After receiving some dubious information at a recent pediatrician visit regarding turning Mo forward facing in his car seat, I invited Moira Adams, CPST to write a guest post about extended rear facing and why it's essential. While it may be the law here that kids only have to rear face until they are one year old and 20 pounds, there are a lot of good reasons to keep them rear facing for much longer than that.
This isn't about shaming parents who have turned their toddlers forward facing, it's about presenting the science behind why extended rear facing is beneficial, so caregivers can make an informed decision. From here I'll turn it over to Moira:
As caregivers, we are often bombarded with differing opinions on all sorts of parenting topics including feeding, diapering, vaccinating, and of course car seats. For many of these, it’s beneficial to work with your pediatrician to determine what’s best for your family. Unfortunately, most pediatricians are not trained in car seat safety. Pediatricians should be following the guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
The best way to learn about safety in car seats is to contact a CPST (such as myself). CPSTs can provide resources on car seat safety and if you are able to meet in person, will help you learn how to use and install your car seat correctly. CPSTs are required to update themselves on current recommendations continually and are a valuable part of spreading car seat advocacy.
Car seat safety advocates prefer to encourage rear facing to the limits of the seat up through the age of four years old (as supported by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration). We will not shame caregivers who choose to turn their children forward facing at two years old, but whenever possible, we encourage rear facing to the max of the seat.
We are lucky to live in a time where car seats in all budgets will get most children to the minimum of age 2 rear facing, with most of them keeping children rear facing long after that. As a reminder all car seats on the market have passed the same safety standard, so the “best” car seat is the one that fits your budget, fits your car, fits your child, and you use properly every single time, price and fancy “features” do not determine safety level.
The biggest concern with forward facing too early is a child’s neck. In a collision, a forward facing child moves forward, and their head (as it is not restrained) moves forward causing their neck to stretch. Because younger children’s heads make up such a large percentage of their body mass, the younger they are, the more stress gets put on the neck.
A neck can only stretch so far before the spinal cord is compromised. This is why it is so essential to max out the seat as best as possible so their spine can have time to ossify (harden) and support their head better in the event of a collision. A great visual for the science behind this can be found on this Car Seats for the Littles article.
I also often find caregivers will be concerned about their children’s legs or that they look like they are “squished”, but I challenge you to take a look at your young children when they are sleeping or playing, and you can see how your children squish themselves into all sorts of contortions that look uncomfortable to adults.
I have three children, two are over the age of 4, so they are forward facing, and they both actually complained more about comfort in the car when they initially turned forward facing at the age of 4 than they ever did before turning them. In fact, my 4-year-old occasionally wants to sit in the youngest’s rear-facing seat (unfortunately she’s right at the weight limit so I can’t let her!).
The biggest takeaway for caregivers is to research your car seats and find a local CPST to help you out. Online caregiver groups are great for all sorts of input and advice, but when it comes to your child’s safety in the car, I encourage you to seek out a CPST. I’ve included a link to Safe Kids which keeps a database of car seat techs so you can find one local to you. The old advice of “go to the fire/police station” is outdated as not all fire or police stations have CPSTs on staff, and you want to make sure you are seeing a qualified, trained person.
For more information, check out these great resources:
Why Rear Facing: A Science Junkies Guide
Safe Kids Fact Sheet
Find a Car Seat Tech Near You
Driving in a car is statistically one of the most dangerous things we do. It's worth having all the information to make an informed decision about how to proceed with our tiniest passengers. If you have questions about car seat safety, installation, or fitting, get in touch with a tech like Moira through the link above, it's always a relief to have someone check out your set up and be sure you've got everything installed correctly.
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