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’!

 

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.

 

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

  1. Baby is under rear facing weight limit for the seat (usually somewhere between 20 and 35 lbs, check your car seat manual) and
  2. 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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!
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Conclusion

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!

Helpful links



© 2004, Diaper Pin Corner. May not be reprinted without permission.

Karen Plomp

Karen Plomp is a Stay-At-Home mom of six and is originally from the Netherlands, although she lives in New Hampshire now. Her interests are reading, birthing, midwifery, kids, parenting, and carseat safety.

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38 Comments on Is Your Baby Ready to Face Forward in the Car?

  1. ninett falkenrath says:

    Thank you!! Thank you and THANK YOU!!! My baby is 8 months old and I was considering moving him to fwd facing in the next month or so. Thank you for writing this. I will wait at least till he’s 18months old…possibly longer. My main concern was that he was getting a bit “squished” because his legs almost touch the seat. Other than that he’s very content back there…I’ve made it pretty fun.. He has his DVD player with Finding Nemo for long trips and he always has a ton of toys and a mirror where I can see him…and he can see me :) So, thank you!!! Thank you for posting this. You have helped me change my mind and wait. Everyone I’ve asked has said “there’s no law in when you need to move him…just a law that it’s installed properly.” Well now there is a law…a family law..!!! I will NOT turn his seat to fwd facing for at least another year! :)

  2. Carla says:

    Thank you also. I will not be changing my baby to forward facing until she grows out of her bigger rear convertible facing seat or 2 years old, whatever comes first! I’d rather be safe than sorry!!

  3. Chandy says:

    My baby girl will be one tomorrow!!!
    And I didn’t know what I wanted to do! Till now!!!!!
    So ThankYou!!!

  4. Lea says:

    I think we are at the point of needing a front facing car seat, so this post was extremely helpful. Thank you :)

  5. steph says:

    my son’s 20lb, at 5 months hes very tall should i still wait till a year? the car seat i have for him is small now an his feet dangle out of them i have the Baby Trend Expedition ELX Travel System Stroller –

    i just bought a bigger car seat that im not sure if it can be rear facing am i wasting time with this car seat if im not even able to use it? or should i get a middle car seat between these two extremes of rear an froward facing????

    • Mai says:

      Hi Steph! I wouldn’t do it anytime soon. He’s still way too young to be front facing. The issue with the little ones is that their necks and spinal columns haven’t developed strong enough until at least 1year of age, and if you do end up in an accident (*touch wood*) their necks can’t take the impact and will stretch and potentially break. My DD is tall too, and at 22 months she’s 35 inches and 30 lbs, and she’s still happily rear facing in her car seat, even for long trips.

    • sheila says:

      they sell the bigger “toddler” upright car seats that can face forward and backward.

  6. Christa says:

    Thank-you!!
    I have a nine month old and my mother-in-law insists that hes ready to face forward!! Now i can read this to her n tell her to stuff it.. Haha

  7. Becca says:

    I am glad to see this post. My father in law is a reconstructionist & has been doing car seat safety for many many years. He also recommends not attaching toys to the car seats as they can become projectiles when an accident occurs. And most carseat mfg’s say not to add anything to them anyways. One more thing, you also shouldn’t use any blankets or wraps under the baby as that will compress in an accident & leave the baby vernerable to slipping out. Safe travels everyone.

  8. dawn stephens says:

    Thank you for the very specific and helpful information. We were considering turning our 15 month around as well and for the “wrong reasons.” Appreciate it.

  9. Kevin Delbert II says:

    According to the following requirements that are sufficient to meet.. What if your baby is fifteen and half months ago, soon to be sixteen months and weights 18 lbs; Can the seat be turned around facing forward? Even if the legs are crowded and it tense to me that she might be uncomfortable. I would appreciate some feedbacks if possible. I look forward to the expert/s responses. Thank you.

  10. Glory says:

    Hi, my daugther just turn one on the June 12, and she weights more than 26 bounds she’s getting bigger than her car seat. Can I get her a forward facing car seat?

