Tiny baby is tiny. Car Seat doesn't fit!
October 2, 2010 8:03 PM   Subscribe

My sister just had her first child and on the car ride home, she discovered that her tiny, 3 day old, 5 pound baby is too small for her infant car seat! Is there a safe way to modify a normal car seat temporarily for an extra tiny individual? Is there anything else she needs to know about dealing with an extra-small infant?

The doctors told my sister her baby would be huge because my sister is a diabetic and induced her early... only to find out the baby was only 5lbs!

The baby is not a preemie, just very small. We're sure she's grow quickly and the seat can be un-modified as soon as she's able to sit properly in the car seat.

We're looking for something that temporarily modifies the car seat, that can be removed, and that doesn't actually affect the structure of the seat, however we've read that pad inserts aren't recommended by safety experts!

My sister would also appreciate any other tips for making things safe for an extra-tiny one.
posted by aristan to Travel & Transportation (21 answers total)
Some car seats work for 4 lb.+ - I know our Britax did.

Could she (you) try to return/exchange the one she has or sell it to a pregnant friend?
posted by k8t at 8:16 PM on October 2, 2010

Chicco KeyFit also starts at 4 lbs.
posted by k8t at 8:16 PM on October 2, 2010

Having recently become the father of a small newborn (mine is a premie), myself, I looked into this a bit. My understanding is that nothing that's not sold by the carseat manufacturer will be tested by the manufacturer, or tested adequately by anybody else with that carseat. Presumably your sister already has a carseat, so you're constrained by what will work with that seat. And presumably you already looked for things that are provided by the manufacturer and there are none.

Officially, your sister is probably SOL, i.e., she'll need to buy a seat that is rated down to 4 pounds, like the Chicco KeyFit.

Unofficially, she'll have to find her own comfort level. That baby will probably not be under the weight limit for that seat for very long.
posted by gurple at 8:17 PM on October 2, 2010

You have not shown us what she is currently using, but new-borns are too small for car-seat type setups (where the baby is sitting). I think (remember) that they are for around 9 month olds and up. Babies need to be able to hold their heads erect before they can use these.

She needs a proper baby capsule type, which is not a seat, but more of a bassinette with safety straps etc. that straps into the car. The baby lies in the cot/bassinette, no sitting involved. The bassinette can be removed and used to transport the baby at her destination.

At least that is what we used for my three (youngest 25 ) and I still see these around (or similar anyway).
posted by GeeEmm at 8:18 PM on October 2, 2010

My daughter was predicted to be a big baby, too, but when we left the hospital, she was only a few ounces bigger than your sister's child. I ended up buying a new car seat.
posted by Ruki at 8:20 PM on October 2, 2010

Kiddopotamus Snuzzler is exactly what she needs.
posted by gnutron at 8:21 PM on October 2, 2010 [3 favorites]

re: inserts.

yeah, they aren't officially endorsed, but you're going to be using it for like a week or 2 until the baby is a little bigger.
posted by k8t at 8:32 PM on October 2, 2010

You can rent "car-beds" made for preemies at many hospitals. That might be a good solution while waiting for the baby to grow into the carseat if you won't be in the car a whole lot.

(At the hospital the nurses checked the "fit" of our carseat before letting us leave -- your local hospital, fire station, etc., may be able to help in-person.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:33 PM on October 2, 2010

Our son was a little underweight but they don't let you out of the hospital without a car seat, right? A car seat in this case is an infant car seat... It looks like a little bucket with a handle, right? If the child is a little small, fold a hand towel and fit it around the infant's head in the seat.

The kid will soon grow into the car seat. In the meantime, why even leave the house? In Japan, it's pretty rare for a newborn to leave the house until the end of the third month.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:40 PM on October 2, 2010

More than 75% of infant and child car seats are misused: wrong size, improper installation, or the child is not placed and secured correctly in the seat.

This link lists the car seat check locations for North Carolina. You will need to make an appointment, but they will be able to tell you if you can safely modify a car seat to fit your baby or if you will need to buy a better fitting one.

Other states have similar programs. Enter your zip code on this site to find a nearby car seat inspection station in the US.
posted by zoel at 8:49 PM on October 2, 2010

KokuRyu, if they're in the US, there will be pediatrician visits they'll have to leave the house for, plus mom & dad will likely go stir crazy without leaving the house a bit.

I second the Snuzzler recommendation.
posted by chiababe at 8:52 PM on October 2, 2010

I made my own version of the Snuzzler with baby blankets (or towels) wrapped and rolled & placed underneath and around the baby. It is not necessarily an exact fit, but it was better than nothing.
posted by Ochre,Hugh at 9:09 PM on October 2, 2010

Be careful with added padding and other homebrew mods. Making a crashworthy seat is a complicated, often counter-intuitive engineering problem. For example, putting extra padding between the body and the underlying firm surface can actually increase the peak force experienced in a crash. Because padding compresses, it can act almost like slack in a crash: it lets the body travel further before it starts being decelerated by the straps or seatback.

