Keep Those Car Seats Facing Backwards

by Pregnancy.org Staff

toddler in rear-facing carseatBuckling up for a drive? There's new advice when it comes to car seats and booster seats. Both the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the American Academy of Pediatrics are recommending parents keep their kids in those seats longer.

Rear-Facing Car Seats

Old recommendation: Keep babies in rear-facing car seats until 12 months or 20 pounds.

New recommendation: Keep babies and toddlers in rear-facing car seats until age 2, or until they reach the maximum height and weight for their seat. Children 2 years or older or those younger than 2 years who have outgrown the rear-facing height or weight limit should use a forward-facing car seat system with a harness for as long as possible.

The "age 2" recommendation isn't a deadline, but rather a guideline to help parents decide when to make the transition. Smaller toddlers can benefit from remaining rear-facing longer.

Booster Seats

New recommendation: Most children will need to ride in a belt-positioning booster seat until they have reached 4 feet 9 inches tall and are between 8 and 12 years of age. All children younger than 13 years should be in the rear seat for maximum protection.

"Parents often look forward to transitioning from one stage to the next, but these transitions should generally be delayed until they're necessary, when the child fully outgrows the limits for his or her current stage," said Dennis Durbin, MD, FAAP, lead author of the policy statement.

Skeptical? Check out these studies: A rear-facing child safety seat does a better job of supporting your little one's head, neck and spine during a crash because it distributes the force of the collision over the entire body. Studies show that children under the age of two are 75% less likely to die or be severely injured in a crash if they are riding read-facing.1

Rear facing seats are safer than forward-facing seats for children under 4 years old. Rear-facing seats were more effective than forward-facing seats in protecting children aged 0-23 months for all crash types. Effectiveness estimates compared with no restraint were 93% for rear-facing seats and 78% for forward-facing seats.2

How does Sweden keep young children so safe in cars? How come fatalities and serious injuries are close to zero for young children? The answer to their safety record is a very simple and affordable approach -- keeping the little ones safe in cars.3

Year-by-Year Guidelines

Birth to 12 months: Your baby should always ride in a rear-facing car seat. There are different types of rear-facing seats: infant-only seats can only be used rear-facing. Convertible and 3-in-1 car seats have higher height and weight limits for the rear-facing position, allowing you to keep your child rear-facing for a longer period of time.

1 to 3 years: Keep your child rear-facing as long as possible. It's the safest. Your child should remain in a rear-facing car seat until he or she reaches the top height or weight limit allowed by your car seat's manufacturer. Once your child outgrows the rear-facing car seat, your child is ready to travel in a forward-facing car seat with a harness.

4 to 7 years: Keep your child in a forward-facing car seat with a harness until he or she reaches the top height or weight limit allowed by your car seat's manufacturer. Once your child outgrows the forward-facing car seat with a harness, it's time to travel in a booster seat, but still in the back seat.

8 to 12 years: Keep your child in a booster seat until he or she is big enough to fit in a seat belt properly. For a seat belt to fit properly the lap belt must lie snugly across the upper thighs, not the stomach. The shoulder belt should lie snug across the shoulder and chest and not cross the neck or face. Your child should still ride in the back seat because it's safer there.

Keeping Baby Happy

Safety may be a priority but it's not always convenient or popular. Wondering how to keep the balance between safe and sane? So are some of our members. Listen in as they share concerns.

Concern: "His legs are so long. His feet are against the seat and knees bent up. I'm worried that he isn't comfortable."

Pregnancy.org Mom tink9702 shares that for her, "My 21-month-old son just folds his legs up and sits Indian style. He's perfectly happy to sit backwards and doesn't know anything else."

Concern: "I had a hard time finding a car seat that would fit rear-facing comfortably in a small car. My husband is tall so this was very uncomfortable when he was a passenger and it was hard to see around anyone in passenger seat because they were so far forward, making left turns dangerous."

Pregnancy.org Mom Lil Momma 1991 says, "I drive a Chevy Cobalt (a relatively small car) and the onSide Air™ Convertible Car Seat from Safety 1st (approved to 40 pounds and 40 inches in rear position), fits just fine in the middle and also behind me but I am on the short side at 5'3"."

Pregnancy.org Mom b525 shares, "There are the cutest, newish car seats that are lower-profile and fit beautifully into small cars. They can fit three across in a Jetta! Several of my friends used the Chicco Key Fit for its smaller size and high RF weight rating."

Concern: "Isn't forward-facing easier on everyone? I hate that I can't see and interact with my baby while in the car."

Pregnancy.org member, bcalkins says, "We use a mirror on the headrest and that is great, we have no problem looking back and seeing what she is doing."

Concern: "My daughter hates the car with a screaming banshee passion. It's horrible. I admit we avoid car rides."

Pregnancy.org Mom, reeveslady helps out with, "The siblings entertaining Eve (or at least popping her paci back in her mouth) is what gets us by right now."

Pregnancy.org Mist1006 offers, "He has a remote controlled baby Einstein toy that lights up and plays music. He also always has his blanket."

Pregnancy.org Potter75 adds, "We planned a LOT of our trips around bed or nap times when our babies were out of that newborn stage (when they sleep all the time) but not yet old enough to reason with."

Studies Used in This Article

1. Technical Report: Child Passenger Safety
2. Advise use of rear-facing child car seats for children under 4 years old
3. The Swedish (rear-facing) car seat approach

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