From those early days of lifting themselves onto their own two feet to walk, to the exciting moments when they first learn to use their bike (or skates) all on their own, we’re always watching carefully to make sure our kids stay safe.
Sometimes, however, a mere watchful eye isn’t enough. Safety gear is sometimes necessary to protect their developing brains from the risk of injury during highly active play, and can even come in handy early on as they discover their mobility.
There’s a lot to know about choosing the right helmet for your child, so check out our list of 2021’s best baby and toddler helmets, as well as our sure-fitting guide, which will ensure that your little one’s helmet fits properly and is adjusted correctly.
What is a baby helmet for?
There are a few reasons you may wish to purchase a helmet for your little one.
- Learning to walk: The milestone of learning to walk is full of joy, but can also be accompanied by bumps and bruises. A helmet can help avoid more severe injuries by protecting your tot’s head from unseen corners (think coffee tables and tv stands) and those inevitable trips and falls.
- Active playtime: As your toddler becomes more mobile and coordinated, bike riding and roller skating become more enticing. No matter the age, these activities are best done with safety gear, and a helmet will make sure their developing brain is protected in the event of a fall or crash.
- Helmet therapy is recommended: Did you know that doctors frequently recommend the use of baby helmets for flat heads? Having a flat spot — or, medically, a positional plagiocephaly — can sometimes call for the use of a helmet1. We’ll delve deeper into this under ‘Helmet Therapy’, so keep reading.
How will I know if my baby needs a helmet?
As we’ve established, there are occasions you may need to consider choosing a helmet for your baby or toddler.
As your little one begins to walk, you may find them especially prone to bumping their head if living somewhere that’s difficult to baby-proof to prevent this from happening.
If installing plastic bumpers on all the tables isn’t an option, a helmet can certainly be useful; it will let them explore their surroundings while reducing the risk of injury.
When it comes to active sports play of any kind, a safety helmet is always recommended so that, when biking, skating or climbing on their own (or even with you), a toddler/infant bike helmet will protect their fragile head.
If you’re wondering whether your child would benefit from helmet therapy due to a flat spot on their head, talk to your pediatrician.
During each visit, the pediatrician should check the size and shape of your baby’s head. Flat spots are common and, in most cases, correct naturally in the first few months.
If your child’s flat spot is especially severe and doesn’t improve within 16 weeks, a corrective helmet may be prescribed.
What is helmet therapy?
Although many babies are born with a flat spot, also called positional plagiocephaly, on their skull, the condition typically resolves naturally within weeks or months after birth.
In cases that don’t resolve on their own or more severe cases of cranial deformity called craniosynostosis2, a helmet may be prescribed to correct skull development by directing proper growth.
It’s essential that this be done while the skull and brain are actively growing and, therefore, still malleable enough for this treatment to succeed.
Although the prescription of a baby helmet is not uncommon, expect your pediatrician to recommend physical therapy and repositioning techniques before recommending a helmet.
For how long will baby need to wear a helmet?
If your baby or toddler needs helmet therapy, you may wonder how long they’ll need to wear the device before you see any results.
The answer is that results vary significantly, case by case. The age at which helmet therapy begins can determine the speed of the outcome as the younger the child is, the more quickly the brain and skull grow, offering more rapid results.
With some children, the issue may be resolved within a month or two, while others may need a few additional months of treatment. It may be necessary to purchase several helmets for a growing child if they’ve outgrown the first.
How do I choose the best baby helmets?
- Make sure it’s the right size: One-size helmets are okay, but they’re really better for older kids. Infants in particular can be difficult to fit, as most helmets are designed to fit an older child’s head and too large to safely fit a baby. Make sure the helmet you choose is sized appropriately for your child and that it fits and is worn correctly; see our sure-fitting guide for more info.
- Look for adjustability: Kids outgrow everything whether we want them to or not, and that includes bike helmets. Some helmets come with a dial that allows parents to adjust the fit as a child’s head grows, allowing for safer and more comfortable protection.
- Make sure it’s not too heavy: Your little one’s neck muscles are still developing, and unnecessary strain from a heavy toddler bike helmet can be a problem. This shouldn’t be a major issue, as manufacturers abide by weight recommendations. Look for a helmet that weighs under 11 ounces.
- What is it being used for?: The reason you’re buying a helmet for your little one should determine which to choose. If they’re going to kick back and enjoy the ride in a seat on your bike, pick a helmet with a flat back so they can stay comfy. However, if they’re riding on their own, look for more rear head protection to avoid harm during a fall.
