to use and the lightest option in the review, making it a good choice for parents on-the-go for travel or using public transportation. Unfortunately, that low weight and low price come at the cost of comfort and quality making the Evenflo not the most comfortable option for long road trips or babies that need more cushioning or support. However, the Evenflo would make a good second seat or budget friendly primary seat that you can feel confident is as safe as they come.

Read full review: Evenflo Tribute LX

Most innovative


Clek Foonf


Top Pick Award

$469.99
at Amazon

Best ease of installation using LATCH
High quality, comfortable
Higher rear facing weight limit (safer position for baby)
Expensive
Heavy
Harder to use
The Clek Foonf is a unique seat with innovative features we didn't see on the competition. This is a great seat for parents looking for something a little different without a concern for price. The Clek has a rigid LATCH system for forward facing installation that eliminates tightening and loosing of the belt. This innovative design makes it the easiest to install using LATCH in the forward facing position, and trust us, after installing almost 30 seats we know. The Clek also impressed for installation using the belt, and comfort with a quality difference you can feel from its high end fabric and steel frame shell to its adjustable headrest and additional features for safety. While we love the Foonf (our founder, Dr. Spurrier, uses this seat for her children) it isn't the seat for everyone. The Clek is the most expensive option we tested (list price $450) and it is very heavy, which would be prohibitive for parents who plan to carry their seat around a busy city or on travel. However, if you have the means, Clek presents an interesting option in the Foonf that we think is cool and inspiring.

Read full review: Clek Foonf


You May Also Like:
  • Infant Car Seat Review — This review provides detailed information on how each infant product performed during testing for each metric including crash test result analysis.
  • Convertible Car Seat Review - This review includes crash test result analysis and other test results for the top convertible seats on the market. - Stroller and Car Seat Combo Review - Not sure what infant seats work with which stroller? Looking for a great travel system? The Chicco Keyfit 30 has the broadest range of compatibility and could be a great starting point for finding a great seat and stroller combo. Read this review to discover more details.


We compared the top 15 infant style car seats side-by-side in an extensive 5 month testing process for this review
We compared the top 15 infant style car seats side-by-side in an extensive 5 month testing process for this review

Seating central: Narrow your options


How do you decide which seat is best for your baby? Asking yourself a few key questions can help narrow your options by type, installation, and performance to determine which model is the best for your needs. When you are ready to make a purchase, you can simplify the process by breaking it down into easy to answer questions.

First things first, do you need an infant or a convertible option?

Infant seats — refer to our Infant Car Seat Review for all the info — are for newborns and younger babies, usually between 4-40 lbs depending on the model. These seats have two portions, a base that installs in your car and a carrier portion baby sits in that can be attached to the base, a stroller, or simply carried. This product type is ideal for baby's body size and for simplified errands because you do not need to remove baby from the carrier to take them with you.

Convertible seats are best for older babies who have outgrown their infant seat. Our Convertible Car Seat Review includes the details you need to better understand this kind of seat and when to use it. Convertible seats install in your car fairly permanently and sit rear facing at first. When baby is large/old enough, the seat can be "converted" to a forward-facing position. Some of these seats can also be used as booster seats when baby outgrows the 5-point harness (read your manual).

Ten of the eleven top rated seats tested in our convertible car seat review (the Britax Boulevard ClickTight was absent on picture day).
Ten of the eleven top rated seats tested in our convertible car seat review (the Britax Boulevard ClickTight was absent on picture day).

Can one product do it all?


While many convertible style seats claim to work for babies from 5 lbs up to 50 and beyond, BabyGearLab doesn't think it is a good idea to make a one and done purchase when it comes car safety.

Why?

Infant style seats are designed with smaller newborn bodies in mind. These seats are sized and configured for baby's anatomy and allow for proper posture for optimal breathing and protection in the event of a crash. The harness design is narrower and more infant appropriate than a convertible seat that is really designed for older and larger babies, but are somewhat modified to be acceptable for infants as well. Many convertible seats offer an infant insert to create a product more appropriate for smaller passengers. We think it is best to get the gear specifically designed for each age/size instead of opting for one product that can manage baby, but isn't designed specifically to do so. If you want to save money on baby gear, we do not think car seats is the place to do so given the safety implications.

