Summer is fun – it’s my favorite season, and I know it’s the same for many of you reading this.
The sun, the heat, endless days of fun by the pool or at the beach, boating adventures, and the list goes on and on. The point it, hours spent out by the water are great for both parents and kids alike. And need we mention the long, deep baby sleep that comes after some time well spent having fun in (or close to) water?
I actually live my summers for that! I’ll always have a particular image of my daughter fondly etched in memory. Sweet rolls of baby fat, hair still wet, sand in her toes, and in the deepest of angelic sleeps. It was the only time I could really have a moment for myself and be productive with something else on my to-do list.
Days out close to water should be a time for mental relaxation. The kids will surely still keep you busy, but seeing them having the time of their life like that is the greatest feeling ever.
More importantly, knowing that they’re safe when out and about will allow you to let loose a little and actually soak in the lovely moments.
Sunscreen, hats, sunglasses, and UV protective swimwear are all obvious must-haves, but what many unfortunately forget to think about when taking their kids out for some fun in the water is arguably the most important of them all – an infant life jacket.
Best Infant Life Jackets – A Quick Look at our top 8 recommendations
- Stohlquist Infant PFD 8 Life Jacket
- Stearns 2000019828 PFD 5402 Hydro Infant Life Jacket
- Stearns Infant Classic Series Vest
- Stearns Puddle Jumper Child Life Jacket
- O’Neill Infant Superlite USCG Life Vest
- Full Throttle Infant Baby Safe Vest
- AIRHEAD General Purpose Infant Vest
- Mustang Survival Lil’ Legends 100 Flotation Vest
Note: When clicking on any of the above links, you’ll go to the product listing pages on Amazon, where you can read further information, see current prices and read customer reviews.
What Are Infant Life Jackets?
Life jackets, also known as personal floatation devices (PFDs), help keep everyone safe in the water.
Infant life jackets are made specifically for infants weighing up to 30 pounds. Life jackets for infants come in what is known as Type II only (more information on that below in just a bit).
Not just about any sized life jacket you could find will do a good job at keeping your baby safe when in the water.
Infant life jackets include a grab handle to make it easier for you to pull your baby closer, proper head support specifically designed for their needs, and a crotch strap to keep the jacket from riding up as well as keep them higher in the water.
For more information on this, the following video gives an interesting overview.
In short, infant life jackets keep your baby safe by flipping them on their back in the water, keeping their airways clear from any water.
Do Babies Really Need Life Jackets?
Yes, they really do – the CDC emphasizes that life jackets are a must. As a parent, you should ensure that infants and kids wear life jackets in and around bodies of water, even if they know how to swim. At such a young age, there’s no such thing as too much protection in these cases.
Numbers don’t lie, and the statistics are scary: In the United States, drowning is the second leading cause of death in children aged 1 to 4. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that three children die from drowning every single day.
Let that sink in for a moment – that’s three young, innocent lives lost because of drowning each and every single day. No parent or child should go through this!
Life jackets should also be used in and around pools. Out of the annual average of 356 child deaths in pools and spas, 77% of these deaths involve children younger than 5 years of age.
An infant life jacket can reduce the risk of drowning by 50%. This is a substantial figure, even more so when considering how easy it is for a little one to escape your watchful eye even if you think you’re doing everything needed to keep them under supervision.
So, investing in a proper infant life jacket is directly investing in your child’s wellbeing and life.
Babies cannot wear just about any life jacket either. The U.S. Coast Guard emphasizes that life jackets designed for adults will not work for children.
Each life jacket comes labeled with a size and the weight it’s best suited for. Your baby’s life jacket has to fit snugly, but still be comfortable enough at the same time for them to have it on.
If the life jacket your baby’s wearing can be lifted over the chin and ears, then it’s not effective enough in keeping them above water.
As noted by Seattle Children’s Hospital, water wings or floating toys should never be used instead of a life jacket. They’re just not a good enough alternative to replace infant life jackets. These swimming aids are simply fun toys for kids, and a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket is always a must.
As we’ve pointed out earlier on, drowning statistics make for some scary reading, but that’s not all there is to it. Water-related injuries are also a major safety issue for children on holidays abroad.
Drowning is the second leading cause of death in young travelers. As the CDC notes, since life jackets may not be available when on holiday, parents should be prepared before they go on vacation and pack their own from home.
To mitigate the risk of water-related injuries, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that all children wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket whenever near the water, whether that’s swimming or on a boat.
When Should My Baby Wear a Life Jacket?
