Recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) changed its guidelines about rear-facing car seats. If you have a child in a car seat, it is important to know these changes.
Previously, the AAP advised parents to keep kids rear-facing as long as possible, up to the maximum limit of the car seat and at least up until the age of 2. The new policy clarifies the AAP’s recommendation, removing the age guideline to encourage parents to keep children in rear-facing car seats as long as possible.
Safer for Small Bodies
The reason this change in recommendation has come about comes down to safety issues. Studies have found that children younger than 2 are 75 percent less likely to die or be severely injured in a car crash if their parents have placed them in a rear-facing car seat. Children’s neck, spine, and head are far more fragile than in an adult. Keeping them in a rear-facing car seat does a much better job of supporting these key fragile areas.
Why So Eager to Switch?
Even though the AAP has always recommended that parents keep children in rear-facing car seats for as long as they are height and weight proportionate for that particular model seat, parents tend to switch children over to front-facing car seats before they’re ready. It makes it less awkward to place a baby in a front-facing car set and interaction between driver and baby is easier. It’s also easier to reach or help a child who’s in a front-facing car seat. Also, some parents are overly concerned their child is uncomfortable in a rear-facing car seat. It might look like your child’s legs are squished or too close to the back seat for them to be comfortable, but the truth is, if they have been in a rear-facing car seat their whole lives, they probably will not notice the difference unless you move them to a front-facing car seat. Once you move them to a different position in the car, it is extremely difficult to go back, so remember not to move them until they are ready.
Once children reach the height or weight limit and shift to a forward-facing seat, they should use safety seats with harnesses for as long as possible, often up to 65 pounds, per the AAP. When children exceed height or weight limits for those seats, they should use a belt-positioning booster seat until the lap and shoulder belts fit properly, often when the child has reached 4 feet 9 inches in height. All children younger than 13 years should be in a vehicle's back seat.
Dr. Kara Carter is a board-certified pediatrician at Kelsey-Seybold’s Katy Clinic in Richmond, Texas. She’s a breastfeeding advocate and her clinical interests revolve around preventive care for her patients.