Safety

Courtesy of Samantha Darby

What You Need To Know About The Car Seat Head Flop

Because it seems inevitable.

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I remember when I first turned around my children's car seats. It felt liberating for them and for myself. I could finally see them and they could finally see me, along with the sights of the wondrous roads ahead. But I quickly learned that once they would fall asleep, my task was to continuously push their sleepy heads back, which would fall forward anytime the car stopped. If you're a parent who needs a break from push-back duty, you should know how to keep your toddler's head from slumping forward in a car seat.

Is It Safe For Your Child’s Head To Fall Forward In A Car Seat?

Sometimes when children sleep in an awkward position for too long, it can put some strain on their neck muscles, according to About Kids Health. But even though it might look particularly painful, you shouldn’t worry too much about having to perpetually pop your child’s head back into the correct position, Dr. Denise Scott, M.D., a pediatrician with JustAnswer, tells Romper. “Older infants (from 9-12 months old) and toddlers have developed adequate neck and head control and no longer require head support,” says Dr. Scott. “The head bending forward will not cut off their airway as in a young infant.” And while it might appear to be utterly awkward, your kiddo will instinctively adjust themselves if their neck begins to ache or they find it to be too uncomfortable.

Do You Need To Use A Pillow Or Straps To Keep Your Child’s Head Up In Their Car Seat?

You might be tempted to position your child’s head in place with some sort of pillow or prop — but you shouldn’t. “It is not recommended to use a neck pillow of any kind in a car seat,” says Dr. Scott. “There are head straps available that go around the car seat and hold the forehead in place to keep the head upright, but again, it’s not necessary.”

Here’s How You Can Help Your Child’s Head From Falling Forward In Their Car Seat

Still, it’s hard to watch your child’s head falling forward in their car seat, even if you know it’s not hurting them. To stop the slump, the first thing you can do is to look for a car seat that has a reclining feature. Many convertible car seats, explained the National Child Passenger Safety Board, are safe in a forward-facing, semi-reclined position, as well as fully upright. “For them to ride safely in a car seat, first and foremost, follow the manufacturer's instructions,” says Dr. Scott, and don’t make the car seat recline if it’s not supposed to.

So how do you keep your kiddo’s noggin from hanging down? “To prevent the head from falling forward, have harness straps snug, the chest plate at the level of the armpits and the seat reclined appropriately,” advises Dr. Scott. “If needed, a tightly rolled diaper cloth or thin blanket placed on each side of the head (never behind) and running down each side of the body can also be used to keep the head in place.”

You should always make sure your toddler is big enough to sit forward facing in the first place. Once your toddler is at the correct age and weight — according to the standards recommended by your car seat manufacturer — the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommended that parents use a forward-facing seat that has a harness, because it can provide a lot more support and safety than a booster seat.

It’s always important to make sure that your toddler’s car seat is installed correctly. If you are unsure about the setup, you can find a car seat technician to help. Unfortunately, physics is probably going to be against you when it comes to the forward head slump, but these techniques and tips may make your car trips require a little less work — and make moving your child’s head less of a pain in the neck…for both of you.

Expert:

Dr. Denise Scott, M.D., a pediatrician with JustAnswer

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