The short answer is yes, you do need a suitable car seat for your preemie. In fact, most hospitals won’t even let you leave with a baby in a car without a suitable car seat, and that means one that fits properly to your child’s size. It’s illegal to carry a baby in your arms in a car.
Since preemies are usually below 5 lbs and most car seats aren’t designed for babies that small, you’re going to need one that is specifically made for preemies. Since preemies aren’t as long as non-preemies, it’s important that the shoulder strap is adjustable so it’s tight enough.
The hospital will likely perform a car seat test; this involves closely monitoring your baby’s heart rate and oxygen levels for 90 minutes while in the car seat. This is to make sure it’s safe for them. Since preemies have weaker muscles, their heads sometimes flop around, which can lead to their airways being cut off; this is part of what the car seat test measures.
There are car seat padding systems (“head huggers”) that you might have read about, but these aren’t recommended, and many hospitals will simply not allow you to use them. The reason is that they can be suffocation hazards. It’s better to just get a suitable car seat.
A good car seat for preemies is the Chicco KeyFit 30 (click here to see it) which is specifically made for smaller babies; unlike most seats, it’s rated for as low as 4 lbs. It’s often recommended by hospitals, and it’s good for up to 30 pounds, so you’ll be able to use it as your baby gets older, too.
If you have any questions or comments about car seats for preemies, let us know in the comments below!