Car Seats: When Is It Really Safe to Forward-Face?

Ever see a little baby facing forward in a car seat? I didn’t know better when my daughter was younger and turned her around way too early (one among many errors made in loving ignorance). Image Over the weekend, I noticed another parent make the same mistake, and I wanted to yell, “Please, turn that baby around!”

I didn’t . . . yell, that is. But we did talk about it. If it’s an issue of safety, personal pride and social awkwardness can take a back seat. Truth is, turning kids around too early is downright dangerous.

When babies are turned to face forward in their car seats prematurely, they can suffer spinal cord injuries, become paralyzed, even die in a crash, according to The combo of soft, stretchy spinal columns, fragile necks, and heavy heads is bad news, especially if facing forward in a frontal crash (the most common collision type). Their tiny bodies are restrained by the harness straps, but their heavy heads continue to hurl forward. Remember those soft, stretchy spinal columns and fragile necks? You can imagine what happens next.

When Is It Safe to Forward-Face?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends children remain rear-facing until at least age two or until the child outgrows the height and weight limitations of the seat. It used to be 12 months, and some car seat instruction manuals still have this language, which definitely causes some confusion. But it’s minimum two, to be safe.

Five Times Safer to Rear-Face

Findings published in Injury Prevention indicate it’s five times safer for children two and under in the rear-facing position. And an article in the journal Pediatrics advises kids are generally safer if they remain in this position as long as a car seat can be provided that safely accommodates their height and weight.

Hello! That means two, three, even four-year-olds are safer rear-facing, granted you replace the seat they outgrow with ones that still rear-face and safely support their height and weight (and fit your vehicle; this, too, is key). Convertible car seats, or seats that can both forward- and rear-face, are a great option after the infant-only seat. They allow you to rear-face your child as long as the seat allows, then turn it around without having to buy a new one.

Extended Rear-Facing

Since many convertible seats accommodate children up to 65 lbs (some higher, depending on the model), those who now know how much safer rear-facing is are doing something about it. Extended rear-facing is picking up traction. Safe, savvy parents are keeping their toddlers and preschoolers in the rear position longer and even turning the ones who were forward-facing prematurely back around.

What About Cramped Legs for Older Rear-Facing Kids?

Mohammad Bhorat, Certified Child Passenger Safety Technician (CCPST) and owner of Baby Car Seat Installers, addresses parents’ fears of kiddie cramped legs. He explains that the older kids who still fit in rear-facing seats end up dangling their feet on the sides, stretching them out in front of them, or simply crossing them. Either way, it’s perfectly safe, comfy, and OK.

What’s the Rush?

The point is, never rush to forward-face. Doing so before age two only increases a child’s risk of injury or death in the event of a collision.

To help keep your precious passengers safe, check out this downloadable car seat checklist from Safe Kids!

image: Joe Shlabotnik, Creative Commons, some rights reserved.

Thank you for being a tuned in parent! I welcome your comments, suggestions, tips, and participation on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

I hope this post will help keep other kids in the right direction. You can help, too, by sharing!

-Elle C.


About Elle C. Mayberry

Elle C. Mayberry is a mom and author, who just released a new children's book with her young daughter. With a passion for parenting and degrees in psychology and "make it workology," she created Tuned In Parents (TiP).

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