UPDATE: AAP advices parents to keep their toddlers in rear-facing seats until age 2 or until their reach maximum weight and height for their seat.
The first year of your baby is a time full of milestones. The first smile, the first teeth, the first solids and often the first words. Some people think that turning around their baby in the car, is a first year mile stone too. It seems like a neat thing to do, it is more fun to be able to see the baby and it just looks cute. But they are wrong! It is very dangerous to turn a baby around in her car seat before her first birthday. This article will help you decide when your baby really is ready to be turned around. Rule of thumb is ‘later is better’!
Related article: 5 Car Seat Safety Tips That Every Parent Should Read- 2014
Why Rear Facing?
Why is it so important for the baby to ride rear facing? Most serious crashes are frontal, which means that the forces on the baby are towards the front of the car. When a baby is in a rear facing car seat, she will be pushed into the shell of the car seat, which cradles her and supports her whole body. The neck and head (which is relatively big for a baby) are cradled by the car seat and the baby has a very high chance of surviving the car crash.
Now imagine the same crash, but for a forward facing baby. The harness of the car seat will keep the baby’s body from being ejected from the car, but the head will be thrown forward. The movement of the head will stretch the bones of the spinal column, in the neck and the back of the baby. It will also stretch the spinal cord. The only problem is that the spinal column can stretch much farther than the cord, so the cord has to give and will snap! This means death or life long paralysis.
Related Article: AAP Updates Recommendation on Car Seats
So when can your baby face forward?
So when is the baby to be turned around? Your baby has to be at least one year old (use corrected age for preemies), because based on autopsy reports, that is around the time that the spinal column most likely won’t stretch farther than the spinal cord anymore. The baby also has to be at least 20 lbs. So do not turn your baby around till those two requirements have been met.
I will even go farther and recommend that you keep the baby rear facing past those minimum requirements, because she will be safer. There are European countries where kids rear face till at least three years old, because studies have shown that this reduces fatalities in car crashes. You could choose to keep the baby rear facing till you have reached the rear facing limit of your car seat. To check whether she still fits the car seat rear facing, the following requirements must be met
- Baby is under rear facing weight limit for the seat (usually somewhere between 20 and 35 lbs, check your car seat manual) and
- Top of baby’s head is more than one inch from the top of the hard plastic shell of the seat.
As long as those requirements are met and it is logistically possible, I would keep the baby rear facing. I kept my last daughter rear facing till after her second birthday. She was happy doing that, actually I think she slept better in that position in the car. I would have turned her around sooner if she had been unhappy rear facing, but it would have been non negotiable before her first birthday.
Five wrong reasons to turn baby forward
Here is a list of the most common non-valid reasons to turn a baby forward. In this part, I am talking about any baby who is less than one year old.
- Her legs are bent, I am afraid she will break them! There has been NO documented cases of kids breaking their legs this way. But there has been a lot of documented cases of babies breaking their NECK by facing forwards. If you had to choose, would you choose broken legs or a broken neck for her? Sometimes the best solution is to stop using the infant seat and use a convertible seat instead, a seat which can go rear facing at first, and forward facing later. The rear facing weight limits on those seats are often higher too.
- She doesn’t like to be rear facing. This is a tough one, I have been there, done that a lot, driving with a screaming baby. It is quite a distraction, and can be very hard on the driver. I will do anything to try to make the baby comfortable in her car seat, including matching her up with siblings to take care of her, putting interesting toys within her reach, or even severely limiting our trips out of the house using the car. But I will not risk her life because she is unhappy looking towards the back of the car instead of the front. This might be a good reason to turn her around after her first birthday though, even if she would still fit rear facing. But never before first birthday and 20 lbs mark!
- She is a very strong baby, has been sitting and walking for a while. Your baby might look and feel strong and sturdy, but that is no indicator of how far her spinal column can stretch. That seems be based more on age than on physical development. You are giving yourself a false sense of security if you turn around your baby based on this.
- Her seat only rear faces till 20 lbs and she is heavier now. Get a new seat! Seriously, there are cheap and good seats out there, a very cheap one is the Cosco Touriva, which rear faces up to 35 lbs and can be bought in almost all Walmarts and Kmarts for $45, even less when on sale. Be sure to get the 5 point harness version, not the version with the shield. There are better ones, check the ParentsPlace Car Seats Board and Buying Guide for ideas.
- But my pediatrician says it is ok to turn her around now! You know, pediatricans are human too, and sometimes they are wrong! There are a lot of subjects for them to keep up to date with, and there have been a lot of changes in the recommendations over the last years. You might trust your pediatrician for medical advice, but do not trust him in this particular instance of safety advice. Do your own research and you will find that your baby is not safe, even although your pediatrician said otherwise.
Make sure your baby has celebrated her first birthday and is at least 20 lbs before turning her around in the car. Consider to keep her rear facing even longer, up till the limits of your rear facing seat. Ignore the comments of family members who know better and tell you that they turned around their baby at 8mo and he was fine. And enjoy knowing that you keep your baby as safe as possible!
- Child Restraint Safety – Rear facing
- Is Your Car Seat Safe? Car seat recall information. It is a good idea to check this site every few months to see whether any of your car seats has a recall on it.
- Car Seat Interactive Compatibility Database . This is a good place to check out whether the car seat you are considering would fit in your car.
- Find a NHTSA technician near you, to do a car seat check
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