- Choose helmets with MIPS: MIPS, or a multi directional impact protection system, is a feature that significantly increases protection. It is found between the comfort padding and EPS of select helmets, and can reduce the impact of shock and harmful force in the event of an accident. When helmets come with MIPS, they can be more costly, though it’s especially worth it when your little one begins active sports.
What other features should I look for in a baby helmet?
- Magnetic buckle: How their little chin strap fastens is something to consider, as traditional buckles can pinch fingers or skin, which can be painful and traumatizing to kids. A magnetic buckle clips together easily and painlessly, but less easy for kids to take off than Velcro.
- Built-in visor: A built-in visor not only offers extra sun protection, but also additional protection to the face in the event of a fall by creating a gap between your child’s head and the impact surface.
- Bug mesh: Riding bikes outside is lots of fun and great exercise, but taking off at top speed can mean acting as a splat shield for bugs, and gaps intended to ventilate bike helmets can actually let insects in without the presence of bug mesh. If the purpose of their helmet is outside sports, be sure to choose one with bug mesh.
Our picks of the best safety helmets for baby
Whether they’re learning to walk or ride, protecting your precious cargo is essential. You’re looking in the right place for quality helmets, as each of the picks on our list offers security and protection where it’s most needed. Make sure to check out our sure-fitting guide to be confident that they’re playing safely!
Ready to dig in? Let’s find the best baby/toddler helmet for you.
Best full protection
Those long-awaited first steps are such a joy to watch, but shortly behind them is a journey of exploration that comes with its fair share of bumps and bruises. Scraped knees are a lot less dangerous than a hard bump to a developing brain, which is why a full protection helmet like the Thudgard (check price on Amazon) can come in useful.
It offers all-around 360-degree protection, so no matter how they land, they’ll be kept safe. The lightweight foam design of the helmet’s body prevents strain on your baby’s developing neck muscles, and the stretchy circumference band of the one-size unit allows it to stay comfortable on their head, even as they grow.
Just one thing to watch for here, parents — this helmet only has a single strap, rather than connecting at four points, so it’s not difficult for a savvy child to remove.
What we love
- The lightweight foam construction doesn’t impact developing neck muscles
- The adjustable chinstrap lets the helmet grow with your child
- It has air channels for ventilation
- The strap connects to the helmet at only two points instead of four, so toddlers can take it off easily
Best for new walkers
When little ones are transitioning into life with a helmet, a common issue is lack of ventilation, leading to an uncomfortably sweaty and hot head.
The design of the Elenker Infant Headguard (check price on Amazon) eliminates this issue, as it has wide ventilation holes as well as straps made of breathable mesh, making it more comfortable for babies. It also offers 360-degree protection, so it’s great for new walkers who could use some cushioning until their steps are more coordinated.
The lightweight cotton construction is still sturdy, and a movable visor can shield a baby’s eyes from the sun, or prevent face-to-surface contact in the event of a fall. One thing to note: this is not a bike helmet, so doesn’t have the safety features needed to protect your child during active sports.
What we love
- Both straps and helmet are ventilated, so baby won’t be too hot
- It’s made of 100% lightweight cotton
- A movable visor offers both sun and fall protection
- The “latch” is just a Velcro strap, so it’s not hard to take apart
Best bike helmet
When thinking of the best bike helmets available, the name ‘Schwinn’ quickly springs to mind. They have well-made options for people of all age ranges, but the Schwinn 3D Helmet (check price on Amazon) is an undeniable hit with toddlers and parents alike.
It boasts all the safety features you need, including a dial-adjustable fit for ultimate precision, while its design choices are cherry-picked for pint-sizers.
Options, such as a police or fire helmet, a teddy or panda bear, or a cute pink helmet adorned with a bow design, are all up for grabs, making it more likely they’ll want to reach for their helmet rather than be forced into it. It’s sturdy enough to protect them during active sports like bike riding and skating, and the adjustable size means it will last them until around age five.
What we love
- Made by one of the most highly regarded brands in safety athletic headgear
- Designs are unique and very cute
- Decals may start to peel over time with extensive use
A precise fit is essential in keeping kids safe while wearing their helmets, and picks like the Joovy Noodle Helmet (check price on buybuyBABY), that are both sized and adjustable, are ideal for achieving it.
This standard-style bike helmet is available in a fun rainbow of colors, so coordinating with their bike and style is easy. It’s also available in either X-small or small/medium sizes and takes things even a step further by offering a dial-adjustable fit so that parents can be assured the device is comfortable while achieving its full protective capacity.
