For so long parents had the 1 year and 20 pound "rule" ingrained in their minds when it comes to rear facing car seat use. However, did you know that in April 2011 the American Academy of Pediatrics changed their recommendations?! It is now advised that children ride rear facing until AT LEAST 2 years old or the maximum height and weight limit of their convertible car seat. And even still that 2 year mark is just a guideline and not a deadline for making the switch; my 3.5 year old son still rides rear facing as he falls within the limits of his convertible car seat. My 5.5 year old ASKS to ride rear facing on long trips so that his legs don't fall asleep (which, up until very recently he still was able to do so within the limits of his convertible car seat). Rear facing has and always will be the safest way to travel and thus in our family, we "Ride To The Max"!
So what does "ride to the max" mean anyways?
Often as parents we set standards for our children based on what others are doing - he rolled over at 3 months, sat up at 5 months, crawled at 8 months and took off running at 11! First words, first steps, first tooth, first grilled cheese sandwich... all memories for the baby book. And thus as a child passenger safety technician, I find that parents will follow a similar thought process when it comes to car seat transitions. Some eagerly await that 1st birthday in order to celebrate having just made it through a year of sleepless nights and new baby milestones, many think that turning a car seat forward facing is a milestone unto itself. When actually - it's not! Riding rear facing is proven to be 5 times safer than forward facing. The forces in a crash for a child who is rear facing are spread across their back as the seat cradles the neck and spinal cord. Once turned forward the head is thrown forward in a crash which will stretch the neck and spinal cord of those still developing little bitty bodies. I once met a family who had been in a car accident with 2 children, the child who was still rear facing slept through the whole thing!
What about his legs? I want to be able to see him! That can not be comfortable! Those are all rebuttals I hear from parents who are hoping to turn their child forward facing.
It IS comfortable. Children are far more flexible than we are. Take a look at your child as he sits on the floor playing, legs are crossed, often tucked behind him, crinkled up in some position that even the best yoga instructor could only dream about holding for a 30 second count. By default their limbs are more flexible and this is exactly the reason why they can sit comfortably rear facing, but also the reason that makes them more vulnerable when turned forward facing. Typically rear facing children will rest their feet up on the back of the vehicle seat, flop them to the sides of the car seat or just sit criss cross applesauce as they are so often told to do in school. They figure out what's comfortable for them. I surely have 2 very verbal children and neither has ever complained about discomfort when rear facing. In fact, it's just the opposite, my 5.5 year old complains about his dangling legs when he is riding forward facing. And if you are concerned about their legs - the legs are actually safer touching the back of the vehicle seat in a crash than being thrown forward forcibly against the front vehicle seat.
I can see him when he's forward facing. Sorry, to me this one is easy - you should be watching the road, not watching your child!
He is "happier" facing forward. Children who typically fuss buckled into their car seats do it regardless of the direction they are facing. Really doesn't have anything to do with looking forward, toddlers just don't want to be strapped down, so make the car a more exciting place. Remove the headrest of that vehicle seat so they can see out the back window or give them something to do in the car to keep busy - books or sock puppets are some of the favorites for my boys. Sing, count, play eye spy for road vehicles and even while rear facing you can have plenty of interaction with your child.
Child passenger safety professionals have advocated for many, many years the importance of rear facing, the AAP now does as well. As a parent we have lots of difficult choices we make for our child; there is one that is easy though -- rear facing your child AS LONG AS POSSIBLE. Extended rear facing versus forward facing, it's proven 5 TIMES SAFER, so that's why in our family we "RIDE TO THE MAX"!
Do you currently have a child older than 2 rear facing? Do you plan to keep your baby rear facing to the maximum height or weight limit of their seat? What questions do you have about extended rear facing?