Your little one should be wearing a properly-fitted life jacket in the following instances:
- Whenever they’re in (or even near) bodies of water, including lakes, beaches, rivers, and pools. This also includes playing on a pier.
- While boating.
For both, this includes when you’re at home or close to home, and on holidays locally or abroad.
At What Age Should Babies Start Using Life Jackets?
You may be so eager to take out your summer newborn on a boat, but the US Coast Guard advises against doing that.
This is because life jackets for children that weigh less than 18 pounds might not offer a good enough fit, and thus cannot perform as expected. This includes outings on rowboats, kayaks, motorboats, and sailboats.
Once your little one exceeds 18 pounds in weight, they can start wearing an infant life jacket. As we’ve seen above, infant life jackets cater for babies weighing up to 30 pounds. At this point, your little one will graduate to a child life jacket.
Generally speaking, your little one’s weight is the best indicator for knowing when they’re cleared to start wearing an infant life jacket and when it’s time to move on to something else specifically made for older children.
What Different Types of Infant Life Jackets Are There
Life jackets come in three main types:
Type I Life Jackets
These life jackets are designed for people who have the potential of becoming stranded in rough open water and with extended time until rescue.
Type II Life Jackets
Also known as the ‘classic’ life vest, Type II life jackets are the most common.
They’re specifically designed to assist people close to land and who won’t be spending a long time in the water awaiting rescue.
Type II life jackets are also less bulky and typically less expensive than their Type I counterpart.
Usually, type II life jackets are the most ideal for an infant, since they can upright an unconscious person in water. This is one of the most important features to have in an infant life jacket, as babies do not yet have the physical power to fight through and save themselves on their own.
Type III Life Jackets
The third type of life jackets are aimed for use whenever close to shore, but they cannot upright an unconscious person.
These are, admittedly, more comfortable than the other types, but at the end of the day remain not safe for babies and young children. In fact, infant life jackets are not available as Type IIIs.
That’s not all there is to it, though, as infant life jackets also vary in terms of how and what they’re made of:
Foam Life Jackets
Foam life jackets are inherently buoyant and are suitable for both swimmers and non-swimmers.
A type II child and infant foam life jacket should provide a minimum buoyancy of 7lb.
Inflatable Life Jackets
While being the most compact of the bunch, the U.S. Coast Guard does not list inflatable life jackets as being available for infants.
This type of life jacket is hence suitable for adults only.
Hybrid Life Jackets
These life jackets can be labeled as “the best of both worlds”, since they offer a combination of foam and inflation.
They are reliable, are available in infant sizes, and can be used by both swimmers and non-swimmers alike.
Type II child hybrid life jackets offer a minimum buoyancy of 7lb and 12lb when inflated.
What to Look for When Buying an Infant Life Jacket
The U.S. Coast Guard outlines the following elements that all life jackets should have:
- S. Coast Guard approved
- in good and serviceable condition
- in the appropriate size for the intended user
Infant life jackets are based on a child’s weight. They should be labeled as Infant PFD, with the user weight clearly indicated somewhere on the label.
There are various Type II infant life jackets available on the market for you to choose from.
Considering that your little one’s safety in or anywhere near water depends on the life jacket’s effectiveness, the following is a list that discusses some of the most important elements to look out for when shopping around for an infant life jacket.
Excellent head support is a must, especially if your little one still does not have full control of their head.
Even if your baby can hold their head, this is more tricky to do in water, which means having adequate support is a must.
Baby floats and other simple buoyancy aides are not safe enough for infants. The vest you choose has to have a full collar.
A grab handle is a must when purchasing an infant life jacket.
This handle makes it easier to pull your baby closer to you and comes in very handy when swimming in water with a current. A handle is very useful in pools, too.
You wouldn’t want your little one to easily undo straps and wriggle out of their life jacket – if they’re able to do so, then what’s the point of having them wear one of these in the first place? Weak fastenings also present a risk.
Babies can surprise you and wriggle their way out of things you’d think they can’t, so don’t let their life jacket be an example of such!
Fastenings that close securely also help keep everything in place when faced with a current.
Visibility doesn’t only come in handy when boating or swimming in pools in the dark.
Drowning is silent, so you want to ensure that you can easily spot your little one from a distance so you can make sure they’re okay with just a glance, and step in straight away if you notice anything unusual going on.
A strap that fastens between the legs helps the life jacket stay in place and not lift up with the water’s buoyancy. It also makes it harder for your little one to wriggle out of their life jacket.
Best Infant Life Jackets – A More Detailed Look At Our Top 8 Recommendations
Stohlquist Infant Life Vest
A day at the beach is definitely exciting, but it can also trigger well-founded anxiety.
