Yes, in as much as the American Academy of Pediatrics is now recommending that babies should remain rear-facing until they reach the maximum height and weight allowed by the car seat manufacturer.
Previously their guidelines were to keep children rear facing at least until age 2. Even that recommendation was relatively new (2011). The AAP used to only recommend rear facing until age 1. Thus why a good number of state laws only require rear facing to age 1. Many states have been changing their laws over the past few years to align with the AAP rear facing to age two recommendation.
And no. Car seat experts, for at least as long as I’ve been a car seat technician (2004), said best practice is to keep your child rear facing for as long as possible. CPS technicians recommend parents to keep their child rear facing to the upper weight and/or height limit of the convertible seat.
Many of us keep our children rear facing until 3, 4 or even 5 years old. It depends on the child, the car and the car seat.
Personally, both of our older children were rear facing until right around age 3 when they grew out of their convertible seat in a rear-facing position because of their height. Our youngest we unfortunately had to turn a bit before age 3 as he was kicking his siblings in the head in our 3 across situation. It wasn’t pretty and quite distracting for whoever was driving to have a couple of screaming kids in the back. Plus, he was nearing the height limit.
Why the rear-facing recommendations change?
The AAP made the 2011 change to rear face until age 2 based on a 2007 study in the journal Injury Prevention. The study found that children under age two are five times safer in a crash if they are rear facing compared to forward facing.
However, recently that 2007 study was called into question. Dr. Ben Hoffman, chairperson for the AAP’s council on injury, violence and poison protection said, “The original research group went back and acknowledged there had been statistical inconsistencies.”
The original research team did a new analysis of the original 1998-2003 data and included new data through 2015. On examining the data again, they concluded rear-facing car seat use was associated with a decreased risk of injury for all ages examined. The overall number was insufficient to confidently recommend a specific age to transition.
So the AAP updated their 2011 rear-facing recommendations to what was always considered “best practice.”
What are the most common concerns with extended rear facing?
Probably the most common reason parents share about wanting to turn their child around to face forward is the child’s legs.
“What about his legs? He looks so uncomfortable.”
Really? Think about all the silly ways kids will choose to sit. Yes, it may look uncomfortable for us and like our legs would never straighten out again but they are comfortable. Remember kids are very flexible. What looks like a cramped space to you may be perfectly cocooning even with room to stretch for them.
A rear-facing child restraint supports the child’s head, neck and spine during a crash. Once the child is turned the torso is being restrained but there is no neck or head support and the neck. At a young age the head is still heavy and the muscles in the neck are not yet strong enough to support the head adequately in a crash. The neck could become overstretched.
“Arms and legs are rarely injured in the rear-facing position, and the head, neck, and spinal cord are protected better rear-facing. We can fix arms and legs, but we can’t fix heads, necks, and spinal cords,” says Dr. Hoffman.
It’s also common for parents to comment on wanting to see their children to interact with them. Some are concerned about their child choking and them not seeing it if their child is rear facing. Parents can help prevent that by not giving their child food in the car.
What about the law?
As we often say, law is often minimum practice. These rear-facing recommendations are best practice. While a parent is required to follow the law, following the recommendations is a parental choice. Of course, it’s a choice that could be a matter of life and death.
As mentioned previously some states have been changing their laws to reflect the “to age 2” recommendation. Will states update their laws to this new recommendation? That’s hard to say. Lawmakers like to have straight forward parameters, ages and weights or heights. With this new recommendation there are no set parameters. Parameters change depending on what seat you have.
Many children could remain rear facing longer. If each transition is a downgrade in safety, delaying a transition could reduce the number of children injured or killed in car crashes.
Read more about keeping children rear facing:
- Keep Your Child Rear Facing As Long As Possible
- Going Forward Facing Too Early – WAY Too Early
- Rear Facing Versus Forward Facing Car Seats
By Amie Durocher, Creative Director at Safe Ride 4 Kids and certified CPS Tech since 2004
Copyright 2019 Safe Ride 4 Kids. All rights reserved. You may not publish, broadcast, rewrite or redistribute this material without permission. You are welcome to link to Safe Ride 4 Kids or share on social media.
My 26 month old was literally screaming in pain from facing backwards. It is NOT comfortable for them. His legs were totally cramped up. I feel like most people who preach the rear facing thing aren’t parents themselves or haven’t encountered a situation with a severely uncomfortable child in pain. It is not practical to leave a kid rear facing until age 4 unless you have a very small kid.
It may be true for your child. Or perhaps your child is one who feels motion sickness when rear facing and that caused your child’s discomfort. I can’t say for sure without talking with your child. What I can share is our experience as Child Passenger Safety Technicians and Parents of three children. Our two older children remained rear facing until they outgrew their seat by height when they were about 40 months (3 and a halfish) with no discomfort in their legs or otherwise. Our oldest is now 13 and almost 6 foot tall, he was never a “small” child. Our youngest child didn’t make it that long only because he discovered how much fun it was to kick his siblings in the face when they were sitting next to him. He turned some where between 30 months and 33 months. Many parents share pictures on various car seat groups on Facebook of their four and even five year olds still rear facing and report no complaints of discomfort and some even requesting to go back to rear facing after they are turned because they finally hit the seat’s limits.
So what’s the recommended height to start forward facing my son is 34 months and still sits backward facing he has long legs and looks like he’s cramped but never complains. he’s 3’3” or 39 inches tall
It’s based on the upper limits for the rear-facing position of your child restraint. The child’s head should be at least one inch below the top of the seat when rear-facing. So typically a child outgrows the seat in a rear-facing position when the child’s head is less than one inch from the top of the back of the seat. You’ll want to confirm any height limits with your specific car seat manual.