Kendall is 20 months old and, by my best guesses, at least 31 pounds. That’s 8 months and 11 pounds over the MINIMUM requirements for turning his car seat around to face the front. So why, you may wonder (as many do), do we still have him rear facing?
Well, being a digital mom, I find that I come across all the latest studies, newest concerns, and recall notices pretty quickly and easily. It’s almost like they find their way to me, my inbox, the message boards I frequent, my newsfeed, my Twitter stream. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by all the things I’m supposed to be protecting my child from. It’s also easy to get caught up in a bit of the online hysteria that seems to evolve around these announcements (Hello, Maclaren recall of ’09. Is it bad I still haven’t sent in for that piece yet? All fingers are still safely attached to every one’s hands. I promise it’s on my list of things to do.).
Knowing that, I do try to take a step back, take a deep breath, and do a little bit of research before, for example, rushing out to get the H1N1 vaccine. I also talk to my pediatrician and ask for her advice since, you know, she’s a real doctor, not a Google one. So imagine my confusion when I read about the safety benefits of keeping your child rear facing as long as possible (meaning up until they reach the MAXIMUM height and weight requirements for rear facing in their model of car seat), but didn’t hear the same bit of advice from my own pediatrician. To her credit, when I brought it up last year, she said it was my choice. That I could switch him now, or I could choose to wait. She seemed to not be passionate (or maybe even informed?) about the subject.
So I went back to the computer and looked at websites like the American Academy of Pediatrics, which states in an article released in April 2009:
New research indicates that toddlers are more than five times safer riding rear-facing in a car safety seat up to their second birthday…Toddlers should remain rear-facing in a convertible car seat until they have reached the maximum height and weight recommended for the model, or at least the age of 2.
Then I watched this crash test video and others:
By the time Kendall turned a year old, I told myself we were going to keep him rear facing as long as we could. As long as it worked for us.
As the months have passed by, I’ve been questioned by friends and family members.
“You know he’s old enough to face forward, right?”
“When are you going to make the big turnaround?”
And my answer has always been, “We’ll do it eventually. No big hurry.” Occasionally I’ll say something like, “Research shows it’s actually safer to keep them rear facing as long as possible,” but then I get looks like I’m some sort of hyper parent, one step shy of wrapping him in bubble wrap, putting too much credit in that crazy internet paranoia.
I also get a lot of, “He’s going to like the car so much better when he faces forward!”
Kendall has hated the car since day one. His colic was never cured by a drive in the car, unless it was a drive down a rocky dirt country road. To this day, he makes car rides miserable. I know my attention to driving suffers because of it. It’s become even worse as of late. Maybe it’s because of all the time we spent on the road over the holidays, or maybe it’s because he’s so attached to me that he can’t bear to be separated from me, even in the car. Whatever the reason, it’s dreadful most of the time we are driving somewhere together.
Also, as I mentioned, the boy is huge. It’s pretty difficult and painful to lift a 31 lb kid in and out of the middle seat when I have to fight to get him restrained, especially when he can lock his legs against the seat in front of him. It’s killing my back and my wrists. After a particularly nails-on-chalkboard-esque car ride two weekends ago, we made the decision to turn his carseat around, hoping that this was the change he needed to finally be happy in the car. I figured since he could now see me in the car he’d quit screaming for me.
The 4 hour drive to Austin last weekend started well. He seemed pretty happy with his new orientation, taking in the sights from the front window. It certainly was much easier to hand him things to keep him happy. Conversely, it was also much easier for him to chuck his Snack Trap at me when he discovered there were Goldfish in it and not sections of a clementine.
We left when we did that day in the hopes that his 2.5 hour nap would take up a good chunk of the drive. He napped for no more than 40 minutes, total. I think it was the combination of the stimulating new view, his legs dangling off the front of the seat, and the fact that he wasn’t as reclined as he used to be. His head kept bobbing to the front, waking him up. The drive home later that night (much later) was even worse. He was so tired, but it was obvious he couldn’t get comfortable. Plus, throughout both legs of the trip he screamed at me even more. Apparently now being able to see me meant he had even more motivation to screech until he got my attention (thank God Scott was driving).
That did it. When we got home I told Scott that if I had to listen to his screams regardless, I was at least going to do so knowing he was seated in the safest position possible. The car seat is turned back around, and will stay that way until he reaches 35 lbs (the maximum weight for rear facing in a Britax Marathon) or an inch from the top of the seat (based on this tutorial for measuring that).
Of course, I’m still faced with the giant pain in the ass that is getting him in and out of the seat, but I think that would be alleviated if his seat moved to the side of the car. However, I worry about side impacts. I didn’t know what outweighed the other in terms of risk. Was forward facing in the middle safer than rear facing on the side? And what about airbags? Is it good to have them? Should they be turned off?
I asked Christie Lasch, a friend and certified Child Passenger Safety technician through Safekids.org and this is what she said:
You can move him to the side. Side curtain airbags are safe to use with car seats in most cars. Double check in your vehicle’s manual, but it should be safe…otherwise people would never be able to have more than one child in a car seat at a time! The side curtain airbags fill much more slowly than the frontal airbags, so they aren’t as forceful, and they’re more meant to block a lot of the glass and debris than to actually absorb shock, or that’s my understanding at least.
The most common type of crash is a frontal crash, the least common is a rollover accident, but side impact is third at only approximately 11% of crashes. Frontal crashes make up 44% and rear 31%. So, while in a side impact collision, the middle would be safest, the likelihood of you being in a side impact collision is much lower than that of a rear or frontal crash. However, in a side impact collision, a forward facing child is 4 times more likely to be injured than that of a rear facing child, according to the study cited in this article: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/9916868/
We have yet to move the seats to the side, and may hold out a bit longer, but that does ease my concerns a bit, especially when it comes to eventually having more than one kid seated back there.
I know this information, this recommendation, is not mainstream. It’s not something my pediatrician, like many others, would have ever even suggested had I not brought it up myself. It’s obvious by the many comments I get that the vast majority of people are unaware of the safety benefits of keeping your child rear facing as long as possible, so this post is sort of my contribution to fighting the mainstream and passing on the links and information I found helpful in making this decision.
Please know that I’m not meaning to say that parents who don’t choose to keep their children rear facing are un-safe. I just think many people, who aren’t as connected to the internet community as I am, are simply not aware of the information out there and don’t get the opportunity to make an informed decision.
Here are some more links for your reference:
This is a pretty powerful YouTube video about an 18 month old who was injured in a forward facing car seat during an accident:
Please feel free to post any other links you found to help you in your decision to keep your child rear facing or to turn them around in the comments below.
Kendall is 20 and a half months old and 4 pounds shy of reaching his car seat’s maximum weight for rear facing. I’m looking into other car seats that may allow him to stay rear facing longer.
Edited to add the following about the concern of a child’s legs being too long:
I understand some people think children will become uncomfortable as their legs start to get longer. It was a concern my husband had, too. Personally, I actually like to ride with my legs propped up on the dashboard in a similar position (obviously when I’m a passenger). That’s the way I sleep on our long car rides. I’m not concerned. Kids are also incredibly flexible, and more importantly, adaptable. What may *look* uncomfortable to us probably doesn’t even cross their mind.
As for the concern of legs being broken in the case of an accident, there have been no documented cases of this, according to CPSafety.com, and I’d rather worry about a broken leg than a broken neck.
This is another wonderful video that shows several pictures of larger, longer children rear facing. As you’ll see, they don’t look to be screaming from discomfort.
This is an online gallery with even more pictures of older kids rear facing. It can be done!