Nothing beats a relaxed day out in the sun, with an expanse of water so close by – and it’s the latter that can put a serious damper on the excitement level.
With so many unfortunate infant drownings (we all hear about those frightening annual statistics), you want to be sure that your little one is well kitted for a safe day close to water.
The Stohlquist Infant life vest is coast guard approved and ensures that no water gets too close to your baby’s face.
It’s been designed with a nifty headrest that not only gives support to somewhat wobbly heads, but also provides another layer of buoyancy that keeps the baby’s head away from the water.
The vest leaves ample room for your little one to play and, regardless of its double collar, still allows full movement of the head.
- Comes with a grab handle for more control of your baby when in the water, especially where currents are involved.
- Fits snugly, but still allows room for movement.
- Great quality material that’s also comfortable.
- If your little one is eager to experience swimming movements, it might be a little hard to manage that while wearing this vest, as it’s not easy for children to lay on their tummies while wearing it.
- Does not have reflectors.
- Zipper on vest might chafe.
Stearns 2000019828 PFD 5402 Hydro Infant Life Jacket
Putting on a reliable life jacket when boating is imperative, for adults and especially for kids.
This pink Stearns PFD, made in a Hydroprene shell and Crosstech flotation foam, is great for boating. It also looks pretty cool – a huge plus when considering that most kids are not too fond of wearing life vests to begin with.
If days out on a boat is your family’s idea of fun, then this life jacket is – quite literally – a lifesaver. The foam it’s made with can withstand regular use, so purchasing one at the start of the season is a sound investment.
It’s also comfortable to wear, which is a must-have feature if you’re boating or near water for long hours at once.
Seeing that your baby can easily sit up while wearing one, they won’t feel too constrained and will (assuming all other factors are met) feel like they belong in the adult group sitting on the boat.
This vest has been specifically designed for infants under 30 pounds and fits snugly, offering utmost protection to your little one.
It might run a bit small in size though, so do keep that in mind when ordering.
- When its size fits well, it’s perfect for wearing for long hours.
- A great option for boating.
- The neck part can be tight for some babies, which might result in restrictions sitting down.
- Not likely to be very comfortable for younger infants who still don’t have a distinguishable neck.
Stearns Infant Classic Series Vest
All in the name, this infant life vest does the job without any extra frills.
The simple classic design is gender neutral, but unfortunately adds next to nothing design-wise to get your little one jumping up and down in excitement about it.
Still, it has all safety features you’d want to look for in an infant life jacket, except it doesn’t come with the extra padding for head protection and support.
It also comes with a crotch strap and grab handle for added safety and parent control.
Whereas marketed as a life vest, it’s actually more of a buoyancy device – and it’s possible that it will not always flip a baby onto their back. As with any life vest or buoyancy device, your little one must be monitored at all times.
It buckles up nicely with adjustable straps on the chest and leg, offering a secure fit for a wider size range. This means that your little one can grow into it, saving your hard-earned money by not requiring a new purchase anytime soon.
- Comfortable to wear.
- Easy to use buckles and zipper.
- Not ideal for younger infants who still can’t hold their head.
Stearns Puddle Jumper Kids Life Jacket
Do you find it impossible to put a life vest on your baby, even if your life depended on it? Babies and toddlers can be brutally stubborn, and there’s no being the adult when a baby pulls out the ‘stiffening whole body’ card!
We’ve all been there at some point, but nowadays, there’s a solution for that.
Thankfully, the Stearns Puddle Vest comes with fun cartoons printed on a bright background that can easily get your little one begging to wear it. It’s not only fun, but also Coast Guard-approved, so you can rest assured that your little one is still safe.
This model is great for teaching your little one to swim, as it gives them ample movement allowance to still feel independent in the water.
It’s best for babies over 30lbs, so this is not a safe solution for newborns and infants who aren’t quite there yet.
The Puddle Jumper is also a great way for your little one to burn all that abundant energy of theirs. The design allows for jumping in the water, stabilizing them once they hit the water.
It also offers much more freedom than a conventional life jacket, as its shoulder-less design allows for more motion in the water.
Thanks to an adjustable buckle strap, it can last your little one quite a while.
Generally speaking, its design is best for pools, lakes and playing at the beach with a baby beach tent setup – but not so much for boating.
- Allows your little one full movement in the water.
- Comfortable for playing on the sand while still offering safety.
- Ideal for little swimmers who want more independence.
- Does not have a grab strap.
- Since there’s no crotch strap, it might result in a sensation of lifting up when in water.
- If you’re purely looking for utmost safety, a full infant life jacket will be safer.
