Car Seat Safety: Newborn to 2 Years

Babies are at greater risk of injury in crashes. This is because babies' spines are developing and their heads are large for their bodies. In a crash, if your child is riding forward-facing, her spinal cord may stretch, which could result in serious injury or death. However, when your baby rides rear-facing in a child safety seat, her upper body — head, neck and spine — is cradled by the back of the child safety seat in the case of a frontal crash, which is the most common type of crash.

According to research studies, children up to 2 years of age who are placed in forward-facing child safety seats are more likely to be seriously injured in a crash than same age children who are in rear-facing child safety seats. Watch the video to learn more about which car seats are appropriate for your baby and how to install them.

Child safety seat tips for baby

The following are some important child safety seat tips for your baby:

  • Your infant or toddler should ride in a rear-facing car safety seat as long as possible, until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by their seat. Most convertible seats have limits that will allow children to ride rear-facing for two years or more. Don't be concerned if your child's legs bend at the knees or touch the back seat of the car when rear-facing; this will not harm her feet or knees.
  • Always put your infant in a rear-facing child safety seat in the back of your car. A baby riding in the front seat can be fatally injured by a passenger side air bag.
  • The shoulder straps must be at or below your baby’s shoulders. Child safety seats have several pairs of harness slots so you can adjust the harness as your baby grows. Make sure you use the harness correctly by following these tips:
    • The harness must be snug so you cannot pinch a fold in the harness material after buckling in your baby.
    • The straps should lie flat in a straight line without sagging or twisting.
    • The top of the chest clip should be positioned at armpit level.
  • Never put a blanket between your child and the harness straps, or underneath or behind her. For car travel, don't dress your infant in bulky outerwear; it can interfere with the tightness of the harness. Instead, place a warm blanket over your child and harness.
  • Your baby is getting too big for his rear-facing child safety seat when his head nears the top of the seat. There should be at least one inch between the top of your child’s head and the top of the rear-facing child safety seat.

Types of child safety seats

There are three types of child safety seats for babies:

  • Infant-only Child Safety Seats
  • Rear-facing Convertible Child Safety Seats
  • Car Beds (please visit Premature Babies and Babies With Medical Conditions for information about car beds)

Infant-only child safety seats

Infant-only safety seats are unique in that they are usually:

  • Rear-facing and come with a three- or a five-point harness. The most common type of harness is a five-point, with two straps that secure the shoulders and two more that secure the hips. The straps all connect to a buckle between the legs. A less common type is a three-point harness, which functions the same way but lacks the points at the hips.
  • Portable with a carrying handle; they can be easily removed and used as infant carriers. For most infant seats, the carrying handle should be down when your child is in the vehicle. Be sure to check your safety seat instruction manual for proper placement of the carrier’s handle during travel.
  • Attached to detachable bases that can be installed and then left in your vehicle. You can buy more bases to use in other vehicles. Most infant-only seats can also be installed with just the vehicle's seat belt, without their base.
  • Used for infants up to 22 to 35 pounds or more; check the instruction manual or the seat label for weight limits.
  • Babies who have outgrown their infant-only safety seat will need a larger seat that can be used rear-racing, such as a convertible safety seat, until they are 2 years of age. The convertible safety seat can then be turned to face forward. 

Rear-facing convertible child safety seats

A convertible child safety seat can be used in both the rear-facing and forward-facing positions. Convertible child safety seats must be used in the rear-facing position - in the back seat of the car - as long as possible, until your child reaches the highest weight or height allowed by the manufacturer of the convertible safety seat. Most convertible seats have limits that will allow children to ride rear-facing for two years or more. The seat can then be turned around to face forward for toddlers.

Car beds

Some convertible child safety seats may not provide the best fit for smaller newborns, especially low-birthweight babies or preterm babies (those born too early). For these smaller children, car beds are a safer alternative to standard car seats.

A wide variety of car safety products, including rear-facing and convertible child safety seats and car beds, are sold at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia's Safety Center. For more information about specific car seat models currently available, visit the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) website.

Child safety seat registration card

Don't forget to mail back the registration card. If you don't, you will not be notified if the child safety seat is recalled or has other safety problems.

If you moved since you mailed the card, make sure you call your child safety seat manufacturer to update your address.

If you misplaced the registration card that came with your car seat, please download and complete this form and mail or fax it as instructed.

Download our Rear-facing Car Seat Safety brochure

Our Rear-facing Car Seat Safety brochure is available for download.