In need of a car seat for a preemie? There are certain factors to consider, such as minimum weight specification of the seat and additional body support for infants.
My top pick for best preemie car seat is the Graco SnugRide SnugLock 35 Elite Infant Car Seat. This car seat has everything you need to ensure a proper fit for a premature baby, plus some great additional features that make it a great all-around car seat.
That’s not all! We’ve found all the best choices, including a convertible car seat. Read on to see all 5 of the top picks for the best car seat for preemies.
|The Best Car Seats for Preemies||Why It's Best||Rating|
|Graco SnugRide SnugLock 35 Elite Infant Car Seat||Infants from 4 lbs, safe, highly-rated, easy installation||♥♥♥♥♥|
|Safety 1st MultiFit EX Air 4-in1||Convertible car seat for infants from 4 lbs, 3 side pillows for preemie protection||♥♥♥♥♥|
|Evenflo MaxLite 35 Infant Car Seat||Only 7 lbs, easy to carry, narrow, snug fit||♥♥♥♥♥|
|Chicco KeyFit 30||Safe, highly-rated for ease-of-use, rear-facing only||♥♥♥♥♥|
|Britax B-Safe Ultra||High-quality, safe, feature rich, high-end, rear-facing only||♥♥♥♥♥|
The Best Car Seats for Preemies
Graco SnugRide SnugLock 35 Elite Infant Car Seat
Our Choice for Best Infant Car Seat for Preemies
The Graco SnugRide SnugLock 35 Elite Infant Car Seat has a nice wide range of weights and heights. It starts as a 4 lb car seat. This should definitely last you until at least baby’s first birthday.
It has a nice rotatable canopy that provides more sun coverage than most other seats. Some have complained that it is a bit too big an interferes with the carrying handle. A version of the seat with a smaller canopy is the Graco SungRide SnugLock 35 Platinum.
There is a see-through window on the canopy. It also has a removable over to make it easier to clean.
The 35 Elite includes a nice infant insert, but it can only be used up to 12 pounds. It also has an easy to read bubble level to help ensure the correct angle. The handle can be in any position when installed in the car.
This is a very safe car seat as it includes Graco’s most recent technology: Snuglock and SafetyCore. It is however, a bit heavier than some seats with fewer features.
- Minimum weight: 4 pounds
- Body Support: Yes; infant insert to be used 4-12 pounds
- Lowest Harness Position: 5 inches
- Expiration: 7 years
Safety 1st MultiFit EX Air 4-in-1 Convertible Car Seat
Our Choice for the Best Convertible Car Seat for Preemies
The Safety 1st MultiFit EX Air 4-in-1 Convertible Car Seat is our best convertible car seat for preemies. Why? Because unlike most convertible car seats, which start at 5 pounds, this is a 4 lb car seat.
It has 3 different body pillows that support a preemie: a bottom wedge, two side pillows, and a head pillow. When used together with the strap pads, these give even the smallest babies a great fit in this car seat. It provides great car seat head support safety.
Other features to love are the safety from the deep headrest, the Air Protect side impact protection, dual cup holders, harness holders on each side, 3 levels of recline, and best of all, a headrest and harness system that adjusts as one.
While most parents of preemies don’t opt for a big, heavy, immovable convertible car seat, if you do, this one will work. You do have to route the harness to a special place on the harness straps in order to get it to fit a small baby, so that is a pain to have to do and undo after baby gains a few pounds.
- Minimum weight: 4 pounds
- Body Support: Yes; infant insert must be used 4-11 pounds, optional from 12 to 14 pounds
- Lowest Harness Position: 5.5 inches using the newborn routing belt loops
- Expiration: 10 years
Evenflo LiteMax 35 Infant Car Seat
The Evenflo LiteMax 35 Infant Car Seat is one of the least expensive options when it comes to a car seat for a preemie. It will provide a nice, snug fit for your preemie.
As the name implies, this seat was made to be light. It is 6.7 lbs without the base. Lighter seats usually have lower maximum weight limits but the LiteMax goes up to 35 lbs. I think 35 lbs would be an extremely tight fit for this seat, but it is a good match for your preemie.
It was specifically designed for easy carrying from the narrowish shape to the ergonomic handle.
It has a removable, washable head pillow. This is not a full infant-insert, but combined with the narrow inner width of only 9″ should do the job.
The canopy is nice for sun protection but doesn’t extend past the handle so you’ll probably need a cover or blanket if you are out in the sun much.
Little pockets for the ends of the harness buckles make them easy to find when you are trying to get baby buckeled in efficiently.
- Minimum weight: 4 pounds
- Body Support: Yes infant insert included on some models
Chicco KeyFit 30 Infant Car Seat
Chicco Car seats consistently make best lists for their quality, and the Chicco KeyFit 30 Infant Car Seat is one of the best Chicco has to offer. This car seat is on the smaller side overall, with a narrower design overall. It weighs 9.6 pounds, so it’s easy to carry around as baby grows.
