If you’ve mom-ed for any length of time, mama, you know that car seat safety can be a huge pain in the bum. Knowing the truth about infant car seat head support safety may be a drop in the bucket, but it’s a HUGE drop and HUGE bucket, guys.
We’ve all had that moment when we looked at the rearview mirror during a long drive and our heart absolutely shattered seeing our little one sleeping with her head hanging straight over her chest clip or cranked straight sideways against the nearest cushion.
Let’s face it, car seats are designed for safety and not comfort.
But that doesn’t mean you have to put up with it.
If you’re gearing up for a new little one, it’s time to take a stance at the right time. A toddler can deal with a bit of leaning and hanging and drooling, but a little tiny newbie can use the extra support, and it’s worth doing RIGHT.
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Car Seat Head Support Safety
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) of the United States, you can keep your babies safest by following these three key points:
- Find the right car seat
- Install your car seat correctly
- Stay up to date on recall notices
One thing you will NOT find in the NHTSA’s records is any recommendation on the safe or effective use of aftermarket add-ons or “inserts”.
With how fragile a balance as safety keeps when it comes to car seats, there is simply too much riding (literally!) on additions that might impair the proven safe function of your well-studied car seat.
Are Car Seat Head Supports Safe?
The bottom line? The very safest thing to do for your kiddo’s head positioning is to use what the seat comes with—any other “safety” upgrades may do more harm than good.
But honestly guys, there have been studies that show the difference between adding an insert and not adding one is pretty negligible in terms of your average nod-off (although they did help with sleep apnea and more severe instances of Spo2 desaturation events—instances where the infant’s body was in a compromising enough position to really restrict the airways).
Obviously, there are a lot of factors, here. There are products that may do better or worse at keeping your little one’s head in a position that allows for airflow.
Which products were used in the studies aren’t well documented, so we have to look again at the consumer safeguards that exist if we’re to get any real direction from the powers that be.
The VERY safest thing to do is to not let your kiddo sleep in the car seat.
Realistic? Not so much.
But we can certainly minimize the instances where it’s necessary and BE HYPER VIGILANT when it’s not avoidable.
Newborn Baby Car Seat Head Support
When it comes to newborns, it’s really hard not to feel like you are going too far. At least it was for me.
The truth is, you could wrap this little munchkin in ten yards of breathable batting, bubble wrap the batting, and then land the whole thing in a suspension tank full of ballistic missile gel and I’d still say you weren’t being too careful.
Because that little one is everything to you right now, and I’m with you on that.
That said, newborn car seat head support safety is probably one of the most important conversations you can have when it comes to your car seat.
Infant Head Support Pillow
We’re all too eager to stuff something in there when we see that baby’s head leaning against the back corner of the seat or dangling a bit over the straps.
Whether you fight that urge or not is largely up to you.
There are plenty of products out there that say they’re safe and encourage you to try them out and make baby’s sleep a little more comfortable.
And truth is, they may be right! There’s every chance the perfect solution exists out there to make sleeping in a car seat the safer and more comfortable option over, say, a crib or a boob (well prob not the boob, but who knows hah!)
The difference comes in testing and certification.
Since car seats have standards they must meet in order to MARKET a car seat, you can feel pretty good about whichever option you go with (basically I’m saying you DON’T have to go with the most expensive option).
But ultimately, you know best about what’s happening right in front of your face. If there’s some product that you can see is going to be safe without having an engineering Ph.D. or a fair understanding of quantum physics, that’s totally your call. If you aren’t sure about it, check with your provider!
If aftermarket products could do nothing but hurt, they would sell them with spikes.
I’ll still say avoid guys, but it’s a personal decision, and I want you to have all the facts to make your own informed decision, too.
Newborn Baby Neck Support Pillow
A pillow is the same kind of thing.
There are certainly some circumstances where having something to help prop up that little one’s head may be a great idea (altho I’d stay away from pillows in general).
In the car seat, though, I’d DEFINITELY stay away from something being marketed as a baby neck support pillow. They just aren’t the same thing as the cute and overpriced pillows you can buy from the airport.
Instead, make sure your little one FITS the car seat they’re in – that’ll help avoid a myriad of fit issues.
Beyond that, take the time to ensure that your belts are adjusted correctly, based on your manufacturer’s directions.
And, more important than any other advice I can give, check the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CSPC) for recalls on a product before buying (and don’t buy used!) and again before using it.
The CPSC governs the state of product recalls, providing details on what safety concerns exist and what to do about them in the event you buy a product (such as the Boppy company’s Ebony Floral and Heathered Gray head and neck support pillows) that has been recalled.
