Okay manifesto might be a bit strong, but I’m back to tackle the rear-facing issue. Before, I start, I realize that many of you think I’m nuts. Give me three minutes of your time and read this with an open mind. Pretty please?

Before I had kids of my own, one year olds were my favorite. They have such vigor for the world. They walk confidently enough to explore and get into everything. They are just starting to talk and new words pop up everyday. Yet, despite all this new, there are still remnants of their babyhood – chubby hands and faces, bedtime snuggles and pudgy feet.

Its this in between, that makes car seat safety so tricky for one year olds. On one hand, they seems so BIG and clearly ready for a big kid car seat, but their body is still very baby-like. Their neck is still relatively weak and they head is still relatively large to their body size. A study published in 2007 showed that Children between 12-24 months were FIVE times safer in a rear-facing seat.1 I think a reasonable standard is a minimum of two years and thirty pounds. Okay, on to the issues and complaints…

  1. My infant seat only goes to 22 pounds/30 pounds/32 pounds. Agreed. Its time to invest in a convertible seat with a high rear-facing weight limit. Your child has outgrown the infant seat when they are at the weight limit (with clothes) or their head is less than one inch from the top of the plastic shell. You are welcome to move them to the “big kid seat” sooner as long as their shoulders are above the bottom slot of the straps. There are many options in various price ranges. I’m a fan of the Cosco Scenera, Britax Marathon 70, Sunshine Kids Radian XT and Graco My Ride. (Disclaimer: I got no money, no free car seats and no candy bars for mentioning these seats.)
  2. My kid will be scrunched up. Again, agreed. It depends a bit on the seat and the kid, but yes, your child’s legs will be scrunched up. Most toddlers don’t care at all. They play scrunched up all the time – its their nature. There are no documented cases of significant leg injury due to rear-facing position.2 Unfortunately, there are many documented cases of spinal cord injury in forward-facing toddlers. The goal is to avoid internal decapitation which is just as awful as it sounds.
  3. They can’t see the TV/They cry/They whine/I just need to turn them around for this one trip/etc. First the TV. If your family chooses to watch TV or movies in the car, your rear-facing child can have a screen that hangs from the back of the seat. Yes, it could become a projectile, but I’m less worried about that than their spinal cord. As for general poor tolerance, adjusting the angle often helps. The seat can be as little as 30 degrees from the vertical which often improves tolerance. Soft toys and books to entertain your child can be helpful. Additionally, children who have never been forward-facing don’t know what they can’t see, so resist the urge to turn them around “to try” or for a special event, particularly long drives on high speed roadways.
  4. When do I need to turn them forward -facing? When they are over the rear-facing weight limit for their seat or the top of their head is less than 1 inch from the top of the plastic shell. Families with particularly tall children should take this into consideration when choosing a seat. Remember this will be a step down in safety – don’t be in a hurry!
  5. What if none of this moves you? Read Joel’s story. It moved me. www.joelsjourney.org

1. Henary B, Sherwood CP, Crandall JR, Kent RW, Vaca FE, Arbogast KB, Bull MJ. Car safety seats for children: rear facing for best protection. Inj Prev. 2007 Dec;13(6):398-402.

2. Child Passenger Safety Technical Encyclopedia http://www.carseat.org/Technical/tech_update.htm