It has removable head and body support to help fit preemies. It also has shoulder strap pads to keep baby safe and comfortable, from 4 pounds on.
The base has a reclining foot and bubbles to get it just right for a small baby. It also has SuperCinch for easy installation. It also has a large canopy, one strap harness tightening, a safe and comfortable EPS foam lining, and compatibility with all Chicco strollers.
One bad thing: the minimum harness position isn’t very low, so short preemies might have a really hard time getting the straps to fit in the right spot.
- Minimum weight: 4 pounds
- Body Support: Yes infant insert included
- Lowest Harness Position: 7 inches
- Expiration: 6 years
Britax B-Safe Ultra Infant Car Seat
Like other infant car seats for preemies on this list, the Britax B-Safe Ultra Infant Car Seat is made with smaller babies in mind. That’s apparent in the 4 pound weight support, the cozy infant insert and harness strap pads, and the really, really low harness positioning.
What I love most about Britax car seats is their safety. This has 2 layers of side impact protection, a SafeCell impact-absorbing base, contoured shell, steel frame, and SafeCenter latch installation.
Besides that, it has a big canopy, an easy-to-remove and washable cover, spring-assisted recline, level indicator bubbles, and vehicle belt lock-offs. To make day-to-day use easy, you’ll get a quick-adjust harness where the harness and headrest height adjusts in one go, together with click and go capability with all Britax strollers.
- Minimum weight: 4 pounds
- Body Support: Yes; infant insert included
- Lowest Harness Position: 4.5 inches with infant insert, 5.5 inches without
- Expiration: 6 years
We’ve done an in-depth Britax B-Safe 35 review, which is just the simpler version of this car seat, on Experienced Mommy, so check it out for more details.
Other Preemie Car Seats
Here are some infant car seats that we’ve reviewed that work for preemies:
- Best Narrow Car Seats – many of the choices here are smaller and have 4 pound weight limits
- Best Car Seats for Twins – more small choices for fitting 2 babies in one car at the same time
- Baby Jogger City Go
- Britax B-Safe Ultra
- Britax Endeavours
- Chicco Fit2
- Graco Snuglock Dreamer
- Graco Snugride Snuglock 30
There are also a couple of convertible car seats that work well for preemies:
Ease of Use Ratings
Although safety should always be a leading concern when it comes to our children, you shouldn’t obsess about the safety differences between car seat brands. They are required to pass strict federal safety tests before being sold in the US market.
However, getting the installation or usage of a car seat wrong can introduce safety issues. That is why the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issues ease of use ratings (see below) for each car seat. The easier to use and the clearer the instructions, the more likely your child is to be buckled up properly every time.
The Snugride Snuglock 35 Elite received 4 stars in the rear-facing category.
The summary rating for the Britax B-Safe 35 in rear-facing mode is 5 stars.
How can I know I’ll need a car seat to fit a preemie?
Apart from if you are expecting multiples, which are typically smaller than full-term babies, you probably won’t know you need a car seat to fit a preemie.
Chances are if you are looking for a car seat for a premature baby, you need to choose rather quickly.
If you have already bought a car seat, check its specifications it may be a good fit for your preemie. Otherwise, check out my detailed list above to help you make the right choice for both you and your little one.
Key Features to Look For
There are some things specifically to look for when looking for a car seat for a preemie:
Minimum weight requirements
Most convertible seats and some infant bucket seats have a minimum weight requirement of 5 pounds. Since many preemies will weigh less than this upon leaving the hospital, try to look for a seat that has a lower weight requirement. It is fairly easy to find an infant bucket seat with a minimum weight requirement of 4 pounds, but definitely be careful when choosing.
Body support for small babies (infant insert)
Most infant car seats come with some sort of infant insert, to add a bit more support for newborns. Some car seats just have a head support, while some have full body support. The added support is important to help provide extra cushion, but also to keep your baby’s chin off of their chest. Because newborns don’t have control of their heads, they tend to slump forward in car seats. A good infant insert will allow a baby’s head to rest slightly further back from their chest to avoid this slumping.
Lowest harness position
When fitting a car seat harness to your child, the harness straps should be as close to shoulder level as possible, or slightly below shoulder level. One of the main issues with finding a car seat to properly fit a preemie is that the lowest harness position is too high on many seats, leaving the harness above shoulder level rather than at or below it. Many infant bucket seats have a lowest harness level of around 6 inches, but if you look around you can find seats with 5 inch harness levels. This is best for preemies.