The UPPAbaby Vista can be used with 2 infant car seats for easy transportation of up up to 2 infants. This photo shows the Vista with two UPPAbaby Mesa infant car seats.
The UPPAbaby Vista can be used with 2 infant car seats for easy transportation of up up to 2 infants. This photo shows the Vista with two UPPAbaby Mesa infant car seats.

The other advantage to infant seats is they are really handy. Infant seats have a base that stays installed in the car and a carrier portion that holds baby and has a handle for easy carrying from one location to another.

Unlike a convertible car seat  an infant car seat is detachable from the base. As a result  you can transition a sleeping baby in or out of the vehicle without waking them up  keeping them safely harnessed in the carrier as you do.
Unlike a convertible car seat, an infant car seat is detachable from the base. As a result, you can transition a sleeping baby in or out of the vehicle without waking them up, keeping them safely harnessed in the carrier as you do.

This means you can move a sleeping infant from car to stroller or car to carry with ease and without sleep disruption. This may seem like a small thing before baby is born, but trust us, you will be doing this more than once and grateful for the carrier so you can get some quick errands in without waking a sleeping child.

We contracted with the same crash test facility used by NHTSA to test the seats in this review. Here is the Clek Foonf getting ready for its crash test  complete with crash test dummy.
We contracted with the same crash test facility used by NHTSA to test the seats in this review. Here is the Clek Foonf getting ready for its crash test, complete with crash test dummy.

What is more important, ease of installation or crash test results?


While many parents are concerned with crash test safety (as you should be), few parents know that improperly installing a seat, or not using it as indicated, is a significant cause of injury in car accidents involving infants. In our research for seat safety testing, safety engineers at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) emphasized that improper use is a bigger safety concern than the differences in crash test performance results. In fact, a NHTSA study showed that 84% of infant car seats exhibited a critical misuse related to either installation of the seat or incorrect restraint of the infant, or both. Another study by Portland's top Children's Hospital followed 267 families as they left the hospital with their infants after birth. The study showed that "93% made at least one critical error a mistake that put their infant at increased risk for injury in a crash when positioning their infant in a car safety seat or when installing the safety seat in their vehicle."

We encourage parents to read our How to Avoid Infant Car Seat Installation Mistakes article and contact a local certified Child Passenger Safety Technicians in their area to ensure proper seat installation.

Ninety-three percent is a huge number. This is why we feel that ease of use and installation are critical components of seat safety, possibly even more so than the crash test results themselves. So while crash test analysis is important, it should not overshadow how hard a seat is to use or install. Many of the award-winning seats are easy to install by at least one installation method. Some even have perfect scores and were practically foolproof, or at least as foolproof as a seat can be.

Infant seats, Chicco Keyfit 30 and the UPPAbaby Mesa both earned 9 of 10 for ease of installation using the LATCH method. The Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35 and the UPPAbaby Mesa both earned 10 of 10 for ease of install without the base. The Britax Boulevard ClickTight earned 10 of 10 in both methods of installation for convertible seats. The Britax Marathon and Britax Roundabout each earned 9 for installation using LATCH and 8 for installation with the vehicle belt. The Clek Foonf earned 10 and 9 for these metrics respectively. Want the best of both worlds? The Britax Marathon earned a 9 of 10 for crash safety tests and has the impressive ease of installation performance to back it up.

All of the Seats Provide a Safe, Basic Level of Protection
All of the seats we tested, and for sale in the United States, have passed Federal safety standards for crash testing. Because of this, the seats we tested can be considered safe, and they provide a basic level of protection as required by US Federal law. With this in mind, our focus for crash test scoring is identifying seats with crash test performance that goes beyond the Federal requirements and exceeds the crash test performance of the competition in this review. As a result, those seats can be considered as providing an extra margin of protection based on their crash test performance.

