INFANTS - Basics

For the best possible protection, keep infants in the back seat, in rear-facing child safety seats, as long as possible up to the height or weight limit of the particular seat. Rear-facing child safety seats protect the infant’s head, neck and spine in a crash. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends children remain in a rear-facing child safety seat until 2 years old (click here for rear-facing recommendation from the AAP).

Most convertible child safety seats can be used rear-facing from 5-30 or 40 pounds. If a child safety seat accommodates children rear-facing to higher weights, the child should remain rear-facing until reaching the maximum weight for the child safety seat, as long as the top of the child’s head is at least an inch below the top of the safety seat back.

Infant-only child safety seats are designed for rear-facing use only

  • Baby's head must be at least one inch below the top of the child safety seat.

  • The label on the child safety seat gives the upper weight limit of the child safety seat. Infant-only seats usually range from birth or five pounds until 20-40 pounds.

  • The harness retainer clip should be properly fastened at the armpit level with the harness strap snug.
  • ALWAYS monitor baby when he/she is in the infant-only seat. The infant-only child safety seat should not be used as a crib, and should NEVER be placed on a high table or unstable surface.

  • Keep harness straps fastened snugly on baby even when the child safety seat is not being used as a carrier.

Convertible child safety seats are designed for older babies and can be used rear–facing to higher weight limits and then forward-facing

  • Convertible child safety seats can be used rear-facing up to 30 or 40 pounds. Always check the label and instructions for the rear–facing weight limit.

  • If a baby, under one year of age, grows too tall or too heavy for an infant-only seat, a convertible seat with a higher rear-facing weight limit is recommended.
  • It is recommended that a child ride rear-facing until two years of age and he/she reaches the upper weight limits of the convertible child safety seat. This protects the baby's fragile head, neck and spinal cord. Infants should NEVER ride front-facing before one year old or 20 pounds. Follow the child safety seat manufacturer's instructions for rear-facing weight limits.

  • A convertible child safety seat with a 5 point harness works best for a newborn baby. Seats with padded overhead shields do not fit small babies properly. The shield comes up too high and may make proper adjustments of the harness difficult.

  • The child’s head must remain at least an inch below the top of the safety seat back when used rear-facing.
Buckling Baby In The Safety Seat Correctly

  • The harness straps must be placed in the slots at or below the baby’s shoulders for rear-facing. Harness straps must fit properly on the baby's shoulders and between the legs. Dress your baby in clothes that keep the legs free and do not interfere with the harness.

  • Keep harness straps very snug and flat on the baby's shoulders - not arms. If the harness straps are even slightly loose, the baby can be thrown out of the child safety seat in a minor crash.

  • Place the plastic harness retainer clip even with the child's armpits to hold the harness straps on the shoulders. Do not use a safety seat without a harness retainer clip unless instructed to do so by the child safety seat manufacturer.
  • Always buckle baby in the seat first, then place blanket OVER the harness. Thick clothing or covers between the baby and the harness straps will prevent a snug fit, and may place your baby at risk in a crash.

  • If the baby needs support, fill empty spaces with small, rolled blankets on each side of the baby's shoulders and head. A rolled diaper or small towel can be put between his/her legs behind the crotch strap for positioning.

  • Thick padding  CANNOT be placed under or behind the baby.

  • Babies must ride in a semi-reclined position (half way back or between 30-45 degree angle from vertical) to keep their airways open. Check the instruction manual for further information.

  • If the child safety seat is too upright for the baby, and the base is not adjustable, place a tightly rolled bath towel, or part of a foam pool noodle, under the front edge of the child safety seat to tilt it back a little. Do not recline the rear-facing child safety seat too far back or the child could be injured in a crash.
  • Be sure to place the safety belt or LATCH strap through the correct belt path. Check the instruction manual for further information.
  • Aftermarket products like toys, mirrors and head supports are not recommended. They can become loose in a crash and severely injure your child.

NOTE: ALWAYS read and follow the child safety seat instructions and the vehicle owner’s manual instructions.

What About Child Safety Seats For Premature Infants?

  • A baby born earlier than 37 weeks may need to use a car bed if he/she has any problems breathing or other medical problems when sitting semi-reclined.
  • Ask the baby's doctor if the baby needs to be tested for breathing problems or other medical problems before he/she is discharged from the hospital.
  • If the baby's doctor recommends it, a baby with medical problems may need to ride lying flat in a car bed.
  • It is recommended that children remain rear-facing until the age of 2.
  • In Illinois, contact the Special Needs Child Passenger Safety Resource Center for more information at
    877-CRSNKID (877-277-6543).