This morning, Isla rode off to daycare for the first time with her car seat facing forward. We’ve been putting this off for as long as possible, because we know the safest way for babies and toddlers to travel is rear-facing. Isla has gone through a big growth spurt, though. She’s 36″ tall and the top of her head is now even with the top of her Evenflo Symphony LX. She exceeds the height requirements for her car seat, so at just shy of 2.5, we’ve had to turn her around.
There is often some confusion around the right time to switch a child to a forward-facing car seat: what’s the right age? What’s the right weight? What’s the right height? Below I’ll answer some frequently asked questions about when to switch to forward-facing.
What’s the right age to switch to a forward-facing car seat?
The American Association of Pediatricians recommends keeping children in rear-facing car seats until they are at least 2 years old, or as long as they do not exceed the rear-facing weight or height limit on their car seat. Prior to 2011, the recommendation was that you could switch after baby was 1 year, but they adjusted their recommendation to at least 2 years based on research that showed rear-facing was much safer for small children.
The longer you can keep your child rear-facing, the better.
What’s the rear-facing weight limit on my car seat?
This varies from car seat to car seat. Some infant carriers have a rear-facing weight limit of as little as 22 lbs. Most convertible seats have a rear-facing weight limit of 35-40 lbs. Check your manufacturer’s specifications for your specific car seat to figure out the exact weight limit for your car seat.
If your child outgrows their infant carrier with a low rear-facing weight limit before their 2nd birthday, you should move them into a convertible car seat that will allow your child to continue to be rear-facing until they are 2 years old.
What’s the rear-facing height-limit on my car seat?
This also varies from car seat to car seat. Infant carriers will have lower rear-facing height limits than convertible seats. Check the specs on your car seat to find out the exact height limit for your car seat. Please note there are often 2 separate height limits: 1) the actual height of your child, and 2) the distance between the top of your child’s head and the top of the car seat. Most car seat manufacturers say there should be at least 1″ between the top of your child’s head and the top of your child’s car seat to rear-face safely.
If your child outgrows their infant carrier with a low rear-facing height limit before their 2nd birthday, you should move them into a convertible car seat that will allow them to continue to be rear-facing until they are 2 years old.
If my child’s legs are scrunched up, should I switch to forward facing?
No. This position isn’t uncomfortable for most children, and there has been no record of children injuring their legs in an accident because of their car seat. Even if a child does sustain leg injuries in an accident, though, it’s better to injure the legs than the child’s head or spine. Traumatic brain and spinal injuries are much harder to recover from and are more likely to be fatal.
What if my child just doesn’t like being rear-facing?
If your child has only been rear-facing, they don’t have anything to compare their experience to. You don’t know that being forward-facing will be any more pleasant to your child. It could just be that they don’t like being in the car seat or in the car period. Even if you do know that your child would prefer being forward-facing, though, safety should win out over discomfort. I’m sure many kids would prefer not to be in a car seat or strapped in at all, but we know that isn’t safe or legal, so we keep our kids properly fastened in their car seat. Rear-facing is much, much safer for your child in the event of the accident, and that’s the thing to keep in mind.
Why is it so important for a child to be in a rear-facing car seat?
Rear-facing car seats protect a child’s neck and spine in the event of a car accident. Rear-facing seats prevent the vast majority of serious and fatal injuries small children could experience in an accident. This video explains why:
Here is actual crash test video so you can compare forward-facing and rear-facing car seats in action:
What are the best convertible car seats for extended rear-facing?
Below I’ve shared a list of convertible car seats that have a rear-facing weight limit of at least 40 lbs. Any seat that has a limit that exceeds 40 lbs, I’ve noted the weight limit. The great thing about convertible car seats is not only that you can keep your child rear-facing for longer than most infant carriers, but you can also easily flip the seat around when it’s time to change to forward-facing without spending any extra money or having to buy a new car seat.
- Britax Advocate G4 Convertible Car Seat
- Britax Marathon G4 Plus Convertible Car Seat
- Britax Pavilion G4 Convertible Car Seat
- Britax Roundabout G4 Convertible Car Seat
- Chicco NextFit Convertible Car Seat
- Cosco Apt Inner Circles
- Disney Convertible Car Seat Apt 40 – Mickey and Minnie
- Diono Radian R100 Car Seat
- Diono Radian R120 Convertible Car Seat (up to 45 lbs.)
- Diono Radian RXT Car Seat (up to 45 lbs.)
- Eddie Bauer XRS 65 Convertible Car Seat
- Evenflo ProComfort Symphony DLX Convertible Car Seat
- Evenflo ProComfort Triumph LX Convertible Car Seat
- Evenflo SureRide DLX 65 Convertible Carseat
- Evenflo Symphony DLX Convertible Car Seat
- Evenflo Symphony LX Convertible Car Seat
- Evenflo Tribute Convertible Car Seat
- Evenflo Tribute LX Convertible Car Seat
- Graco Head Wise 70 Car Seat with Safety Surround
- Graco Milestone All-in-1 Car Seat
- Graco My Ride 65 Convertible Carseat
- Graco My Ride 70 Convertible Car Seat
- Peg Perego Convertible Premium Infant to Toddler Car Seat (up to 45 lbs.)
- Peg Perego Primo Viaggio SIP 5/70 Convertible Carseat (up to 45 lbs.)
- Recaro ProRIDE Convertible Car Seat
- Safety 1st Advance 70 Air+ Convertible Carseat
- Safety 1st Chart 65 Convertible Car Seat
Can I use the LATCH system to install a forward-facing car seat?
Yes, you can still use LATCH. Read all about LATCH here.
Should forward-facing car seats recline?
No. Forward-facing car seats should sit upright.
How do I know my car seat is installed properly?
Follow the manufacturer’s instructions closely. Ensure you use either the seat belt or the LATCH system (unless the manufacturer specifies using both, you should only use one or the other) as directed in the instructions. If you use LATCH, make sure you have utilized the tether. To ensure the seat is installed tightly enough, grab the car seat at the base and wiggle back and forth. If it moves more than an inch in any direction, you need to install the car seat more tightly. When in doubt, have a professional check your installation.
Where should the harness and shoulder straps sit in relation to my child in a forward-facing car seat?
As with rear-facing car seats, you want the harness to sit at your child’s armpits in a forward-facing car seat.
Unlike with rear-facing car seats, though, you want the shoulder straps to come from at or above your child’s shoulders.
How tight should the shoulder straps be?
Just like with rear-facing car seats, the shoulder straps still need to be snug in a forward-facing car seat. If you can pinch any slack, the straps are too loose. Remember that bulky jackets or clothing will cause the straps not to be tight enough. Remove bulky clothing before putting your child in their car seat.
How long will my child be in a forward-facing car seat?
Ideally, children should remain in a forward-facing car seat until they are at least 4 years old, as long as they still safely fit into their forward-facing car seat. This means they should not exceed the weight limit of their car seat (double check the weight limit of the 5-point harness, because that may be separate from the weight limit for the car seat itself), their ears should be at or below the top of their car seat, and their shoulders should be at or below the highest level for the shoulder strap. If your child exceeds the weight and height limits for their forward-facing car seat, you will want to move them into a booster seat.
- Check the expiration date on your car seat, and do not use your car seat past its expiration date.
- Try to avoid getting the shoulder straps wet, because moisture will weaken the straps.
- If you are in a car accident, make sure insurance replaces your car seat.
I’m sure there’s more, but I’ll stop here.
Safe travels, everyone!