Every week parents come into our showroom anxious about "head flop." Every week at least one parent comes into our showroom aggressively determined that the next car seat they buy will eradicate "head slump" forever. We are always talking about children's heads flopping.
Before putting thoughts to blog, I've read quite a bit online to see what is out there on this. It was a discomforting experience. So here are our thoughts on the matter.
There is NO such thing as Head Flop or Head Slump or any other term that describes a child's head falling forward or to the side in their car seat.
I've put that in bold, shouty text because we have said this so many times, I'm hoping this might be an end to it (it won't!)
In the first few weeks of your baby's life they do not have strength in their muscles to control the heavy weight of their head. Once you put them in a position that is how they stay. When you put them in the car seat it is important to ensure that they are in a good position. If a young baby's head is forward then it can impede oxygen flow. There is also something called the Infant Car Seat Challenge, a very accurate measure of oxygen desaturation for premature babies. Somehow these two things have become conflated into "The Dangers of Head Flop."
If you have a premature baby and they do not pass the car seat challenge then they will have to go in the car in a flat, bed-style car seat. These are tiny, very early babies. Most premature and to-term babies fulfil the criteria of a newborn car seat suitable from 40cm. These car seats go through rigorous safety testing, if they are to take a newborn baby then the car seat has to be suitable for the task or it doesn't pass the test. The test dummies used are sophisticated, mimicking the size, weight and joints of a real child. These seats have to be able to recline to keep a baby in an optimal position.
The manufacturers do their jobs well, they have to. A baby's head should not flop forward in their car seat if you USE THE SEAT PROPERLY. This is obvious, but it is amazing the number of parents we see who are not using the safety equipment they themselves purchased (often not from us) to keep their most precious ones safe. Every manufacturer produces material explaining how to use their car seats correctly as they have been carefully designed and tested to be used. Many of them have produced videos on Youtube, Vimeo or on their own website showing how to use the seat properly. If you are still not sure, we will see anyone who needs help, check and if necessary show you how to use it properly.*
Once your baby has the strength in their muscles to control their head, you DO NOT NEED TO WORRY. If their head is not in a good position they will move it themselves. If their head falls forward it is okay, their airways are bigger and won't be under pressure and because babies and young children are very bendy with stretchy ligaments they will not be uncomfortable. Again, if you are using your car seat correctly then THEY ARE FINE.
Things to check to make sure you are using your child safety equipment (aka car seat) correctly
Check the manufacturers instructions to ensure it is fitted in the car correctly.
Ensure you have not overdressed your child.
Make sure you have correctly used the harness and it is tight enough. If it is not your child will slump forward in their seat. The harness is the thing that holds them in the seat in an accident. If it is too loose they run the risk of injury or being thrown out of the car seat and suffering catastrophic injuries.
Make sure you are rear facing your child for the legal minimum of passed 15 months and our recommended minimum of as long as possible. You can buy seats that rear face until 7 years old FOR A REASON.
Follow car seat guidelines for babies. Take them out of the car seat every 40 minutes in the first 4 weeks to give them a chance to be in a different position and ensure they have good airflow. After that give them a break every two hours.
Please Take Note:
Stop reading about this stuff on the internet. The www is full of crazy people who do not actually have any knowledge or have little tiny bits of knowledge and then make the rest up, but convince themselves and their readers that they are using facts. In researching for this blog, I read and saw some absolute horrors. You can not take advice from people who can not use a car seat properly themselves (I saw some really dangerous photos used as 'supporting evidence.')
You do not need to buy a new car seat just because your child's head is falling forward - go back and check that you are using the current seat correctly.
Please, please, please do NOT buy and use non-manufacturer specified extras for your car seat. Do not add extra inserts, or rolled up blankets or wedge muslin cloths to make yourself feel better about how your baby looks in their car seat. It is DANGEROUS. If you have learnt about your seat as thoroughly as you can and you are still concerned, speak to someone who knows what they are doing.
DO NOT BUY ANTI-HEAD FLOP DEVICES. It makes my blood run cold even thinking about what I have seen. DO NOT strap your child's head (not at ANY age) to their seat. Do not give them a neck cushion. Some sellers are lying and saying the items they sell are safety tested. They are NOT. No manufacturer of a universal strap or cushion or insert against head flop is going to the expense of safety testing because it is hugely expensive and they would have to go through the process with every car seat on the market to be able to assert that they are safe.
Do not sit next to your child in the car and hold their head in a position that pleases you better. They will figure it out themselves. If you are leaning into/over their seat and you have a crash you have brought yourself into the safe sphere of your child and run the risk of doing them an injury when you are both thrown about by the impact.
Please remember we are very passionate about what we do and care deeply about our customers and their families. Stay safe in your car and happy motoring.
*We offer free car seat checks and are really happy to provide this service. Just a reminder that if you buy your seats from an online only retailer and then come to us for help, we are not making any money. We can only be there to help if we are making money selling car seats. There are not many independent retailers left you can go to who offer impartial expertise.