Parents who frequently ride in taxi cabs or use services like Uber  will want to look for a car seat that offers easy installation without the base  just using the seat belt.
Parents who frequently ride in taxi cabs or use services like Uber, will want to look for a car seat that offers easy installation without the base, just using the seat belt.

Does my lifestyle matter?


When it comes to seat options, your lifestyle might be a consideration in your purchasing decisions. Suburban parents often have their own car and a place to install baby's seat in a semi-permanent way with few changes. Other parents may live in a large city where they frequent Uber and taxis, requiring their seat to be fairly mobile and installed repeatedly over and over. Having a lightweight easy to install seat will be more important to urban parents than it will be to others. If you won't be carrying your seat around, then your options are wider because weight isn't a factor. If you will be carrying the seat from place to place, then some of the heavier seats may be out of the question.

The Clek weighs over 38 pounds in the rear facing configuration and closer to 33 for forward facing. The weight difference is the angle adjustment pad and the anti-rebound bar
The Evenflo is the lightest seat in the group and one of the most narrow at just over 9 pounds and 17 inches
The Britax is one of the lighter seats in the group with a weight of about 16 pounds. However  it is 19 inches wide  which makes it wide enough that 3 seats across in a back seat might not be possible
 

The Clek Foonf (above left) is a very heavy seat weighing in between 34-38 lbs. That weight isn't a big deal if it is just sitting in your car most of its life. However, if you need to run to catch a cab carrying the seat with baby in tow, you are likely to prefer the scant 9 lbs of the Evenflo Tribute LX (above middle). Don't mind carrying a little extra weight and want a few more features or higher performance scores than the Evenflo Tribute LX? The Britax Roundabout (above right) is about 16 lbs and has a reasonable middle of the road price.

When considering infant seats the weight of the carrier may play a role for similar reasons. Carriers can be heavy, and when combined with baby's weight, could be prohibitively heavy. If you plan to attach the carrier to a stroller, then weight may play less of a role, but if you plan to carry your carrier or you travel frequently, then weight may be more of a factor.

The Mesa uses the so-called "American belt path" method over the lower portion of the carrier. This is super easy to do and helped it earn a Top Pick award in our review.
The Peg Perego Primo uses the European belt path method for installation without the base
 

Are you an urbanite with an infant carrier? Then you might consider the ease of installation without the base when making your choice, as you are more likely to be installing the seat in an Uber sans base to save yourself the lugging around weight. This is perfectly safe to do, and the seats are designed with this in mind, but some are far easier to install without the base than others, so choosing the easiest, high ranking option will make your life easier. The UPPAbaby Mesa (above left) scored well in our tests for installation without the base, and it also attaches to several popular and award-winning strollers, like the UPPAbaby Vista Combo and UPPAbaby Cruz. The Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35 (above right) also scored well for installation without the base, but it is compatible with fewer full-size strollers, so depending on your needs, the Mesa may be a better choice.

The Clek Foonf has the highest weight limit for rear facing installation out of all the car seats we tested. This means baby can stay rear facing up to 40 pounds. Rear facing installation is the safest riding position for baby no matter what their age and it is recommended that baby stay rear facing as long as the seat indicates it is safe to do so.
The Clek Foonf has the highest weight limit for rear facing installation out of all the car seats we tested. This means baby can stay rear facing up to 40 pounds. Rear facing installation is the safest riding position for baby no matter what their age and it is recommended that baby stay rear facing as long as the seat indicates it is safe to do so.

Is a wider weight range better?


Infant style seats make claims of being appropriate for baby up to a certain weight limit, convertible seats have limits as well, only higher. Infant seats usually range between 4 lbs and a maximum weight of 30-45 lbs, while convertible seats are 5 to 55 lbs (or higher depending on the seat). Should this range be a consideration when you make your purchase? No, probably not.