    • Amy says:

      They make the convertible car seats that can still be used rear facing and hold a lot more weight for your lil one. There is still talk of changing the law to be kids under 2 have to be rear facing so I would say buy the bigger convertible seat & when she is 2 or older then worry about flipping the seat around

  11. Alex says:

    The part of making it hard to drive is important to note, however. If the child is screaming so hard (as my eldest son did) it made it less safe to keep him rear facing past one year old because the migraines he induced made it near impossible to focus and do the job of driving.

  12. Amy says:

    I would just like to add that my son is 2 1/2 yrs old & his seat is still rear facing. He seems to like it still and his car seat is up to 40 lbs so it’s gonna stay that way for a while. Please please people don’t turn baby’s seat around just bc people tell you to or bc if might be a little easier. Do what is safer for your child. Leave them rear facing as long as possible.

  13. glen says:

    I just turned my daughter around and she is a year old and more than 20 lbs..i dont find it to be safe at all in a convertible carseat rear facing..to many it may be safer but to me either way is going to be ruff on the child rather he or she is facing forwards or backwards..ive seen several with the rear facing carseats get hurt just as bad as they would faceing forwards..if you get hit from the rear glass from the back can always come up and slice the babys face and the rear facing conver. seat has no support on the back of it seatbelts can fail..they did once with me and had a perfectly working brand new truck and they can still fail people…no matter what way they are facing wrecks are still going to be bad for the child…but do what you think is safe ..and i talked with the people that help with carseats and all that and i think my babygirl will be just fine facing forwards..

  14. Carolina says:

    I would have agreed about the rear facing car seat until today (I found this site while inquiring at what age babies can ride in the seat facing forward).
    This afternoon my son almost choked after vomiting while in the seat. The rear facing seat position doesn’t allow for the baby head and body to come forward and at 31″ and 25lbs (even if the seat is ok up to 30lbs) there was no way he had the space to turn. Thankfully I was driving on a low trafficked road and I found a way to stop almost immediately. I had to jump out and try to unbuckle him while watching him not been able to breath. He never vomit before (11.5 months) and there were not warning signs. So now I have to choose between two possible bad outcomes: car accident or chocking should he vomit again???

  15. Jessica Rhind says:

    Hi Carolina, if there was no warning I assume you immediately took him to a clinic/doctor. I only ask because sometimes certain kids are prone to seizures, febrile disorders, allergic reactions, etc that make rear-facing seat difficult. Talk to a specialist if they think this might happen frequently and they want the seat front-facing for life-saving access. If it was the flu or something he ate that disagreed with his tummy, it is a different matter and stick with rear-facing. If you look up stats on car accidents they are FAR more common than random episodes of unexplained vomiting, so go with the numbers. That being said, the first time a child yaks seriously is scary for a new parent and when they are choking it is easy to panic (I know I’d freak!!) On top of everything else I recommend EVERY parent learn infant first aid, CPR and the Heimlich manouevre. Good luck, God bless and keep your family.

  16. Linda says:

    Somewhat related… Where do you put the car seat in your car. Currently, we have our rear facing infant seat in the middle, would one of the sides be better?

    • Lisa says:

      I was always told that the middle is the safest place for an infant seat… And after 4 children I think it IS! Because, if you use the side seat with the shoulder straps and don’t use the little metal thing that is under an infant seat(which I found hard to put on) it makes it hard to keep from tilting. There are many other reasons too, not to mention it fits better. People in the front seat are supposed to sit as far back from the airbag as possible, most of the time if you put an infant seat behind a front seat you will have to adjust the sit, which I believe isnt safe for front seat riders. Just my opinion but middle is safest! :-)

  17. Laura says:

    Thank you for this information, I was already thinking of putting my 9months old baby faceing forward but reading your information convienced me not to and I’m accually going to wait untill shes alittle older than 1 year old. So thanks again!

  18. Kim says:

    My son is 12, almost 13 months old, and twenty pounds on the nose. Some sanctimonious mama was aghast to learn we have forward facing already. Well, this mom has had to deal with her baby screaming bloody murder for over an hour while rear-facing. I couldn’t even go to the grocery store without my blood pressure rising through the roof!

    Ever since we’ve got him a forward facing seat, he’s been much, much happier and will often fall asleep in the car. I think being in car with a screaming baby stressed and distracted me to the point where a car accident was more likely to ensue, so forward facing actually seems like a safer option.

