Choosing a car seat for your newborn baby
You'll be bringing your precious newborn baby home from the hospital in a car seat, so make sure you've bought one and practised fitting it in your car before your baby is due. Our guide will help you choose and fit the right car seat for your baby. For older babies please see our car seats guide for your growing baby.
Know the law about car seats
As the driver, you are legally responsible for using an appropriate child car seat for children up to 135cm (4ft 5in). Safety experts go even further and recommend using a car seat for children up to 150cm (4ft 11in).
You need to check that:
- Your car seat conforms to the United Nations standard, ECE Regulation 44/03 or ECE 44/04 (look for this on a label on the seat)
- Your car seat is the correct type (known as 'group') for the weight of your child. Weight is more important than age when choosing the right car seat
- Your car seat is correctly fitted in your car. Follow the car seat manufacturer's instructions carefully when securing your seat.
For more details on the law for using car seats, including rare exceptions, please visit the Which? site.
Choose a car seat for your new baby
Important things to consider when choosing a car seat:
1. Will the car seat fit your car?
Not all car seats fit all cars. Make sure you make sure so use an online 'fit finder' such as Britax or Maxi -Cosi. Alternatively, check your car manufacturer's website or call to ask if the car seat you want will fit in your car.
2. Do you want to use an ISOFIX base?
ISOFIX is a European standard fitting system that rigidly attaches the car seat to your car's structure so you don't need to use a seat belt. This makes getting the car seat in and out of the car easier – it just clicks into place – and also reduces the chances of you fitting the car seat wrongly.
You will need to check that your car has ISOFIX connection points before buying a separate ISOFIX base and ISOFIX-compatible car seat. If you plan to swap your car seat between cars, check that your car seat can also be used with a seat belt. If not, you'll need to buy additional ISOFIX bases or additional car seats.
3. Which group should you go for?
Car seats come in eight main types, known as groups, based on your child's weight. There are three groups suitable for newborn babies.
|GROUP||CHILD'S WEIGHT||APPROX AGE OF CHILD|
|0||Birth to 10kg (22lb)||Birth to 6-9 months|
|0+||Birth to 13kg (29lb)||Birth to 12-15 months|
|0+ and 1||Birth to 18kg (40lb)||Birth to 4 years|
All car seats in these groups are rear facing, the safest position for babies. Group 0+ and 1can be used rear facing until 13kg (29lb) and then forward-facing after that. The safest position for your baby is on the back seat, because it's furthest from the windscreen. However, if you do need to use a rear-facing car seat in the front passenger seat, always disable the passenger airbag first.
For older babies please see our car seats guide for your growing baby
4. Do you want to use your car seat with a travel system?
Travel systems are buggy frames that come with interchangeable seating options – usually a carrycot for newborn babies, a pushchair seat and car seat. If you'd like the convenience of being able to take your car seat out of your car and click it directly onto your buggy without waking your sleeping baby, then choose a Group 0 or Group 0+ car seat that works with your chosen travel system. Check which car seats work with which travel systems before you buy one – they don't always have to be the same brand.
Remember that although it's convenient to leave your sleeping baby in the car seat when you move between car and home, you shouldn't use the seat as a sleeping place for too long. This is because being in a semi-upright position for long periods of time may place a strain on your baby's developing spine. If you need to go on a long journey, plan in extra time for stops so you can take your baby out of the seat for a while. When at home, make sure your baby sleeps in his Moses basket or cot and, if awake, lie your baby on a mat on the floor or use a bouncy chair.
5. Do you want any extras?
When choosing your car seat, colour and style are a matter of personal taste. However, you might want to think about other factors such as how easy it is to adjust the straps – some models have an easy-to-use, one-pull adjustable harness – and whether there's a carrying handle. A built-in sun canopy is useful for providing emergency shade. You might also want to look for washable covers or a model that can be reclined in the car.
Fit your car seat correctly
Fitting your car seat safely and securely is crucial. You'll find detailed instructions with the car seat and many seat manufacturers have instruction videos on their websites. Here are a few general tips:
- practise getting the car seat in and out of your car before your child uses it.
- check the car seat belt is long enough to secure the child car seat and that it can go through the slits in the car seat without any obstructions.
- check your car has ISOFIX mounting points if you plan to use an ISOFIX base.
- adjust the integral harness every time you travel. It should fit snugly, with no more than a finger's space between the harness and your child's chest.
- check the shoulder straps in a rear-facing car seat are slightly below your child's shoulders. In a forward-facing car seat, the harness straps should be level with, or slightly above, your child's shoulders.
- attach a mirror to your back seat if using a rear-facing car seat, so you can see your child in your rearview mirror while driving without turning around.
- check that the car seat has minimal forward or sideways movement. When you open the seat belt buckle, the car seat should spring upwards slightly.
- make sure the seat belt isn't twisted.
- allow seat belt buckles to lie against the child seat. Pressure on the buckle during an accident could make it fail. Only the fabric of the seat belt should touch the car seat.
- use a car seat that makes your child pull up their legs to fit in. If they can't stretch their legs comfortably either you have fitted the seat incorrectly, positioned the front seat too far back, or bought the wrong group car seat.
- buy second-hand car seats. Signs of being in an accident aren't always visible.
- let metal buckles get hot in direct sunlight. Use a window blind to prevent this happening or cover buckles with a light fabric. Be careful not to let your child overheat.
- allow too much slack. The car seat shouldn't be able to move too far forward or to the side. If it can, check the instructions, move the car seat to another position or consider returning the seat and buying another one.
- allow the front seat headrest to touch your child's car seat. If it does, remove the headrest. Don't ever use the headrest to 'jam' the car seat in place. The car seat needs to move forward in a crash to protect your child's head and neck.
- use a carry cot instead of a proper baby car seat.
- use a lap-only seat belt. Child car seats are designed for use with a three-point diagonal seat belt (or ISOFIX system) and using a lap-only one could cause the seat to flip over in a crash.
- fit a rear-facing car seat in front of an active airbag. If it goes off, the force could kill your child.
Check restraint options
Most Group 0, Group 0+ and Group 1 car seats have integral harnesses. This means the car seat itself is secured using the seat belt or an ISOFIX system and your child is secured to the seat using the built-in 3- or 5-point straps (similar to a pushchair).
- A 5-point harness tends to be more effective at restraining a child because, with a 3-point seat belt, the shoulder strap can slip in a crash if not correctly positioned.
- Harnesses should be tightened once your child is in the car seat. You should only be able to get one finger between the strap and your child's chest.
For older babies please see our car seats guide for your growing baby