I Was Born In 1990...
The other day, as I installed my sixteen-month-old son Finley's car seat (rear-facing) in my mom's SUV for a day trip, she noted that the happiest day of my life was the day she turned my car seat forward. I was born in May of 1990, and by May of 1991 I was sitting forward-facing. "Is that just what you did back then?" I asked her. "Yup!" She answered. "Hm." I responded, followed by something like, "Fat chance, Finley!"
I first need to note that I somewhat borrowed the title of this post from The Car Seat Lady (actually a group of ladies who are basically celebrities to us car seat fanatics). But it's so worthy of borrowing, because the truth is that a lot of the things my parents did when raising me in the 90s are no longer considered "best practice." I think any parent will admit that it's hard to keep the guidelines straight! Put your newborn to sleep on his belly. No, put your newborn to sleep on his side! Actually, you should put your newborn to sleep on his back. So which is it? (FYI, right now it's back, but that could change tomorrow!)
Why Is Rear-Facing Safer?
With car seats, it's not only old-school, but downright dangerous to turn you child forward-facing before you absolutely have to. What's the current recommendation? Rear-face until as close to age four as possible, but definitely no sooner than age two. You should basically allow your child to outgrow the max rear-facing limits of his or her convertible car seat before turning the car seat forward-facing. Yes, car seats may say something along the lines of "can be used forward-facing at one year of age and 22 pounds" but you're about to learn better than to follow that dangerous, outdated advice! The average convertible car seat will allow most kids to rear-face until between 2-4 years of age, give or take, since each car seat has different height and weight limitations. If you're passionate about rear-facing like me, you can find car seats that allow rear-facing even longer than the average seat, which also comes in handy if you have a child with an above-average height and/or weight. This awesome website allows you compare different convertible car seats to find one that will work well for you and your child! I personally purchased a Clek Foonf for my son (read about my search for the perfect car seat here) and couldn't be happier with it.
I'm envisioning my one-year-old self happily forward-facing back in 1991. Of course no one knew any better, but I'm so glad I have the knowledge and power to keep my son safer. How much safer?
Yes, you read the correctly. My sixteen-month-old son Finley is 532% safer than my sixteen-month-old self was simply because his car seat remains rear-facing. Why? It has a lot do with the development (or rather the underdevelopment) of a young child's neck and the hugeness of a child's head in proportion to his body. If you want the long story, read this credible article. For the short story, read below:
"In a crash, life-threatening or fatal injuries are generally limited to the head and neck, assuming a child is in a harnessed seat.
When a child is in a forward-facing seat, there is tremendous stress put on the child's neck, which must hold the large head back. The mass of the head of a small child is about 25% of the body mass whereas the mass of the adult head is only 6%! A small child's neck sustains massive amounts of force in a crash. The body is held back by the straps while the head is thrown forward - stressing, stretching or even breaking the spinal cord. The child's head is at greater risk in a forward-facing seat as well. In a crash, the head is thrown outside the confines of the seat and can make dangerous contact with other occupants, vehicle structures, and even intruding objects, like trees or other vehicles.
Rear-facing seats do a phenomenal job of protecting children because there is little or no force applied to the head, neck and spine. When a child is in a rear-facing seat, the head, neck and spine are all kept fully aligned and the child is allowed to "ride down" the crash while the back of the child restraint absorbs the bulk of the crash force. The head is contained within the restraint, and the child is much less likely to come into contact with anything that might cause head injury."
But My Child's Legs Touch The Back Of The Seat!
Common sense would tell you that it's dangerous for a rear-facing child's legs to touch the back of the seat... and that's just one of the many reasons that I hate common sense! In short, it doesn't matter that your child's legs touch the back of the seat when he or she is rear-facing. In fact, your child is actually far more more likely to sustain leg injuries if he or she sits forward-facing in a car seat. And no, it's not uncomfortable! Kids are more flexible than adults and their joints aren't yet fully formed which allows them to sit comfortably in strange positions, both in and out of their car seats. Don't allow your adult notion of comfort let you endanger your child by forward-facing sooner than necessary!
Let's Spread The Word.
Knowing all of the above is why I talk to my pregnant friends and even to friends who have already turned their one-year-old children forward-facing about car seat safety and about why rear-facing is safer. I love them, and I love their kids, and I don't want to see them suffer knowing they could have done better, God forbid a tragic accident should occur. Obviously the choice to forward-face a child who is of the proper age/weight remains up to the parent (although I'm not sure why car seat manufacturers are allowed to make products that accommodate less than best practice in the first place), but I sleep a little better at night knowing that I at least tried, regardless of the outcome. I'm passionate about this cause, and the misuse and plain lack of knowing on behalf of caretakers regarding all things car seats (and that majority definitely used to include me) burdens me, so it's become my official/unofficial goal to spread the word about proper car seat usage and safety. Promoting rear-facing and it's benefits is where I begin today :)