O’Neill Infant Superlite USCG Life Vest
A life vest that lifts up when in water can be both unsafe and annoying for your little one, which is why a number of infant life jackets have been specifically designed to prevent this with the addition of a crotch strap – including this option.
The O’Neill Superlite features both a grab handle and a crotch strap for added control.
It’s made of closed cell PVC marine foam which, while more lightweight than other options, can unfortunately be quite bulky.
While the limited weight is great, the bulkiness can be quite frustrating for your little one, especially when they’re trying to play close to the water or while sitting on a boat.
Nonetheless, it has quite a few impressive features going for it, with added buoyancy when compared to other options on the market. So, if you’re looking for something that offers added boating safety, this might be a great option for you to consider.
The vest comes with two adjustable straps that fasten through two buckles, and a sturdy zipper for a more snug fit.
The headrest is also comfortably foamed, but a degree of head control is still needed for utmost safety.
If cared for properly, this vest is quite durable and can last through seasons. Also, thanks to its adjustability, it can last your little one quite a while.
- Straps safely using two quick-release buckles.
- Fits snugly without lifting.
- Can feel quite bulky for little ones.
- Not the best option for play-time out of water.
Full Throttle Infant Baby-Safe Vest
Wobbly heads can get quite unsafe in water, but thankfully, a number of infant life vests have been specifically made with this mind.
The Full Throttle Infant Baby-Safe vest features a head pillow that’s larger and puffier than most other models available on the market.
The head area attaches on one side via an adjustable buckled strap, allowing for more leeway in finding the best head opening for your little one.
Because of this, it’s much more comfortable when worn, and can also grow with your baby. It’s also super easy to put on – less crying? Sure, I’ll take that!
The most common infant life vests feature a crotch strap that, even at first look, doesn’t exactly look like the most comfortable thing in the world. The material chafes skin easily and can easily frustrate your baby.
That isn’t the case with this infant life jacket, though, as the leg strap on this one is made from elasticated fabric to ensure added comfort.
It also comes with an encircling waist belt for more safety.
- Beautifully designed with vibrant colors.
- Easy to put on.
- Offers good head support for infants.
- While the adjustable neck strap is super convenient, it can lead to your baby tilting slightly to that side when in the water. Take the utmost care when using in water.
Airhead Infant Nylon Life Jacket
Finding a life jacket that fits well can be quite a headache at times. An ill-fitting one is not only uncomfortable for your little one, but is also unsafe.
At the end of the day, this beats the purpose if you’re spending this kind of money on something for their safety.
The Airhead Infant Nylon Life Jacket comes with four adjustable straps with buckles, three on the chest area for a snug fit, and another as a crotch strap.
Adjustability when shopping for a life vest is key to more comfort and safety, and this product does a great job at that.
The top part features a well-padded headrest that can also double as a comfortable pillow on days out boating.
The Airhead Infant Life Jacket is designed in high visibility colors and includes a grab strap, both of which are great features to have for safer swimming and boating.
Unfortunately, one downside you need to be aware of regarding this option is that since it’s made from nylon, it may not be comfortable for infants with super sensitive skin.
- Multiple chest straps for added safety.
- High visibility colors.
- Nylon is not the best material out there when it comes to infants with sensitive skin.
- Might make movement slightly difficult at times.
Mustang Survival Lil’ Legends 100 Flotation Vest
It’s no secret – most infant life jackets and vests are not all that high on the fashion-factor. That might be a buzzkill for parents at times, and for kids who don’t really get excited about putting them on.
That’s not the case with this Mustang Survival Lil’ Legends Flotation vest, though. It gets full points from us when it comes to its sleek design.
Boasting a best-in-class safety performance, this life vest is both pretty and smart.
It does a good job at keeping the heat at bay on super warm days. It features a cooling-channeled interior back panel and ventilated mesh back to prevent your little one from overheating.
We all know the dangers of a heat stroke, and this is definitely not something to be taken lightly. Your baby’s life vest should not be sweat-inducing.
The headrest comes with two elevated side panels to prevent your little one’s head from rolling to the side and immersing in water.
And, if you and your little one simply love the infant flotation vest, you can graduate to the same model in a larger size once your toddler exceeds 30lbs in weight.
Why start all over again while you could continue with the same thing your little one’s used to and already loves?
- Sleek, breathable design that helps prevent heat stroke
- Padded headrest with raised sides
- Best for coastal boating activities
- Features a crotch strap
- Only one adjustable buckled strap
Do Infant Life Jackets Expire?
Most foam life jackets do not expire, but you do need to take care of them – especially when it comes to how you store them.
