Rear Facing Car Seats

by Katherine Charchuk

infant seatA rear facing car seat is used for the child under the age of one and it faces the back of the vehicle. There are different types of seat that can be used for this purpose. An infant only carrier and a convertible seat. Also there is a law, in some places this is only a recommendation and it is best to check with your state/provincial laws to be sure that you are within the law. I will discuss the recommendations based on studies that have proven to be effective.

A child who is under one year and 22 pounds (10 kg) must remain rear facing. It has been proven that an infant's skeletal system is not able to with stand the forces of a forward facing crash. Their bodies will actually stretch out from the force of the crash and in a forward facing seat they could cause serious spinal and neck injuries. Some say that a child who is standing and walking and of course 22 pounds (10 kg) in weight could be forward facing before one year but with seats going to 30-35 pounds (13-16 kg) rear facing one would have to consider the risk they are taking based on that. There is no harm in keeping your child rear facing beyond one year as long as they do not exceed the weight limits.

In a crash the rear facing seat will absorb most of the forward momentum and the whole body of the infant will take the impact. Harness straps must be at or below the shoulder height. Straps must be snug and you should be able to only have one finger between baby and the harness. Remove heavy clothing as this can compress in an accident leaving the harness too loose to hold the baby in and he could be ejected from his seat.

The seat must be installed tightly in the car. Pool noodles can be used to adjust the seat for the right angle. You must achieve a 45 degree angle for children under 3 months as they are not able to hold their head up properly and could suffocate if the correct angle is not used. Most seats now come with an indicator on them so you can get the right adjustment. Seat belt must follow the correct path and be snug with no sideways movement and no more than 1" of play. The seat will move up and down as that is what absorbs the crash. Handles and canopies on the carriers must be in the down position, if they are up and come in contact with the seat back it could cause serious injury to the infant because of a sudden stop and impact.

The rear facing infant only seat usually has weight limits of 20 (9 kg) or 22 pounds (10 kg) and will likely only last for the first 4-8 months depending on your infant. It is okay for the baby's feet to touch the seat back. The way to tell if your infant is outgrown the seat is if his head is no more than an inch from the top of the seat. Pull back the material on the top of the seat and measure the top of his head to the top of the seat. If it is an inch or less then he has outgrown the seat. Then it is time to move to a convertible seat, still rear facing. Again make sure the straps are at or below the shoulders.

Try to keep your child in this seat for as long as possible, rear facing. Rear facing has been proven to be the safest position for any child as long as they are in the weight limit of the seat and their head is under the top of the seat by one inch or more. The convertible seats have rear facing weight limits of 30 (13 kg) and 35 pounds (16 kg). This helps you get the most safest position for your child for as long as possible.

Katherine Charchuk is certified by the Infant Toddler Safety Association as a car seat technician and does car seat clinics. She has two girls.

Copyright © Katherine Charchuk. Permission to publish granted to Pregnancy.org.