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Why You Really Do Need to “Squish” Your Toddler Into a Rear-Facing Car Seat

This is a picture of C (age 21 months) and S (age 1 month) after a particularly exhausting trip to the zoo.  If you’re the parent of a toddler you might think there’s something funny about this picture.  C is still facing backwards despite being a full 9 months past the 1 year mark when most parents turn their children to face forward.

That’s because I’m fortunate enough to have as one of my closest friends a woman whom I’ve dubbed the car seat guru.  We met in a mommy group when C was just a few weeks old and she told me very early on (and in no uncertain terms) that C had no business facing forward in a car until he was at least 2 years old – and really not until he reached the maximum weight allowance to be facing backward for his brand of car seat.  For us that weight allowance was 30 pounds and C only just reached that mark a few months ago (at about 27 months).


During that time I got my fair share of funny looks from other moms who, I assume, thought I was some crazy over-bearing/over-protective helicopter mom in the making.  Once I shared this video with them, though, they usually changed their mind.


And if that doesn’t convince you, this should – yesterday the American Academy of Pediatrics announced that they are  now officially recommending parents keep their toddlers in rear-facing car seats until age 2, or until they reach the maximum height and weight for their seat.  They’re also advising that most children will need to ride in a belt-positioning booster seat until they have reached 4 feet 9 inches tall and are 8-12 years of age.


The AAP’s policy will appear in the April edition of Pediatrics (their peer-reviewed scientific journal) and is based on research such as a 2007 study in Injury Prevention showing that children under 2 are 75% less likely to die or be severely injured in a crash if they are riding rear-facing.  This is a finding, by the way, that comes to no surprise to countries such as Sweden, which has the world’s lowest highway fatality rate for children under 6 and requires children to be rear-facing until age 4.  


According to this post from The New York Times,  here’s the problem with putting young children in a forward-facing seat:


“A baby’s head is relatively large in proportion to the rest of his body, and the bones of his neck are structurally immature,” said Dr. Dennis R. Durbin, scientific co-director of the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. If he’s rear-facing, his entire body is better supported by the shell of the car seat. When he’s forward-facing, his shoulders and trunk may be well restrained, but in a violent crash, his head and neck can fly forward.


Which is all the more reason to keep your kids rear-facing even past age 2 and as long as they meet your car seat’s weight requirement.  This is often 30 to 35 pounds but can be up to 45 pounds for some seats (something to keep in mind when shopping around).   And yes, I know, it may look like your little ones are cramped and likely to be injured in a crash – but they’re not!


Now that you’re all on board with my rear-facing mantra, one last thing to remember  – the appropriate seat belt placement in a car seat changes based on which way it is facing.  As my friend would say regarding seat belt placement, “at or below the shoulder when rear-facing, at or above the shoulder when forward facing“.


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