Before heading home, a preemie will need to be in an infant-only car safety seat with a three-point harness system or a convertible car safety seat with a five-point harness system. Most car seats need to be modified with padding or head supports so that a preemie’s head stays in a position that keeps the airway open. A preemie often does not have the muscle control required to keep the head upright or to move it if he or she is having trouble breathing.
The Cleveland Clinic offers some simple guidelines to help parents of preemies make sure the car seat their infant will use is designed and used properly for maximum safety.
• Preemies are safest in an infant carrier. Make sure the carrier’s distance from the crotch to seat back is less than 5 1/2 inches. Roll up a small blanket or diaper and place it in the area between the crotch strap and baby to minimize slouching.
• There should be less than 10 inches between the seat bottom and lower harness straps to prevent straps from going across baby’s ears.
• Buckle baby in before putting a blanket over him or her.
• Avoid a car seat with a shield, armrest or abdominal pad.
• Keep baby in the back seat.
• If baby uses breathing equipment, place it on the floor of the car, not on the seat next to baby.
Babies born at less than 37 weeks’ gestation are considered premature. For more information about caring for a preemie at home, talk to your pediatrician and visit healthychildren.org, “Going Home with Your Preemie,” from the American Academy of Pediatrics.