Best baby car seats
The best child car seats for babies
By Anna Studman
Article 1 of 2
Babies need specific protection in a child car seat. Find out what to look for to keep your littlest one safe when travelling.
Child car seats are designed to protect children's soft bones and vulnerable internal organs at each stage of development, from birth to the age of 12 or when they reach 135cm tall. Babies need different levels of protection from toddlers and older children, so you need to make sure you're getting a car seat that is suitable specifically for newborns and younger babies. This will ensure that your baby will travel in the best position and be supported all the way.
To find out which seats we recommend, see our child car seat reviews.
Keeping babies safe in car crashes
To reduce the risk of injuries to your baby in the event of a crash, a baby car seat needs to:
- make sure your baby’s head doesn't move around, causing the neck to stretch
- stop the head banging into other surfaces, such as the front seat or car door
- surround your baby with a protective shell to prevent them being hit by bits of car or debris
- distribute the pressure from the child restraint as widely as possible over the strongest parts of the body: in an infant, the strongest part of the body is the back.
The best way to keep your baby safe in a car crash is by keeping your child in a rear-facing baby car seat for as long as possible. Just over half (52%) of 1,552 parents we surveyed in 2017 thought it was safest for babies to travel forward-facing (rather than rearwards) in a car seat.
In a frontal impact (one of the most common types of crash) a rear-facing seat pulls the child into it, cushioning the head and back and limiting the movement of the head on the neck.
Keep babies and younger children in a rear-facing baby car seat or child car seat for as long as possible.
We recommend that you leave your baby in a rear-facing child car seat until they are least 15 months old, or the first of these events occurs:
- They reach the weight limit of that seat (13kg for Group 0+, 18kg for Group 1)
- The crown of their head is level with the top of the car seat.
You don't have to move your baby forward-facing when he or she reaches 5 months of age; you can keep them rear-facing for as long as you (and your child) likes.
Find out which baby car seats were the best on test – browse all our child car seat Best Buys.
Make sure you avoid an unsafe one by checking which are our Don't Buy child car seats.
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Protecting babies in child car seats
When babies are born, their bones and muscles still have a lot of growing and strengthening to do. They're particularly vulnerable to injuries caused by impact and uncontrolled movements of their head.
The head, neck and spine
The head is large and heavy in comparison with the rest of a baby's body – it accounts for about a quarter of its total length and about a third of the weight.
The neck muscles are weak and unable to lift or control the movement of the head.
Bones in the infant spinal column are held together quite loosely by weak ligaments. This makes it fairly elastic, allowing it to stretch up to 5cm. But the spinal cord will snap if it's stretched too much, which can be fatal.
Babies are particularly vulnerable to injuries caused by impact and uncontrolled movements of their heads.
The skull bones are separated by membrane-filled spaces that slowly grow together, but are not fully fused until 18-24 months after birth.
This means that a baby's skull is very flexible – relatively low impacts can result in significant deformation of the skull and brain. The smaller the child, the lower the impact needed for injury.
The chest and pelvis
A baby’s ribcage is very flexible, too. Impact to the chest can result in the chest wall squashing onto the heart and lungs.
The ribcage is not well developed and can't protect some of the abdominal organs.
The bones in the infant pelvis aren't fused together strongly like an adult's.
These things mean an infant's chest and pelvis can’t absorb strain from a restraint without the risk of injury to the internal organs, which is where a good baby car seat comes into play. A well-designed seat will cushion your baby in the event of a crash, and help to divert the crash force away from your baby's body.
Carrycot versus baby car seat
Our experts agree that the safest way to transport babies is in a rearward-facing infant carrier or baby car seat. A good baby car seat will help protect your baby in both frontal and side-impact crashes.
However, car-seat carrycots can be a good solution for newborn babies, especially premature babies or those with medical conditions, that need to be transported lying flat.
In this instance we'd recommend a car-seat carrycot with good crash test results.
However, there are some drawbacks with using this type of car seat that you need to be aware of:
- A carrycot will take up a lot of space across the back seat, which may not be that practical if you have to transport multiple children.
- They can often be quite cumbersome to install.
Also, because they are suitable only for children up to 10kg, parents may change to a forward-facing seat (Group 1, from 9 to 18 kg) too early.
It's considered safest to keep your baby in the lowest group car seat until they reach the weight limit or outgrow it.
You should never use a pushchair carrycot in a car, unless it's also specifically approved for use as a child car seat.
We haven't found many carrycots and lie-flat child car seats that protect children adequately in our crash tests. For this reason, we don't generally recommend them.
If you already own one and it doesn't have good crash test results, we suggest you buy an alternative Group 0+ or i-Size baby car seat to use in your car.
Carrycot car-seat advice
If you are using a carrycot car seat, you should:
- place it across the back seat, as close to the middle as you can. This may use up more space, but it means your baby is less vulnerable in a crash
- place your baby’s head as far from the door as possible to try to avoid contact with the door in a crash.