The American Academy of Pediatrics just released new car seat 'best practice' recommendations for families. Most notably, is their endorsement of the rear-facing position until the child's second birthday. Steve Breden is co-owner of Chicago's Safety Squad. Safety Squad is the largest professional car seat installation service and has worked with over 12,000 families. Safety Squad has always recommended that parents keep kids rear-facing until the age of 2 because this is 500% safer than forward facing in a crash. I asked Steve to tell me more about this change really means for expecting or new parents:
- Consider buying a higher weight limit infant seat. Depending on your child and their individual growth, a 30 or 35 pound seat might work until the child's second birthday. Check the label on thebox carefully because they are confusing. For instance ,the SnugRides comes in different upper weight limits. Infant seats can only be used rear-facing, so a higher weight infant seat 'promotes' the rear-facing longer concept.
- Use the services of a certified car seat technician. You will be using your infant seat for a long time, so know how to use it and how to make the adjustments for the growing child. This includes re-routing the straps, using/removing included padding/insert, and identifying the optimal seating position within the back seat.
- Don't use a convertible seat for a newborn. Convertible seats from the beginning may seem like a good option for expecting parents in light of this new recommendation, since many of them can be in the rear-facing position up to a 40 or higher weight limit. However, in our experience, we have found very few newborns who actually fit properly and safely in a convertible seat. It is better to start with an infant seat, designed for infants. Infants are especially prone to injury in a crash due to their soft musculoskeletal system, so restraining them correctly is of prime importance.
- Don't worry about your child's leg room, visual stimulation, or potential to 'protest' while in the rear-facing position until the age of 2. We get a lot of questions from parents who are concerned that their toddler in the rear-facing position will have bent legs during the ride, will have nothing stimulating to look at, or just be unhappy facing backwards. What we have learned from many of our customers is that their toddlers are just fine facing backwards, mostly because they don't know any differently. They think this is just the way it is. So, avoid the urge to move them forward facing, just once for that 'longer than normal ride". Once they experience the forward facing position, is when they will protest about going back to rear-facing. Secondly, don't be concerned about your child's lack of leg room. Yes, their legs will be bent, but that is OK. There is no research to support that more leg injuries occur in this position. However, all the research demonstrates that more head and neck injuries occure when kids are in the forward facing position. These are the 'serious' injuries we need to avoid during a crash. Lastly, your toddler will find amusement looking out the window or playing with their fingers or toes. Car-time doesn't need to a period of 'optimal' developmental stimulation.
- What should you do if your 14 month old is already forward facing? Without knowing every parent's particular situation, the safest thing would be to return to rear-facing. However, there are extenuating circumstances that might preclude this from being optimal for you. It is most important to be sure your car seat is being used correctly and is installed incorrectly. A good car seat technician can help you work through your options in this situation.