Crushed foam life jackets tend to offer less buoyancy, and damage leads to their flotation being compromised.
Do not leave life jackets out in the sun or in the water when not in use, and always check your little one’s life jacket carefully before using to make sure they’re not damaged. If you put a life jacket on your little one and any part of it is damaged – even if it doesn’t seem like anything too “serious” – this could seriously jeopardize its effectiveness.
For inflatable life jackets, it’s best you check the manufacturer’s instructions that make it clear how often the CO2 cartridge needs to be changed.
If damaged, life jackets cannot be repaired or altered – doing so would be taking a huge risk on your little one’s safety. Damaged life jackets can no longer be used, and should be replaced with a new one straight away.
An Important Note About Used Infant Life Jackets
If you’re wondering whether you can save some money and use a second-hand life jacket, the answer is a resounding no. Whether you’re buying a second-hand infant life jacket or are having one passed on to you from a family member or friend who no longer needs theirs, the answer is a huge no.
It’s very unsafe to use an old life jacket, mainly because you can’t be too sure about how it was used and stored.
Life jackets left for long periods of time in the sun or in the water lose their effectiveness. Many end up brittle, and the inner foam waterlogged, which makes them highly unsafe.
In the hierarchy of which baby gear you should not be buying used, infant life jackets are very likely to be at the top of that list.
How to Use Infant Life Jackets Safely
You can only be so sure about how safe an infant life jacket is if you put it to the test.
When purchasing a new life jacket for your infant, it is advised that you try it out in a pool, to ensure that the device can keep your little one afloat with their head out of the water. If anything were to go wrong, you’ll be right there to intervene and get them out of harm’s way immediately.
To test out a new life jacket, place your baby in the water, carefully ensuring that their face is not in the water. A well-sized life jacket will flip your little one onto their back. If this doesn’t happen, that’s a clear sign that this life jacket is definitely not a keeper.
To test the size of a life jacket on your baby, raise their arms above their head. If the life jacket touches the ears or chin, it’s too big for them.
Another option is to try to carefully lift your little one by the shoulders of the life jacket. If the jacket moves around or your baby slips out, these are both clear indications that it’s too big for them.
Small life jackets are also unsafe – so ensure that the jacket is snug, but not too tight.
Added to this, it’s wise to get some practice in before heading out to more open water and putting all of this to the “real” test.
Keep in mind that it’s normal for babies to slightly panic when they first feel water, and this might be intensified by the fact that they’re wearing something that feels somewhat constricting.
Getting your little one accustomed to the feel of the water, as well as the buoyancy offered by the life jacket they’re wearing, makes for calmer swimming when you do head out to water.
The shallow end of a pool, where you can be in total control, makes a great practice spot for that.
With that being said, wearing a properly fitting life jacket is always super important, but that’s not everything you can (and should) do. Added to that, the following is a list of recommendations for water safety, as outlined by the CDC:
- Supervise children when close to or in water
- Teach your little one to swim at the earliest
- Learn first aid, namely CPR skills
- Install a four-sided fence around home pools
What Can I Do If My Baby Hates Their Life Jacket
Unfortunately, this is the stark reality: more often than not, your baby will absolutely despise having to wearing a life jacket.
If that ever happens to you, don’t give up just yet! Here are some tips to make it all more bearable.
First things first, babies love colorful things. Going for a colorful infant life jacket, or one featuring a character they love, has the potential of instilling some much-needed affection towards this otherwise loathed device.
Another factor you should keep in mind is this: babies love to imitate. As you’ve probably realized, they can easily soak down bad habits you’re guilty of engaging in when they’re around, but the same applies to good habits too.
The best way to get your little one to accept life jacket use is if you wear a life jacket too, especially when boating. They’ll feel more confident and at ease for doing so, simply because someone they love and trust so much is doing the same.
Besides, wearing a life jacket yourself will also help you assist your child in case of an emergency, especially in critical situations where every second matters.
Wrapping it Up
Infant life jackets are a sound insurance policy for your baby’s safety when in – or close to – water. As we’ve seen, drowning is a silent killer, and the statistics that show how often this happens are horrendous to even think about.
Truth be told, we may think it won’t happen to us as we watch our babies like a hawk – but, reality screams otherwise. No one can ever be “too safe” for anything like this.
A properly fitting infant life jacket in great condition should be the first thing packed for trips or days spent close to water.
Swimming or playing close to water should be a fun time, both for you and your little one, so do what you have to do to ensure it stays that way.
Taking the necessary precautions makes it all memorable – for the right reasons!
Product photos: © Amazon.com
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