Why no?

Well, most babies will outgrow the height limits before they reach the weight limit for most infant seats, and the same can often be said of the convertible seats as well.

According to the CDC's infant boy age vs weight growth chart (pdf), a 95th percentile baby boy (which means a baby growing faster than 94 babies out of 100, that's one big boy!) will still weigh under 28 lbs and be close to 32 inches on their 1 year birthday. Most infants will transition out of their infant seat and into a convertible seat between 9-12 months based on height. You can see from the data that even the fastest growing boy will fail to exceed the maximum weight of the majority of seats in this review, but he could grow too tall for the seat, which will prompt the transition before his weight plays a role. So while having an idea of how long baby can use the seat is good, it is really only a vague estimate, and in the end, restrictions will have more to do with height than weight. For this reason, we wouldn't make a seat's weight range a deciding factor in your purchasing decision unless it is below 30 lbs for an infant seat. Even if baby is super tall, you would just move to the convertible seat earlier, which is no big deal and still safe.

Rear Facing Installation
Baby should stay rear facing in their seat as long as possible. This will be limited by baby's weight and the manufacturer recommendations for your specific model as not all seats allow for extended rear facing time. The law in most places requires baby stay rear facing until 2 years old, but it is ideal for baby to sit rear facing as long as the seat will allow. Even if baby's legs are bunched up, the rear facing position is still the safest installation in the event of a crash. The Clek Foonf has rear facing capabilities up to 50 lbs; this is the highest of any seat we have tested.

All of the top scoring infant seats we tested have height limits of at least 30 inches, and weight ranges from 4 to at least 30 lbs. Convertible seats have a height range of 46 to 49 inches or ears below the top of the shell and weight ranges of 5 to 40 lbs rear facing and 20 to 55 lbs forward facing (with several top ranked seats working up to 65 lbs). The Evenflo Tribute LX is the exception with a forward facing limit that tops out at 40 lbs, which will necessitate an additional purchase before the competition.

There are many varieties of combinations when it comes to strollers and their car seat counterparts  and many strollers will work with a variety of seat options with the purchase of the appropriate adapters.
There are many varieties of combinations when it comes to strollers and their car seat counterparts, and many strollers will work with a variety of seat options with the purchase of the appropriate adapters.

What about travel systems?


Travel systems include an infant carrier and a compatible stroller to attach it to. These can come as a predetermined set or you can buy a seat and compatible stroller separately. We do not think parents should choose an infant seat based on a stroller, given the safety considerations. In addition, pre-determined sets often have slightly less impressive components for the seat or stroller than you'd get if you created a combination and bought them separately yourself. We think it is best for parents to decide on the right infant seat for their family and then determine the best stroller that works with the seat. With a few exceptions, like the Safety 1st onBoard Air 35, most infant seats are compatible with at least a few popular strollers with the purchase of an adapter. More information can be found in our Stroller and Car Seat Combo Review. We found the Chicco Keyfit 30 infant seat to be compatible with the majority of the full-size strollers we've personally tested. Choosing this affordable, high scoring seat, will give you the most versatile seat for stroller compatibility.

The car seat recommendation from the NHTSA website
The car seat recommendation from the NHTSA website

Conclusion


Narrowing your options based on how you plan to use the seat and ease of installation scores should leave you just a few top choices. From there you can make your decision based on crash test performance and/or budget concerns. The award winners listed here are all great seats with a wide variety of features and functionality to suit most parent and baby needs. They also encompass a wide range of price points. We think you should focus on the proper seat style for your baby's age group when narrowing your field, and we encourage parents to resist the temptation to buy a convertible product for infants. Most importantly, don't forget to contact an expert for assistance proper installation. You can make a free appointment, get help fast, and feel confident your chosen seat is installed correctly to ensure maximum safety for baby! It doesn't matter how well your chosen seat performed during crash testing if you install or use it incorrectly.
Juliet Spurrier, MD & the BabyGearLab Testing Team

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