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When it comes to car crashes or accidents, babies are always at a higher risk. The spine of babies is developing and their head is large for their body to hold. If your baby is riding in a car seat facing forward, there is a greater chance for the spinal cord to stretch and get damaged in a crash. However, an infant or older child in a rear-facing car seat is safely cradled when there is a crash on the frontal side of the car. The upper portion of the body-head, spine, and neck are protected by the back of the car seat. Research has shown that children or toddlers up to the age of 2 in a forward-facing car seat are more susceptible to being seriously injured in a frontal crash that children in a rear-facing car seat.
Safety is paramount-getting a child to be seated in a rear-facing seat is a safe bet. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend that both infants and toddlers must face backward for as long as possible. Safety seats, today are designed keeping in mind the height and weight limits of the seat. This has resulted in rear-facing seats being designed to be used for a longer time than before. Most kids are now expected to sit in rear-facing seats until they are 4 years old.
What Are Rear Facing Car Seats?
Rear-facing car seats are different from the ones that face forward. In a rear-facing car seat, your child’s frontier will be facing the rear side of the car. Their backs will be facing the frontal side of the car. The primary motive of a car seat is to absorb a few crash forces and spread the rest over a large part of the body. The seat belts distribute the force to the body, hip, and shoulders in adults. These are the strongest parts of the body. However, infants do not have such strong parts to withstand the jerk and force. A rear-facing car seat dissipates the crash forces to the head, entire back, and neck, thereby, reducing the stress on any one body part. An infant has a delicate head which is supported by a developing neck and the rear-facing car seat helps in such cases. The bones and ligaments of an infant are also not very well developed which makes them more prone to spinal cord injuries than adults and older children. A rear-facing car seat reduces this risk as it offers support to the child’s head.
The rear-facing car seat moves in a different way whilst a crash and gives your child more chances of survival and minimizes the chance of an injury. The forward-facing car seat, in contrast, cannot absorb the force and transfers most of it to the child- particularly to the head and neck.
Types of Rear-Facing Car Seats
If you are looking for rear-facing car seat recommendations, then the below guide would help you make a good choice. You want nothing but the best when it comes to your child and would not want to compromise on safety. There are three essential kinds- rear-facing-only ones, convertible ones, and an all-in-one. If a child reaches the maximum height and weight allowed by the manufacturer in a rear-facing-only car seat, they must be moved on to an all-in-one or a convertible.
1. Rear-facing-only car seats
Such seats are used for infants who weigh up to 30 pounds (depending on the model). They are small with carrying handles. They come with a base that can be left in more than one vehicle. It is recommended for use only while traveling and strictly not for sleeping or feeding.
As the name suggests they can be used as rear-facing car seats and converted to forward-facing seats as the child grows in age. These are heavier without a base or handle. They are fixed to the car. Most of them allow infants with a weight of up to 40-50 pounds and also greater height making it suitable for babies and toddlers bigger in size. The seats come with a 5-point harness that attaches at the shoulders, hips, and between the legs. It is suited only for use during travel.
3. All-in-one seats
This one serves three purposes- rear-facing seat; forward-facing seat and a belt-positioning booster. It does not come with a carrying handle or a base. They are bigger in size and can accommodate infants up to 40-50 pounds in weight and greater height. It makes it ideal for babies and toddlers and needs to be checked if it will fit your car.
Why Should Parents Choose Rear-Facing Seats For Their Child?
It is tempting to position your child in a forward-facing car seat, but experts recommend keeping them in a rear-facing car seat for as long as possible. Keeping them in a rear-facing car seat up to the limits allowed reduces the risk of a traumatic injury and keeps your child safe. A few reasons to choose rear-facing seats for your child:
- American Academy of Pediatrics recently recommended its guidelines in 2018 and classified rear-facing car seats as the safest way for children to ride.
- Rear-facing car seats absorb the crash forces and support the head, spine, and neck in contrast to a forward-facing car seat where toddlers will be thrown forward resulting in spine and head injuries.
- Most car-seat manufacturers design rear-facing car seats that let children with weight of up to 40-50 pounds and even taller infants to ride comfortably.
- Making a sooner transition to a forward-facing car seat puts the child at greater risk and must be done only when ready.
- According to research riding in a rear-facing car seat helps children make themselves more comfortable.
AAP Recommended Age to Keep Babies In Rear-Facing Seat
The American Academy of Pediatrics currently recommends keeping children in a rear-facing car seat until they reach the maximum weight or height for their convertible seat. This generally extends up to 3-5 years of age and is also dependent on the type of seat and the growth chart of the child. Over a quarter of states in the United States of America have updated their child passenger safety norms making it mandatory to have rear-facing car seats until the age of 2.
Rear-Facing Seat Safety Tips
You may use a rear-facing car seat for a 1-year-old, an infant or a 3-year-old. Either way, you would need to follow the following tips for a safer ride:
- The harness in the rear-facing car seat must be placed in slots at or below the child’s shoulders.
- The car seat must be installed tightly in the vehicle with the assistance of anchors or a locked seat belt. If it moves an inch from the belt path, then it is not tight enough.
- If you use a convertible or all-in-one car seat the seat belt or lower anchor webbing must be channelled through the right belt path. Follow the instructions in the handbook.
- The harness must be tight and snug (no large gaps when testing it over the shoulders) and the retainer clip must fall at the centre of the chest.
- A car seat must not be placed on the front seat with an active passenger airbag in the front. If it inflates, then it will hit the rear of the car seat and injure the child’s head and may cause death.
- Check the instructions and place the seat at the right angle to ensure the child’s head does not droop forward. Most seats have recline indicators.
- Check the instruction handbook to see if the seat will come in contact with the backside of the seat in front.
1. When Can I Switch My Child To A Forward-Facing Car Seat?
The AAP and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommend that infants and toddlers face backwards for as long as possible and most cases until they are years old.
2. How Should I Choose the Right Sized Rear Facing Car Seat?
The height and weight limits of the seat must be adhered to. You must check how your child fits in the seat. The head must be an inch below the top rim of the plastic shell. Most kids will be tall for the seats until they reach the weight limit.
3. What to Do If My Child’s Legs Seem too Long For a Rear-Facing Seat?
If children are sitting in an extended car seat, the legroom is limited. A toddler’s legs will be bent or crossed making parents worry about their comfort. But experts say that if the toddler is within the limits of weight and height prescribed, then they are safer and more comfortable.
4. Should I Turn My Baby’s Safety Seat Forward When She Outgrows an Infant Seat?
No, if your child outgrows an infant seat then you will need a new car seat. Replace a rear-facing-only car seat with a convertible seat. Wait until they reach the maximum weight for a rear-facing position and until they are 2 years old to move it to a forward-facing position. A three-in-one seat that serves as rear-facing, forward-facing, and a booster is ideal if your car can accommodate it.
5. Will My Child Be Safe In A Rear-End Car Crash?
Studies have tested several rear-facing car seats and found that when used the right way they absorb the crash forces from a rear-end, thereby protecting the child’s body parts. Rear-end collisions tend to be minor in comparison to frontal ones and have minor impacts.
Parents must never be in a rush to move kids to the next type of seat. The progression must be gradual and the safety of the child must be paramount. Making a transition is a difficult decision which could prove to be a step down than a step up. It must be a carefully thought and weighed process and in tandem with safety guidelines.