Other Features to Consider
This is something I didn’t even realize could be an issue until I was reading my owner’s manual for my infant car seat. Infant bucket seats have a handle that can be moved when you carry the car seat, the handle will be up, but some car seats require that you put this handle in the “down” position when the car seat is in the car. Additionally, some car seats state that when the handle is down, you need to have a certain amount of space between the car seat and the vehicle seat in front of it. This can be an issue if you have a more compact car, such as a sedan.
It is becoming more of a standard for car seats to have no-rethread harnesses, but there are still plenty out there that don’t have this feature. As your child grows, you need to adjust the harness strap position the harness straps are supposed to be at or slightly below shoulder level when rear-facing. A no-rethread harness is one that you can easily adjust without taking the harness straps out and re-feeding them through the next harness slot.
Weight of seat
When dealing with an infant seat, one factor that I consider important is how easy it will be to carry around. With my experience, infants tend to fall asleep in the car, and it’s such a shame to have to wake them up by getting them out of the car seat! A lightweight seat that you can easily remove from the car is key for keeping your little one asleep. I think anything under 10 pounds is sufficient, but the lighter you can find, the easier it will be to carry around.
You will find that car seats always have an expiration date on them. Most car seats are good for between 5 and 10 years. Obviously, your baby won’t be using an infant seat for this long, but if you are looking to use it for more than one child, this expiration date can become important in saving you money down the line.
Height and weight limits
All car seats have both a minimum and maximum weight limit. The bigger these ranges are, the longer you should be able to use the car seat. Most kids will outgrow the height category before the weight category, so keep that in mind for car seats that boast about high weight limits.
Convertible Car Seat vs Infant Car Seat
Most convertible seats have a minimum weight requirement of 5 lbs. Many parents opt to start out with a convertible seat because it will last longer, and you’ll be able to get more for your money.
The only real issue I have with convertible seats is that they tend to be heavy, and they don’t work as part of a travel system. Infant seats are easy to put in and take out of the car, so if your little one falls asleep on the car ride, you don’t have to disturb them by taking them out of the car seat you can just bring the whole seat with you.
Generally speaking, it’s easier to find an infant car seat with a lower weight limit. It’s also easier to move around overall. That’s why the infant car seat style dominates this best car seat for preemies list.
FAQ’s about Preemie Car Seats
Do they make car seats for preemies?
As for any other baby, one top requirement for an infant car seat is that it serve your child for a long period of time. Car seats are expensive, and the car seat is one of the most important equipment investments you will make for your baby. For this reason, you will choose from the wide selection of car seats available to infants — looking for those seats that accommodate low-weight infants, down to four pounds.
Does my preemie need a preemie car bed?
While most preemies should ride in an infant seat, some preemies have special medical needs that require them to be transported lying down. If your doctor makes this stipulation for your child, you will need a car bed.
How will my doctor know whether my preemie needs a car bed?
A child born before 37 weeks should be tested, prior to release from the hospital, to see whether he or she can safely ride in the semi-reclined position provided by an infant car seat. For some preemies, breathing and heart rate may be adversely affected in the semi-reclined position.
Will the hospital check my car seat?
Hospitals will, at the very least, check to be sure that you have a car seat. Most hospitals will escort you and your baby to the car and may want to see that your baby is properly installed. Since hospital employees cannot know every car seat, however, and much less every car, you must not rely on them to be sure that the car seat is properly installed. You should get to know your car seat — and have it properly installed — before you are ready to take your baby home.
Aside from a suitable car seat or bed, what special equipment will I need for my preemie?
Preemies do have some special needs that are not common to all infants. First, they are so tiny that it may be hard to hold onto them. Second, they need very frequent feeding, and third, they may have special medical needs. For this reason, you may want some special equipment. Popular choices are:
- nursing pillow (helps you to contain and support your tiny baby)
- snap-up preemie-size sleepers
- preemie flow bottle nipple
- hospital-grade breast pump
- hands-free pumping bra
- baby monitor
- “no-touch” car seat tag requesting personal space for your more medically vulnerable baby
How long can a newborn sit in car seat?
It is best to keep your newborn in the car seat no longer than two hours. If your baby is a preemie, check with your doctor; perhaps your baby’s car-seat time should be reduced.
If you have your heart set on a convertible car seat, I definitely recommend the Safety 1st MultiFit EX Air 4-in-1 Convertible Car Seat.
If you are opting for a bucket seat (infant seat) because of the ease of use, my overall choice is the Britax B-Safe Ultra Infant Car Seat.
I chose this seat because it hits all of the necessities for premature babies: low harness height, minimum weight of 4 pounds, and includes an infant insert. But on top of this, it has some nice added features, such as a no-rethread harness, and a handle that can be left in any position. Really the only downfall to this seat is that it is a little expensive. There are cheaper options out there, just with fewer features.
Want more? Read more infant car seat reviews for preemies.