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Baby car seats are, as the name suggests, suitable specifically for newborns and younger babies.
Child car seats, on the other hand, 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.
But newborn babies need different levels of protection from toddlers and older children. So you need to make sure you're getting a car seat that's suitable specifically for younger babies, to ensure they travel in the best position and are supported all the way.
Watch our video below for a step-by-step guide to putting your baby safely in an infant car seat.
To reduce the risk of injuries to your baby in the event of a crash, a newborn car seat needs to:
The best way to help keep your baby safe in a car crash is by keeping them in a rear-facing baby car seat for as long as possible. At a minimum 15 months, but ideally until your child is three or four years old.
Just over half of the 2,021 parents we surveyed in February 2021 thought it was safest for babies to travel forward-facing in a car seat rather than rearwards, but actually the opposite is true.
This is because in a front 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 or the neck.
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 is large and heavy in comparison with the rest of a baby's body, accounting 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.
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.
A baby’s ribcage is very flexible, too. An impact to the chest can result in the chest wall squashing on to the heart and lungs.
The ribcage isn't 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 its own.
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.
To make sure you know how to fit your child car seat correctly, we've created a handy video guide that walks you through fitting your child's very first child car seat.
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 to protect your baby in both frontal and side-impact crashes.
However, lie-flat or carrycot car seats can be a good solution for newborns, especially premature babies or those with medical conditions, who need to be transported lying flat.
Some carrycot car seats are suitable only for babies up to 10kg, which means parents might change to a forward-facing next-stage seat too early.
Our advice would be to look out for a modular system – one that uses a base which is also compatible with a rear-facing baby car seat and then a rear-facing toddler seat.
It's considered safest to keep your baby in the lowest-group car seat until they reach the weight limit, or outgrow it.
If you're using a carrycot car seat, you should: