Everyone understands that low birthweight babies often come with challenges. However, most expecting parents don’t consider the possibility that the carseat they bought or chose to put on their baby registry might not fit baby well if she or he arrives early or is smaller than average at birth.

Of course, you often have no idea ahead of time that you’re going to have a preemie or smaller-than-average term baby.  But if you’re expecting multiples, have a history of preterm labor or just a history of delivering small babies then you really want to be prepared with a carseat that is likely to fit the baby/babies well regardless of whether they’re 4 lbs or 9 lbs at discharge.   

There are 3 important factors when choosing a carseat that is likely to fit a smaller baby well.  First is the miniumum weight rating.  Most carseats are rated from 5 lbs up.  But many babies are discharged from the hospital weighing less than 5 lbs and the hospital staff might not let you leave with your under-5 lbs-baby in a carseat that has a 5 lbs mimimum weight rating.  Ideally, you want a carseat with a minimum weight rating of 4 lbs or a seat rated simply from “birth” up to whatever the max weight limit is.  

photo (85)However, the minimum weight rating is only one factor in what you’re looking for in a carseat.  You’re also going to need lower-than-average bottom harness slots (ideally 6″ or lower), OR a carseat that comes with an insert cushion that goes under baby’s bottom which raises them up so that their shoulder level is even with, or slightly above, the bottom harness slots.  To clarify, in a rear-facing carseat, you want the harness straps to be situated “at” or slightly below the child’s shoulder level.  In order to evaluate this properly, you may want to remove the harness strap  covers if your seat came with them (and don’t use any aftermarket strap covers if your carseat didn’t).  In my blog review photos, I almost always ditch the harness strap covers because, in my opinion, they just tend to get in the way more than anything else. 

Speaking of getting in the way, I want to take this opportunity to educate you on the plethora of aftermarket carseat stuff that lines the shelves of every baby store. With the exception of a blanket to put over baby in cooler weather, you only want to use the things that came in the box with your carseat.  Aftermarket carseat products may look helpful or useful but they can be a real detriment to proper usage so they are not recommended.  Products like the Bundle Me are great for the stroller but should never be used with your carseat.  Ditto for aftermarket harness strap covers and aftermarket infant support cushions.  However, there are some safe, recommended alternatives to such products so if you’re looking for suggestions or advice (on this or any other carseat-related topic), please visit our forums HERE and we’ll be happy to help educate you.

UPPAbaby Mesa preemie dollSince you probably don’t have a good lifelike preemie doll at home to test your carseat with – you can rely on us to steer you in the right direction when it comes to carseats and smaller babies. All of the seats on this recommended list have been tested by either Darren, Heather or myself using the preemie doll made by Huggable Images and we’re confident that these seats will provide a snug and proper harness fit for the vast majority of babies who measure at least 4 lbs and 17″ (the size and weight of this particular doll).

 

List of Recommended Carseats for Preemies & Multiples

UPDATED JULY, 2014

Priced under $100:

Cosco Light ‘n Comfy Elite - 4-22 lbs.; up to 29″ tall; front harness adjuster (on Elite model only); 4 sets of harness lots, 3 crotch strap/buckle positions, optional 4th adjustment position shortens the crotch strap length for small newborns; energy-absorbing EPS foam. Review coming soon.

Evenflo Embrace LX -  4-35 lbs.; up to 30″ tall; front harness adjuster; 3 sets of harness lots, 3 crotch strap/buckle positions, optional 4th adjustment position shortens the crotch strap length for small newborns; adjustable base; energy-absorbing EPS foam. See our complete EMBRACE 35 REVIEW HERE.

 - stockSafety 1st Comfy Carry Elite Plus – 4-22 lbs.; up to 29″ tall; front harness adjuster (on Elite model only); adjustable base (on Elite Plus model only); 4 sets of harness lots, 3 crotch strap/buckle positions, optional 4th adjustment position shortens the crotch strap length for small newborns; energy-absorbing EPS foam. See our complete COMFY CARRY ELITE PLUS REVIEW HERE.

 - RossSafety 1st onBoard 35 - 4-35 lbs.; up to 32″ tall;  front harness adjuster; 4 sets of harness lots, 3 crotch strap/buckle positions, optional 4th adjustment position shortens the crotch strap length for small newborns; adjustable base; energy-absorbing EPS foam. Review coming soon.

 

Priced $100-$200 (MSRP):

Britax B-Safe –  4-30 lbs.; up to 32″ tall; 4 sets of harness slots; 2 buckle positions; adjustable base; built-in lockoff for seatbelt installations; premium push-on LATCH connectors; EPS foam. B-SAFE REVIEW HERE.

Chicco - KeyFit30_MidoriChicco KeyFit 30 - 4-30 lbs.; up to 30″ tall; 3 harness slots; 1 buckle position; adjustable base; built-in lockoffs for seatbelt installations; unique “center-pull” LATCH tightening adjustment; premium push-on LATCH connectors; EPS foam; newborn insert (4-11 lbs. only).  FULL KEYFIT 30 REVIEW HERE.

Evenflo SecureRide 35 (aka Serenade) – 4-35 lbs.; up to 32″ tall; infinite slide harness system; 2 crotch strap/buckle positions; auto-retracting SureLATCH lower LATCH anchor connectors; adjustable base; EPS foam. Review coming soon.

Graco SnugRide 35 Classic Connect – newer models are rated from *4*-35 lbs, up to 32″ tall; 3 sets of harness slots; 1 buckle position; adjustable base; lockoff on base for seatbelt installations; EPS foam; unique lower body positioning insert. We do NOT recommend the original SR35 models that were rated from 5-35 lbs for preemies or low birthweight infants. FULL REVIEW OF SNUGRIDE 35 CLASSIC CONNECT HERE.

Graco SnugRide 35 LX Click Connect - 4-35 lbs.; up to 32″ tall; no re-thread harness with 15 height positions; 2 buckle positions; optional 3rd adjustment position shortens the crotch strap length for small newborns; adjustable base; LX model has built-in lockoff for seatbelt installations; EPS foam; lower body positioning insert. See our complete SNUGRIDE 35 LX CLICK CONNECT REVIEW HERE.

Safety 1st onBoard 35 Air & onBoard Plus - Only the “Air” and “Plus” models have premium base with lockoff and Air-Protect Technology.  All models rated from 4-35 lbs.; up to 32″ tall; 4 sets of harness lots, 3 crotch strap/buckle positions, optional 4th adjustment position shortens the crotch strap length for small newborns; adjustable base; lockoff for seatbelt installations; energy-absorbing EPS foam.  See our complete REVIEW OF ONBOARD 35 AIR HERE.

 

Priced $200-$300 (MSRP):

Graco SnugRide 40 Click Connect -  4-40 lbs.; up to 35″ tall;  no re-thread harness with 15 height positions; 2 buckle positions; optional 3rd adjustment position shortens the crotch strap length for small newborns; unique adjustable base with 8 positions that increases leg room as child grows taller; built-in lockoff for seatbelt installations; EPS foam; lower body positioning insert. See our complete review of the SNUGRIDE 40 CLICK CONNECT.

nuna-pipa-infant-car-seat-scarletNuna PIPA - 4-32 lbs.; up to 32″ tall; 3 sets of harness slots; 2 buckle position; optional 3rd adjustment position shortens the crotch strap length for small newborns; adjustable base with load leg; rigid lower LATCH anchor connectors; built-in lockoff for seatbelt installations; EPS foam & memory foam; newborn insert and separate low birthweight pillow insert; best-in-class canopy with “Dream Drape”. See our complete NUNA PIPA REVIEW HERE.

Peg Viaggio_435-menthaPeg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35 - 4-35 lbs.; up to 32″ tall; no-rethread harness with 6 height positions; single buckle position; adjustable base with lockoff for seatbelt installations; anti-rebound bar; push-on lower LATCH connectors; EPS foam; 2 stage newborn insert. Review coming soon.

 - DrewUPPAbaby MESA - 4-35 lbs.; up to 32″ tall; no re-thread harness with 5 height positions; 2 buckle positions; adjustable base with tension indicator and auto-retracting lower LATCH connectors; built-in lockoff for seatbelt installations; EPS foam; integrated canopy made with SPF 50 material; low birthweight insert for babies 4-8 lbs. See our complete UPPABABY MESA REVIEW HERE.

 

Convertible Seats:

Maxi-Cosi-Pria70-with-TinyFitMaxi-Cosi Pria with TinyFit Insert - Models with TinyFit System are rated from 4-40 lbs. rear-facing (4-18 lbs. with the TinyFit insert); Pria models without TinyFit are NOT meant to be used for a newborn so make sure you’re only considering models with TinyFit; unique insert is literally a shell within a shell which creates a smaller seat within the bigger seat; no re-thread harness; deep head wings and Air Protect technology for enhanced side-impact protection; push-on LATCH connectors; integrated cup holder. See our complete PRIA 70 WITH TINYFIT REVIEW HERE.