Low 1st shoulder strap slot. The closer the shoulder strap slots are to the baby’s shoulders, the better. It is best to have the straps start BELOW the baby’s shoulders when the baby is rear-facing. With preemies and even newborns, it is usually not possible to have the straps start below the shoulders, but getting a seat where the strap slot is as close as possible is important.
Close crotch buckle position. The farther the crotch buckle is from the baby’s body, the more the baby is likely to slouch. Slouching is dangerous as the head is likely to fall into a chin-to-chest position when the baby slouches.
Short crotch buckle. If the crotch buckle is too long, you run into a situation where you can’t fit the chest clip + crotch buckle on the tiny baby’s chest and the chest clip ends up pushed into the child’s throat or across the face… which is obviously not going to work! Some seats allow you to J-loop the crotch buckle which allows you to shorten it for the smaller babies.
Narrow spacing between the leg straps. The closer the leg straps are to the sides of the baby’s body, the better the fit.
Seat design that allows baby’s head to rest farther back than baby’s chest. A well designed infant insert is one that pushes the baby’s back and shoulder blades forward, such that the baby’s head can rest farther back than the rest of the body – as this will do the most to ensure that the baby’s chin stays off his chest.
New babies do not have enough strength in their necks to hold their heads up. Their heads tend to flop sideways—this is OKAY! But when the car seat is too upright, their heads tend to flop forward, and this is NOT OKAY. A baby’s head should not fall forward in the car seat, so that his chin touches his chest. This is dangerous and can interfere with the baby’s breathing.
Two tips to make sure your newborn’s head stays in a safe position.
Make the harness straps snug. Snug straps do more than just keep a baby safe in a crash. They prevent babies from slumping over, giving them the support they need to keep their bodies and heads straight.
Recline the car seat properly. For safety and comfort, a newborn should ride semi-reclined, so that the angle of the car seat (where their head and chest rest) is reclined enough to keep the baby’s head back and his chin off his chest, but never more than 45 degrees from vertical. Most newborns will require a 45 degree angle to keep their heads well positioned and their airways open. We must position the newborn’s head and neck for him, since he doesn’t have the neck muscles to do it himself. Without this reclined position, a child’s head could easily fall onto his chest, pinching off his airway. As he grows older and can hold up his own head, you can move the car seat into a more upright position to provide better crash protection.
Here’s a comprehensive video showing how to buckle in your newborn.
We know parents of newborns don’t have too much time to watch videos–so if you just want to learn how to make the straps snug, fast forward to 03:55.
It has been our experience that the vast majority of head supports that come with child safety seats are ineffective or worsen the positioning of the baby’s head. Most of these head supports place more padding behind the child’s head, which further encourages the head to fall forward—exactly what we DON’T want to occur! (Before removing your child safety seat’s head support, read your owners manual, since a few car seats (like the Britax Companion) require the head support for crash protection.)
Better positioning, even for the smallest preemies, can usually be achieved with a rolled diaper cloth or receiving blanket alongside the baby’s head extending all the way down the baby’s body. Never place anything behind a newborn’s head or under his neck. Do not use a head support device that did not come with your car seat. In order to sell a product for use with a child safety seat—but one that does not come with the seat—there are NO standards and NO crash tests required! Despite what such “aftermarket” products may claim, the child safety seat manufacturers feel that using such products may be unsafe. Using these products violates the warranty on the child safety seat.
No…..and yes. It is dangerous to have anything under the straps that is not the baby’s body. But you can still give the baby that snuggly feeling of being swaddled with these simple steps below.
Buckle the baby into the safety seat and make the straps snug. There should be NO blankets or bulky clothing under the straps or on the baby’s body.
Take a blanket and, while keeping the baby’s arms down at the sides, tuck the blanket very tightly along the sides of the baby’s body and underneath the baby’s legs. Of course if it is very hot outside don’t do this, since the baby will overheat.
Dr. Harvey Karp, a pediatrician and author of the Happiest Baby on the Block, talks about the 5 S’s system to calm a baby. Just like your new baby cries when you change his diaper or dress him, he may cry when you buckle him into his safety seat. Here are a few tips adapted from Dr. Karp’s 5 S’s for calming the baby.
Swaddling. In the last few months of pregnancy, the baby tucks up into fetal position and spends her time with constant touch and support. Tight straps mimic this constant touch. Adding a blanket overtop the straps tucked alongside the baby’s body gives an extra element of support by keeping the baby’s arms at her sides, preventing her from setting off her own startle reflex.
Shushing Sounds. Babies in utero listen to a constant white noise “soundtrack,” the sound of blood whooshing through the mom’s body. You can mimic this sound by making a loud shushing noise.
Swinging. Babies in utero are used to constant motion, since when mom moves, so does baby. Most babies miss this constant motion and have trouble adjusting to it not being there. With your baby snugly buckled into the car seat, swing the car seat by the handle gently to mimic the motion he misses.
Sucking. This is a very powerful calming technique for babies. Once the baby is in the safety seat, offer her a pacifier.
Side or Stomach Position. This is not possible in the child safety seat, unfortunately.
Yes! People often use infant carriers for newborns because they tend to be more convenient. But a convertible seat is just as safe, provided it fits your child correctly (see What makes a seat fit a newborn well, above).There are certain circumstances where it makes more sense to use a convertible seat instead of an infant carrier.
Money is tight and baby will typically be riding in just one vehicle. If you are using multiple vehicles and/or taxis, the convenience of the infant carrier makes it a better choice.
The second parent or the grandparent wants a child safety seat in his/her car, but won’t be taking the baby frequently in the first months. Buying a second base for an infant carrier which a baby will use only a few times does not make sense.
You plan to use a sling to carry the baby instead of carrying them in the infant carrier car seat.