One of the biggest concerns that I have about car seat safety is the fact that many people do not know when it is time to turn the car seat around from forward facing. As both a parent and a safety tech, I see so many parents (most likely unintentionally) turning their children around too soon, and the bottom line is that it is unsafe. Here is why...
What is extended rear facing? "Or rear facing to the max?" You’ve probably heard these terms over and over as a parent, but you may not know exactly what they mean. Maybe you know what they mean, but you aren’t sure why you should keep your toddler rear facing beyond the legal minimum to forward face. Either way, extended rear facing is one of the most important topics of toddlerhood and in doing so, you can possibly save your child's life.
Extended rear facing and other similar terms usually refer to rear facing beyond one year old and twenty pounds. This is often the absolute minimum required by law, though in the last year more and more states have moved towards a new minimum of two years old and thirty pounds for forward facing. Remember that the law is there as an absolute MINIMUM, not a maximum. It doesn’t refer to what the current best practice is, and laws are not often updated, which is why it is important to educate yourself as much as you can before making such a crucial decision.
Why Extended Rear Facing?
There are many reasons to keep your child rear facing until they max out their convertible car seat. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends keeping toddlers rear facing until at least two years old. National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) recommends keeping your toddler and preschooler rear facing until they turn four.
Car seats have changed dramatically in the last ten years, and even more so in the last few years. A convertible car seat to keep the average sized toddler rear facing until two is just 45 dollars. Convertibles that can keep the average sized preschooler rear facing until four are $115-$150. When you do the math, that’s just about $37 a year or $3 a month. Very reasonable for a device that will protect your child in the event of a crash.
Most studies have been on the birth to two year old crowd, which is why you hear two as being the bare minimum that it is recommended to forward face. Babies and toddlers have large heads compared to their bodies. In a crash, the head will be thrown forward if they are forward facing, putting more pressure on the spine than an older child will have in a crash.
Beyond two, there are still MANY reasons to continue rear facing. In a crash, a rear facing child is protected by their car seat like a cocoon. As the crash happens, the carseat actually does cocoon around the child as they move with it. This allows the carseat to absorb much more of the impact throughout the entire seat. In a crash with a forward facing child, the child is thrown forward while the carseat does not move much. Most of the pressure is going to be spread along the harness which is directly against the child. Limbs are thrown forward. Imagine falling into a pool, would you rather go in backwards, or go in forwards?
Additionally it is important to keep in mind that our children still have so much developing to do for the next few years. In the photo to the left (above if you are mobile) you can see 3 different parts of the spine. The lefthand photos are of one year olds and the right of six year olds. (Photo Credit: Car Seats for the Littles; this article also contains more detailed information about this photo.) Due to the combination of children's immature spines, and the fact that their spines are supporting 25% of their body weight (vs. the average adult who's head only makes up about 6%. Rear facing is not a choice to be made based on parenting style or opinion; it’s one based on scientific fact. The more we know about crashes, the better we’re able to protect our kids from severe injury as a result of a crash."
For more of the science side of rear facing, please check out these resources: Car Seats for the Littles: Why Rear Facing: The Science Junkie's Guide Car Seats for the Littles: Rear Facing Car Seat Myths Busted The Car Seat Lady: Why Ride Rear Facing? The Car Seat Lady: Rear Facing Basics The Car Seat Lady: 5 Times Safer The Car Seat Lady: When Should You Turn Your Child Around The Car Seat Lady: What Seats Are Appropriate For Rear Facing?
Meet the Author:
Ali is a Child Passenger Safety Technician (CPST) with Safe Kids Worldwide. She has been babywearing since she was a teenager, both as a nanny and with her nieces and nephews. She first found her love for woven wraps when her first child was about 9 months old. Her passions include helping parents and caregivers learn to wear their babies, both as a Volunteer Babywearing Educator and leader of BWI of Greater Burlington, and as a private babywearing consultant through Wisehart Parenting. In her free time, she enjoys providing free private car seat inspections, as well as volunteering at local car seat inspection events. She lives in Fairfax, VT with her husband who is also a CPST, and has three children.