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From those early days of lifting themselves onto their own two feet to walk to those exciting moments when they first learn to use their bike or skates all on their own, we’re watching carefully to make sure our kids stay safe.
Sometimes, however, a mere watchful eye isn’t sufficient — safety gear is needed to protect their developing brains from the risk of injury during highly active play, and it can even come in handy early on when they’re discovering their mobility.
There’s a lot to know about how to choose the right helmet and fit for your child, so check out our list of 2020’s best baby and toddler helmets as well as our sure-fitting guide, which will help you be confident 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 or need 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, activities like bike riding and roller skating become more enticing. No matter the age, these activities are best done with safety gear, but a toddler bike helmet will help ensure their developing brain is kept safe 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 — is sometimes cause for the use of a helmet1. We’ll delve deeper into this under the ‘Helmet Therapy’ heading, so keep reading.
How Will I Know if My Baby Needs a Helmet?
As we’ve established, there are a few reasons why you might choose or need to use a helmet for your baby or toddler.
As your little one begins to walk, you may find that they are especially prone to bumping their head, or have a home that’s difficult to “baby-proof” in order to avoid this happening. If putting plastic bumpers on all the tables isn’t an option, a helmet is definitely helpful; it will let them explore their surroundings while reducing their risk of injury.
When it comes to active sports play of any kind, a safety helmet is always recommended. This means that whether they’re biking, skating, or climbing on their own or with you, a toddler or infant bike helmet will be needed to protect their fragile head.
If you’re wondering whether or not your child could benefit from helmet therapy due to a flat spot on their head, rely on your pediatrician’s advice. At each well visit, the pediatrician should be checking the size and shape of your baby’s head. Flat spots are common, but in many cases, they correct naturally in the first few months of life. If your child’s flat spot is especially severe and doesn’t improve by 16 weeks, a corrective helmet may be prescribed.
What is Helmet Therapy?
Although many babies are born with a flat spot on their skull, also called a positional plagiocephaly, the condition typically resolves naturally within the weeks and months after birth. In cases that do not resolve on their own, or more severe cases of cranial deformity called craniosynostosis2, a helmet may be prescribed in order to correct skull development by directing proper growth.
It’s essential that this be done while the skull and brain are actively growing and still malleable enough for this treatment to be an option. Although the prescription of a baby helmet is not uncommon, be prepared for your pediatrician to recommend physical therapy and repositioning techniques before recommending helmets to correct the issue.
About How Long Will Baby Need to Wear a Helmet?
If your baby or toddler is in need of helmet therapy, you may be wondering how long they’ll need to wear the device before results can be seen.
Of course, the real answer is that results can vary significantly by case. The age at which helmet therapy begins can impact the speed of the outcome, as the younger a child is, the more quickly the brain and skull grow, offering more rapid results.
While some children may have the issue resolved after only a month or two, others may need a few additional months with the treatment. In fact, it may be necessary to purchase multiple helmets for a growing child if they’ve begun to outgrow 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 are 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 closeness of 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 in development, and unnecessary strain from a heavy toddler bike helmet can be problematic. This tends not to be a major issue, as manufacturers abide by weight recommendations. Look for a helmet that weights under 11 ounces.
- What is it being used for?: The reason you’re buying a helmet for your little one might inform which one you choose. If they’re going to kick back and enjoy the ride in a seat on your bike, look for 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 helmet feature that seriously 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 a bit more costly, but it’s especially worth it when your little one begins trying active sports.
MIPS Helmet Technology Explained:
What Other Features Should I Look For in a Baby Helmet?
- Magnetic buckle:The way their little chin strap fastens is something you might want to consider, as traditional buckles are liable to pinch fingers or skin, which can be painful and traumatizing to kids. A magnetic buckle clips together easily and painlessly, but it’s not as easy for kids to take off as Velcro.
- Built in visor:A built in visor not only offers extra sun protection outside, it also offers 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 big 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, make sure you choose a kids bike helmet with bug mesh.
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Whether they’re learning to walk or learning to 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 when it’s needed most. Make sure to check out our sure-fitting guide to be confident that they’re playing safely!
Ready to dig in? Let’s check find the best baby and toddler helmet for you.
Best Full Protection
Those long-awaited first steps are such a joy to watch, but right 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 hit to a developing brain, which is why a full protection helmet like the Thudgard (check price on Amazon) can come in handy.
