How to Put a Baby Into a Car Seat Properly

Whether you have a newborn or a toddler, securing baby in his car seat can be a challenge. But it's a necessity in keeping him safe. Follow these tips to be sure baby's buckled into his car seat properly.

mom with baby car seat
Photo: Garnet Photo/Shutterstock

Chances are, your baby will not be happy about getting strapped into his car seat for the first (or tenth) time, just like he often cries during diaper changes and dressing. But don't panic: Crying or even screaming doesn't mean he's in any distress, so don't freak out.

Stay calm and use these tips to ensure that baby is buckled in safely:

Make sure it's the right fit.

You do want to make baby as comfortable as possible, so make sure the shoulder straps come in at or below baby's shoulders, and that the strap fits well between the legs.

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Keep the head in a safe position.

New babies do not have enough strength in their necks to hold their heads up. "Their heads tend to flop sideways; this is okay," says Alisa Baer, M.D., a pediatrician and cofounder of The Car Seat Lady. "But when the car seat is too upright, their heads tend to flop forward, and this is not okay because it can interfere with baby's breathing."

So, how do you make sure this doesn't happen? Dr. Baer has two suggestions:

  • Make the straps snug. This will prevent baby from slumping sideways and falling over. And newborns especially like that feeling of being held and secure, so this will also increase the likelihood of your baby falling asleep in the car.
  • Recline the car seat properly. "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 your child's seat allows," Dr. Baer says. And remember that because a newborn don't have the muscle strength to pick his head up if his chin falls down on their chest, parents need to position the head and neck when putting the baby into the seat. "As he grows older and can hold up his own head, you can move the car seat into a more upright position," Dr. Baer says.

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Swaddle after strapping in.

It's dangerous to have anything other than the baby under the straps — even a snowsuit or winter jacket — so be sure to buckle just baby in to the seat. Once he's strapped in, you can wrap a blanket firmly around her to give the feeling of being swaddled and keep her warm during winter.

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Set up some entertainment.

Rear-facing babies can sometimes get cranky when Mom and Dad aren't in their line of sight. Distraction can help here: Play some music you both enjoy, bring along some of your child's favorite loveys and a pacifier.

Talk it out.

While a young baby might not understand what you're saying, he will comprehend the tone of your voice. Calmly explain how you're going to place baby into the car seat so you can visit Grandma/go to the market/take a ride to the park, etc. And while driving, keep talking to baby (while keeping your eyes on the road, of course) — he will find the sound of your voice soothing and it will help him to stay calm during the trip.

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