  19. Suresh says:

    Thanks for the article. Cleared my confusion. My daughter is 13 months old now. No question of moving to forward facing seat now and will definitely wait till she turns two.

  20. Betty says:

    Hi i have a 8 month old and he is over 23lbs and seat up by him self would it be okay if we switch to a forward car seat or wait tell one or older? The car seats we have now he is too big for.

  21. Jennifer Jester says:

    This is good to know..my husband keeps saying, “We need to turn her around,” and I am always like, “No, she isn’t the right weight limit yet to be turned around.” She is the right age but not weight; she was a preemie..she doesn’t mind being faced backwards that much…she does like to lift her body up and try to turn as much as she can to look up front though..we got her a dvd player for the car to keep her entertained and we always take a lot of toys!

  22. Cayla says:

    Thank you so much for this. My sister keeps telling me to move my 6month old to a front facing position and I was trying to look up things about that and this was perfect. I will not be moving my son to a front facing car seat until he exceeds the weight limit and is over age 1. Thank you so much

  23. Fredrikke says:

    I’m from Norway, and I just wanted to say that the recommendations here is that the baby should not be moved to a front facing position until they are 4 years old. Of course, some people have to move them sooner because their kids’ legs are too long, but I will definitly wait as long as I possible can, cus it’s soooo much safer.
    I get sick when I see people turn their kids around before the age of 2.. Waaay too early :/ Sadly, most people don’t know all this..

  24. Marissa says:

    My son is 17 months and I’m struggling deciding if I should forward face or keep his rear facing because its been 109 where we live and it gets so hot with the sun beating down on him even with the air conditioner on he still leaves the car red and sweaty. And that’s only the case for one of our cars, the other is worse because the air conditioning doesn’t always work and only one window rolls down. I don’t want to forward face him but Idont want him getting sun burnt or sick from it either.

  25. Lisa says:

    I’m glad I google this and found the information. My daughter will be 1on July 11th. And I was just about to order her carseat online because I THOUGHT she weighed enough. But after taking her to the ER today and finding out she is only 16 lbs, I decided to learn more about this. And she is fine in her rear facing carseat. I only wanted to turn her around for my own selfishness :-( now I feel horrible for risking my sons life when he was 7 months old!!!! Thank The Lord he was never involved in an accident! :-(

  26. Ashley says:

    I swore up and down that I wouldn’t forward face my daughter until she was 2 years old. Unfortunately I’m hit with the dilemma that she is crazy tall and pushes against the back seat with her legs. She has managed to loosen the seat belt holding her car seat in place (not to the point of it being unsafe but still scary!!) So now I’m debating between forward facing her which physically I can (she’s 17.5 months and 25lbs and 33 inches tall) it just terrifies me to think I might switch her around and she could get hurt :-(

    • Rene says:

      Ashley – what is the age of your car? Many cars made after 1994 have locking seatbelts. Once the car seat is strapped in, pull the strap as far as it will go and it should lock in place if it doesn’t try again. And it won’t unlock until the seat belt release button is pushed. If that doesn’t work, check your owners manual or call a dealership to see if your car has that feature.

      I’m a nanny to a 7 month old boy who weighs 22 lbs… His mom has been thinking about turning his seat forward facing. I’m glad to have articles like this to share with her to back me up when I say at the very least we need to wait until he’s 1! Thank you!

  27. Mike says:

    This is based on bad assumptions. “Most serious crashes are frontal”. Gee, doesn’t that mean people are rear-ended a lot?

    I have far more control over whether I hit something in front of me, than if some idiot hits me from behind. So I’d rather have her more protected from unpredictable idiots coming from behind, because by my safe driving she is protected when she facing forward by sudden stops.

  28. Mike says:

    Just read all the comments here. Why put them in the car at all if it is so unsafe. Wrap them in bubble wrap and leave them strapped to a chair at home. You people are way too safety conscious. Do you think it is any safer for you in the front seat? Why not just put a strap around their head and brace it in the car seat so it doesn’t move in case of an accident? Relax and live life. Quit being so anal.

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