It offers rounded 360 degree protection, so no matter how they land, they’re 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. There’s just one thing to watch for here, parents: This helmet has a single strap rather than connecting at four points, so it’s not hard 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
Watch out for:
- 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 their helmet, a common issue is a lack of ventilation heading 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 holes for ventilation as well as straps made of breathable mesh to make wear more comfortable for baby. It also offers 360 degree protection, so it’s great for new walkers who could use a bit of cushioning until they’re more coordinated.
The lightweight cotton construction is still quite sturdy, and a movable visor can shield baby’s eyes from the sun or prevent face-to-surface contact in the event of a fall. One thing to note: this isn’t a bike helmet, as it doesn’t have the safety features needed to protect your child during active sports.
What we love:
- Both the 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
Watch out for:
- 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 is quick to come to mind. They’ve got 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’s got all the safety features you care about, including a dial-adjustable fit for ultimate precision, and the design options are cherry-picked for the pint-size set. Options like a police or fire helmet, teddy or panda bear, or cute pink helmet adorned with a bow design are all up for grabs, making it a lot 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 can last them until approximately age five.
What we love:
- It’s made by one of the highest-regarded brands in safety athletic headgear
- The designs are unique and very cute
Watch out for:
- The decals may start to peel over time and with extensive use
Achieving a precise fit is essential to keeping kids safe while wearing their helmets, and picks like the Joovy Noodle Helmet (check price on Amazon) that are both sized and adjustable are ideal for achieving it. The 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/small or small/medium sizes, but takes things a step further by offering a dial-adjustable fit so parents can be sure the device is both comfortable and achieving its full protective capacity. With 14 air vents and durable bug mesh, it’s a great pick for young cyclists — it will keep them cool while also speeding unwanted critters away from their helmet.
What we love:
- There’s 14 air vents, so it’s very well ventilated
- It can be dial-adjusted for a perfect fit
- It’s perfect for young cycle riders
Watch out for:
- It’s got a standard clasp, so watch for pinched fingers
Best for Budget
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, and uses air vents and ergonomic inner padding to maintain a comfortable fit while worn. Whether they’re scooting, skating, or biking, their developing brains will be protected by this lightweight helmet, and the fun and unique design helps ensure that they’ll actually enjoy wearing it.
What we love:
- It’s very affordable compared to competitors, and offers the same CPSC certification
- The unique shark design makes wearing their helmet extra fun
- It uses ergonomic interior padding for a close, comfortable fit
Watch out for:
- Some parents have found that this helmet runs a little bit small
Best for Budget
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 ambition. As always, your heartbeat triples every other second as 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!). And after seeing the kid’s fine, the shaky relief you feel doesn’t relieve the sense of pending doom.
That’s why you want to get your hands on Bellady’s Child Helmet Cushion Bonnet (check price on Amazon). It maximizes safety for your small ones when they walk, run, and play in- and outdoors. Baby’s skull is soft and skull bones have yet to completely fuse as one. Injury to the head can have a dynamic impact on your baby’s future health. (Not mention Mommy’s mental well-being.)
Avoid or minimize damage to your child’s head as they learn to move in- and outdoors with colorful, owl-decorated Bellady Infant,Toddler & Baby Child Helmet Cushion Bonnet. This “No Bumps” helmet will give Mom peace of mind, knowing her exploring 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
Watch out for:
- Only 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 doesn’t work as intended when it isn’t properly fitted. It’s especially true of bike helmets, which must fit flush against the head without loosening to be effective. If you’re nervous about making sure their bike helmet is actually protecting them when they’re riding, scooting, and skating, check out our checklist for a confidence boost. Our guidelines are based on those offered by the NHTSA3.
- 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, try making the adjustment while they’re not wearing their helmet.
- Secured strap: Though they may not love it, a correctly tightened chin strap is necessary for safety. No more than two of your fingers should be able to fit beneath the strap of their helmet.
Ready to test and be sure that fit is safe?
- 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 is happening, try tightening the front strap. Likewise, if the helmet continuously falls forward into their eyes, tighten up the back strap and 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 but is also ventilated and comfortable is the perfect pick. That’s what you’ll get with the Thudgard (check price on Amazon), which is the best baby safety helmet for little ones 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.