With 14 air vents and a durable bug mesh, it’s a great pick for young cyclists — and will keep them cool while also deflecting insects away from the helmet.
What we love
- With 14 air vents it’s very well ventilated
- Can be dial-adjusted for a perfect fit
- Perfect for young cycle riders
- Has a standard clasp, so watch out for pinched fingers
Best budget buy
Why pay twice as much for a product that does the same thing, especially when the design is this cool? Your baby shark will love this shark-themed Bavilk Toddler Helmet (check price on Amazon), available in either grey or pink.
It’s CPSC-certified for use during sports, with air vents and ergonomic inner padding to maintain a comfortable fit while worn. Whether they’re scooting, skating, or biking, their heads will be fully protected by this lightweight helmet, and the fun, unique design ensures they’ll actually enjoy wearing it!
What we love
- Very affordable compared to competitors, while offering the same CPSC certification
- Unique shark design makes wearing this helmet extra fun
- Uses ergonomic interior padding for a close, comfortable fit
- Some parents think this helmet runs a little small
Our sixth pick
You’re sitting in the park, half an eye on a copy of Redbook, the other three-quarters of vision focused on your kid out there on the jungle gym, attacking fun time with reckless abandon. As always, your heartbeat triples every other second as your baby comes to the precipice of doom.
Now it’s time for you to become the Flash as you can’t see the coming danger. The fall, the head injury, the screaming (yours, natch!). Then, after seeing kiddo’s alright, the shaky relief you feel doesn’t remove that sense of impending doom.
That’s why you want to get your hands on Bellady’s Child Helmet Cushion Bonnet (check price on Walmart). This will maximize the safety of your children as they walk, run, and play both inside or out.
Your baby’s skull is soft, and their skull bones have yet to completely fuse as one. Injury to the head can have a serious impact on your baby’s future health, not to mention mommy’s mental well-being!
Avoid or minimize damage to your child’s head as they learn to move both inside and outside with the colorful, owl-decorated Bellady Infant, Toddler & Baby Child Helmet Cushion Bonnet. This ‘no bumps’ helmet will give mom peace of mind, knowing her rummaging baby will be protected from injuries to the head.
What we love
- Prevents direct friction and collision with baby’s head; adjustable fit with rear side Velcro; interior cotton lining for breathable, comfortable fit
- At three ounces it may add a little weight to baby’s head
The sure-fitting baby bike helmet checklist
You’ve heard it time and time again, and it’s the truth — safety gear won’t work effectively if not properly fitted. This is especially true with bike helmets, which must fit flush against the head, without loosening, to be truly safe.
If you’re unsure whether their helmet is actually protecting them while they’re riding, scooting, and skating, read our checklist for a confidence boost. Our guidelines are based on those offered by the NHTSA.
- Measure: Use a sewing(soft) tape measure or a string to measure the circumference of your child’s head for accuracy.
- Place: Be sure the brim of their bike helmet sits about two finger widths above their eyebrow and stays level on your child’s head.
- V-straps: Always look for helmets in which the chin strap connects at four points, forming a V around your child’s ears. Helmets with a single chin strap aren’t sufficiently secured.
- Centered buckle: When straps have adjustable buckles, be sure they are moved to sit under the chin; if this is difficult to do during wear, make the adjustment while they’re not wearing the helmet.
- Secured strap: Though they may not love it, a correctly tightened chin strap is essential for their safety. No more than two fingers should be able to fit beneath the helmet strap.
Ready to test and be sure it fits safely?
- When your little one opens their jaw as far as possible, the helmet should feel like it is pulling down on their head. If they don’t feel it, the chin strap needs tightening.
- The helmet shouldn’t be rocking back on their head, and should never go more than two finger widths over your toddler’s eyebrows. If this happens, tighten the front strap. Likewise, if the helmet continuously falls forward into their eyes, tighten up the back strap to see if it helps.
- Again, all four straps MUST be connected to the helmet base in order to prevent slipping and ensure safe wear.
The bottom line
When your little one is first up and running, a helmet that offers full 360-degree protection and is ventilated and comfortable is the perfect pick.
That’s what you get with the Thudgard Safety Hat (check price on Amazon), which is the best baby safety helmet for kids who need head protection during those vulnerable early days.
The cute mouse design is a plus, and this comfortable helmet helps to acclimate little ones to good helmet-wearing habits in the future.