How Long Did/Will Your Child's Car Seat Stay Rear-Facing? Why?

Rear-Facing Car Seats - Why You Should Consider a Rear-Facing Car Seat Long-Term

One Year and 20 Pounds is the Old Standard for Rear-Facing Car Seats

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Extended Rear-Facing Baby Car Seat
This baby should stay rear-facing to the limits of his car seat. Experts now recommend a longer rear-facing time.
Heather Corley
Babies should be in rear-facing car seats for as long as possible, to the limits of their rear-facing car seat. Extended rear-facing, beyond one year and 20 pounds, has big safety advantages that parents should strongly consider. In fact, the most recent study on this subject shows that toddlers are up to five times safer if they remain rear-facing until age two.
Turning baby's car seat around isn't a milestone to rush on. It's actually a step down in safety, so don't be in a hurry to make the big switch.
You've probably heard the one year/20 pounds advice from many sources, including your pediatrician, the car seat company and possibly your state's car seat law. That's the old standard, though, and it is a bare minimum standard. All children are safer if they remain in a rear-facing car seat beyond a year. Thanks to higher rear-facing weight limits on car seats, nearly all toddlers can remain rear-facing for quite a while.

Why Rear-Facing?

Car seats are designed to absorb some crash forces and spread remaining crash forces over a larger area of the body. For adults, seat belts distribute force to the strongest parts of the body, the hips and shoulders. Infants don't have many body parts that are strong enough to withstand crash forces, so the rear-facing car seat distributes the crash force along the entire back, neck and head, putting less stress on any one part of the body. The infant's head, which is large and heavy for a still delicate neck to support, is also better supported with a rear-facing car seat. The incidence of severe head and neck injuries for babies and toddlers is greatly reduced in rear-facing car seats. The baby's "ride-down time," or the time it takes to come to a complete stop, is also lengthened, which reduces injuries by reducing the body trauma from a sudden stop.

The additional support plus the manner in which a rear-facing car seat "rides down" in a crash gives your baby the best chance for survival and less chance of injury in a crash. The simple way to estimate crash force is weight times speed. A 10-pound baby in a 30 mph crash would experience an estimated 300 pounds of force. A rear-facing car seat spreads that 300 pounds of force over a greater body area, causing less injury to the baby.

My Baby Wants to Be Front-Facing!

Even if your baby's legs are touching the seat back, or the baby cries when rear-facing, you should still keep baby rear-facing until he or she reaches the rear-facing weight or height limit of the car seat. Most convertible car seats have a rear-facing weight limit of 35 pounds now, so you should be able to keep your toddler rear-facing to age two, if not longer. Some children never like sitting in a car seat, and they may cry. However, being properly restrained makes it more likely that a baby or toddler will survive a crash to cry another day.

Many parents worry that their baby will suffer broken legs in a crash because baby's legs touch the seat back or look cramped when rear-facing. It's important to remember, though, that in a crash severe enough to break baby's legs, there would also be enough force to cause severe neck injuries if your baby or toddler was forward-facing. While it's never fun to choose between injuries, the chance of full recovery is greater for broken legs than broken necks. Similarly, if your baby fusses while in a rear-facing car seat, it may seem easy to turn baby around to keep him or her happy. Again, though, you're choosing between a fussing baby or the chance of severe head, neck and spine injuries.

My Baby is One Year Old and 20 Pounds! Now What?

Car seat safety advocates and the American Academy of Pediatrics
now recommend that babies stay in a rear-facing car seat to the weight limit of the seat or as long as possible. If your baby's car seat has a
rear-facing weight limit of 30 pounds, these groups say you should keep baby rear-facing to 30 pounds. Some car seats have rear-facing weight
limits up to 40 pounds, which might accommodate the average child through age 3 and maybe beyond. You should also check the manufacturer's
rear-facing height limit to be sure baby is not too tall to safely stay rear-facing to the weight limit. My advice is to simply leave your baby
rear-facing at this point. The safety advantages far outweigh any convenience.

AAP is expected to change their recommendation soon to say that parents should keep toddlers rear-facing to age two. I think this recommendation is far better than any that indicates that it's safe to turn a baby forward-facing at one year, but my personal recommendation is still to choose a car seat with a high rear-facing weight limit and tall shell, and then to use it rear-facing as long as possible. For many toddlers, that would keep them rear-facing beyond age two. My own daughter was three before she reached the rear-facing weight limit on her car seat.

Why would you want to keep your child rear-facing? Crash data shows us that anybody is safer in a crash when riding rear-facing for the reasons we outlined above. Even though your baby's neck may now be strong enough to withstand some types of forward-facing crash forces, he or she is still better protected in a rear-facing car seat because that seat still distributes the force over a greater body area and still
gives better support to their young head and neck.

A rear-facing car seat offers the best protection for babies and toddlers, and should be used for as long as possible, to the limits
of the car seat.

It is no longer recommended to turn your baby around immediately at one year and 20 pounds, thanks to new research that shows the safety advantages of extended rear-facing. According to NHTSA, a rear-facing car seat is 71 percent safer than no restraint at all, and a forward-facing car seat is 54 percent safer than no restraint at all. Keeping your baby rear-facing to the limit of the seat is the safest choice. You can check your car seat instruction book or the labels on the car seat sides to find the rear-facing weight and height limits.

Heather Corley is a certified Child Passenger Safety Technician.

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