Go with a seat that's actually professionally engineered for a small infant.
posted by Dimpy at 9:39 PM on October 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

Seconding GeeEmm. Infants should not be made to sit, especially not in cars.
posted by flabdablet at 10:00 PM on October 2, 2010

I recommend you have a look around the forums on car-seat.org for info on this. You can even ask a question without registering, if you like. Most people on the forum are trained car seat techs, so you'll generally very good advice. Can you tell us which seat your sister has now? I'm assuming it is a baby bucket infant seat, and not a convertible. My first son was 5lbs 10oz when I brought him home, and the car seat was definitely a borderline fit at that point (Graco Snugride). So I suppose on the plus side, you can imagine that it really won't take long for her to fit reasonably well into the seat.

I do caution against the kiddopotamus snuzzler, although it makes everything seem to fit very well, its not recommended in a car seat for the reason Dimpy mentions above. However, I did use just the head portion of the snuzzler on my son in his car seat. I figured that the dangerous part is having extra material between the baby's torso and the seat, since the torso is the bit that is held in place by the straps, so you don't want that to compress in a crash. The head bit of the snuzzler stops baby's head falling sideways. You can also roll up burp cloths or cloth diapers and make sort of 'positioning sausages' that you put at the side of baby's head, so she doesn't slump sideways.

Another tip - if you follow the car seat installation instructions exactly, the seat may be installed slightly too upright. This is because some car seats (meaning the rear seat of your car, not the baby seat!) slope a lot. If the seat is too upright, then baby's head may slump forward when she falls asleep. This is not good, as babies airways can get too compressed. You can reinstall it with a pool noodle or rolled up towel underneath the front of the seat base (front = where baby's feet are), to tilt the seat up a bit. Look for instructions on this procedure online (car-seat.org again is good), you want to make sure you use something that isn't too compressible, and that you get the angle right.
posted by Joh at 10:37 PM on October 2, 2010

GeeEmm and flabdablet -- I think that there is some confusion in defining this stuff. When we're saying "car seat" - that's a generic term for all baby-goes-in-the-car things.

When we're all discussing "infant car seat" it isn't an upright seat (a booster, for example), that you'd see an older child in, we mean what is also referred to as a "bucket seat." It is shaped almost like a V or, another way to visualize it, is that it is like a swing. It goes in the back seat and the infant faces the back of the car. (Most people have the kind that clicks out of a base, making it easy to carry around.) These type of seats are used until a child is 20-something pounds (depending on the manufacturer) and almost always stopped being used when a child is about a year old.

Another type of seat that a lot of parents of young toddlers use is a convertible seat. When the child reaches 20 lbs. (or in some families with bigger infants ~8+ lbs.), most folks move to a convertible seat. The law (in the U.S.) is that the child must still face backwards until age 1 (although recently there has been a movement to keep them facing backwards until age 2.) They are a little bit like a bucket seat, but don't have the handle and ability to click them out of a base. They are also at a slightly steeper incline. But what is neat about these seats is that once a family decides that they are ready (age 1 or whenever), you can flip the seat to face forward and act more like a "seat" in the proper sense. The edges are still tall like an infant seat though, so it has an added level of safety. Most of these type of seats last until 35 or 40 lbs. (again, varies by manufacturer).

Then once a kid reaches 3 or 4 or whatever (outgrows the convertible seat), many families then move to a "booster" seat.

Here's Wikipedia on the current state of babies and seats.
posted by k8t at 10:40 PM on October 2, 2010

Here's a list of 4 lb.+ car seats. This document also has some good information about supporting a small newborn's head in the car.
posted by k8t at 10:46 PM on October 2, 2010

Response by poster: Hey Guys, My sister hasn't given me the brand or make of her car seat but it is one designed for infants.

Her main concern is that the straps on the seat don't comfortably hold the baby and slides down even further, but it's not such an off fit that she's going to need a smaller seat for very long. My sister wants to just make sure that the baby isn't sliding around in the seat, possibly injuring her from being shaken and tossed about by a bumpy ride.

She had the car seat installed a month ago by firemen at the local fire station. She had the seat installed early so that both her and her husband could get used to driving with the new addition in the car.

Thanks for all the suggestions! We realized today that this is the first addition to our family in 22 years and so much has changed! I'll provide more information as I get it and I'm passing everything along to my sister who thanks you all as well. Please keep the suggestions coming!
posted by aristan at 11:37 PM on October 2, 2010

"More than 75% of infant and child car seats are misused: wrong size, improper installation, or the child is not placed and secured correctly in the seat."

This claim is a litigation strategy. Any child safety product that failed 75% of the time because it couldn't be installed properly by average parents wouldn't be on the market. (Look at recent massive recalls over small handfuls of incidents or potential incidents.)

Any time a car seat fails in an accident, and they fail a lot, somehow it is never poor design, material failure, or anything the manufacturer could be liable for -- it's parents who use the product improperly. Even if they had it installed by the firemen or trained techs and went through the whole official shebang; the litigation defense is always, "Product was used improperly."
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:41 AM on October 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

One thing to check is whether the straps on the current seat are set to the smallest setting. Perhaps that's obvious, but sometimes there are slots that you put the straps through and using the lower ones will give a better fit.
posted by Sukey Says at 6:38 AM on October 3, 2010

Yes, Sukey's right, check to make sure the straps are on the lowest settings. And just roll up blankets or towels and stuff them in there to keep the baby from slumping.

We used an umbrella stroller almost from birth with our first son, stuffing blankets all around him so his head and body couldn't move. It wasn't a solution that would be approved by, say, most Urban Baby moms, but it worked.
posted by torticat at 9:11 AM on October 3, 2010

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