Infant Car Seat Insert Safety
If you find that your little one’s car seat seems to be insufficient in keeping your kiddo secure and need something more than the standard frame is providing, consider sizing down to a smaller car seat (per manufacturer recommendations).
There’s really no good reason your kiddo shouldn’t have adequate support from the right car seat.
If even then your baby is still having trouble, buy a car seat that comes with infant car seat safety inserts DESIGNED to be part of the overall safety package. When the inset is INCLUDED we know it has undergone the same rigorous testing to ensure that they could be packed into that box safely.
Here are a few great callouts for infant car seat head support safety:
The Baby Trend Secure Snap features removable inserts that allow the space to really open up as baby grows bigger, which will happen faster than you expect.
The easy to release latches on this affordable car seat will make for easy transitions and free you up to install and remove the product by yourself.
The Graco Extend To Fit is a great model because it grows so well with your kiddo. It includes a panel that extends from below the seat to give your kiddo room to grow out in the legs.
This top of the line car seat not only provides incredibly safe transportation for your little one, but also boasts six different positions without ever having to move the straps from one threading position to another.
As your little one grows up, they’ll need different amounts of room and position for their legs, which makes the Nido a perfect choice because of its 10 different settings for the legs.
Car Seat Head Support (for Toddlers)
When your littles start getting not-so-little, their needs will evolve in car seat terms. There are several great car seat options that allow for a lot of growth.
Head support stops being as much of an issue as the munchkins get bigger, but there’s nothing so tragic as looking in that rearview mirror to see your little one bent ninety degrees over the buckles with a big long strand of drool tying their chin to their lap.
There’s only so much you can do here—even the best car seat will still only allow for so much room or support for napping on a long drive.
** Note: be sure to never allow your infant or toddler to sleep in a car seat without direct observation, as the airways can get closed by bad positioning; always nap your kiddo in an area or on a surface approved for safe sleep.
Toddler Car Seat Head Support Pillows
If you have a long drive or a big commute that warrants a little cat nap, here are a few ways to make your toddler a little more comfortable without sacrificing that car seat head support safety.
I’m not a fan of aftermarket items being added to car seats, but that’s not to say that mine is the only or the right opinion. A lot of research goes into these types of products and what may fly for me might not fly for you and yours.
With that in mind, I’ll talk about one particular “infant pillow” that has had recalls.
If you look at the records the CSPC provides, Boppy brand products feature a large pillow that swoops over the child’s head and tucks in at the shoulders with something like an armrest.
The design itself seems not to have been to blame—but the products were potentially overstuffed.
For that reason, the shape alone isn’t enough to say one way or another how safe similar products might be.
If you opt to support that kiddo’s head, examine the physics and even give the little one a chance to sit with the product in place before buying.
What you are looking for is whether or not there’s a physical position the infant or toddler might take that causes their head to lean too far forward, become too crammed against potential suffocation hazards, or which forces the infant to tuck their chin in against their chest instead of allowing it to hang loose and free.
The safest positions for infant sleep in a car seat are going to be positions that keep the neck in natural positions without blocking respiratory pathways.
What Infant/Toddler Car Seat Insert Should I Buy?
If you’re on the pro-insert team, you’ll need to do some legwork.
Because I’m less inclined to recommend that you use one, I’m not going to recommend WHICH ONE to use.
For this reason, take the time to get to know not only the product but the company. You can learn a lot (and infer even more) about the safety standards of a product by learning more about the company that manufactures it.
Beyond that, take the time to imagine or test how the product will affect your little one’s posture when sleeping and awake in the car seat. Something that is uncomfortable while awake will inevitably make your baby squirm and stretch while sleeping.
If you can find inserts that are specifically designed to fit your existing and safe car seat, you can imagine it’s been crafted with the deliberation necessary to make something as safe as can be imagined.
Putting the Infant Car Seat Head Support Safety Debate to Bed
Whether it’s a Graco infant car seat insert that comes with your favorite restraint system, an Eddie Bauer baby 2 in 1 head support or one of the dozens of Walmart or Target newborn car seat options out there, the best thing you can do is to trust your instincts.
If you’re in doubt at all, take advantage of the great resources available and find a local child passenger safety technician to review your situation and provide direction.
If you take the time to really examine your options and ensure that you’re following the directions to keep your equipment as safe as possible, I have no doubt that you can keep that little munchkin safe for years to come.
Do this right and worries about infant car seat head support safety will be a thing of the past.
Happy safe travels, mama!