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When to Switch Carseat to Forward Facing

When to Switch Carseat to Forward Facing

This is a great article from that explains why and when is the best time turn your child’s car seat from rear-facing to forward-facing. I have pasted the part about younger children (under age 2) below. To read the entire article, which also delves into when you child can move into a booster seat and when he can sit in the front seat, click here.

Four years ago, the thing to do was to turn your child from rear-facing to forward-facing on their first birthday–this is no longer so? What is the new recommendation?
Although the official recommendation remains (once a child is 1 year old AND at least 20 pounds they may be turned around), compelling new data is emerging.  In April 2009, the official news magazine of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) declared that rear-facing car seats are safer for children.  The article cited that toddlers between the ages of 12 & 23 months who ride rear facing are 5 times safer and 75% less likely to experience serious injury or die than their forward-facing peers.  More telling perhaps is the 2005 Swedish study detailing 17 years of accident data showing that the highest injury-reducing effect was found in rearward-facing child restraints up to 4 years of age.  That’s correct: 4 years of age, not 1 year of age!

Why?  Car seats are designed to absorb forces and spread these forces across a larger area of the body (the entire back, ribs, neck and head), putting less stress on any one part of the body.  For adults, seat belts distribute deceleration and impact forces to the strongest parts of the body: the hips and shoulders.  Infants, on the other hand, don’t have many body parts that are strong enough to withstand crash forces. Additionally, small children have proportionately larger heads and weaker neck muscles than older children and adults.

Therefore, during an accident, rear-facing seats can distribute the force of a rapid deceleration/crash more evenly to the strongest parts of their small bodies while more likely supporting the head and neck.  Perhaps a video at this point will drive the point home. . .

The take home message:  turning a child’s car seat around to the facing forward position may actually be a step backwards. So what’s the hurry?

If the child is rear-facing because they do not meet the weight requirement to turn around, but they are tall and their legs are scrunched against the back seat, is this a concern?
According to the AAP, a child should be fit to a car seat so that their heads are within an inch of the top of the seat.  However many parents worry that if the child is rear-facing, their feet will touch the seat back, resulting in broken legs in a crash.  Yet if a crash is severe enough to break a rear-facing toddler’s legs, then there would also be enough forward force to cause severe neck injuries for a forward-facing toddler.  While it’s dreadful to hypothetically choose between injuries, the chance of full recovery is greater for broken legs than broken necks.

Similarly many parents also comment that their child appears cramped when rear-facing.  Regardless of the direction, some children never like sitting in a car seat, and they may cry.  Although it is easy to turn the toddler around to keep him or her happy, you are choosing fussing over potentially severe head, neck and spine injuries.  Being properly restrained makes it more likely that a baby or toddler will survive a crash to cry another day.

Which car seat brands can support a heavier child facing rear?
The good news is that many new convertible car seats have a rear-facing weight limit of 35 pounds.  For those of you who already have one, check your car seat’s instruction booklet for its rear-facing weight limit, and under no circumstances exceed this limit.

For those of you in the market for a toddler car seat, at present there are three car seats that accommodate children up to 40 lbs rear-facing:
Graco My Ride 65 Car Seat Graco My Ride 65 Car Seat – Bartlett
For Amazon’s price of $149.99
Safety 1st Complete AirSafety 1st Complete Air Convertible Car Seat, Silverleaf
For Amazon’s price of $167.26
Sunshine Kids RadianSunshine Kids Radian65SL Convertible Car Seat
For Amazon’s price of $225.54


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  1. cjncollins says:

    This is such a great article. I have working in the auto industry for the last 7 years and I have seen a lot of information on this subject and seen the result of crash testing by manufacturers which can be very shocking. This article brings everything together very well.

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