Guest Post by Evelyn Pederson of NaturalGentleParenting.com
As you know, The Other Baby Book focuses on the first twelve months of a baby’s life. But since most parents use a convertible car seat at some point during baby’s first year, it’s valuable to project forward as parent to a toddler, and to share the benefits of keeping your child rear facing as long as possible.
The first child restraint for a moving vehicle was in 1898 – a bag with a drawstring, designed to fasten to a seat. These restraints changed in form and function, and took almost a century to be mandated by law. Now, it’s illegal for your child to roam about the car freely, but as recently as 1984, only half of children from birth through age four were in restraint seats! Once car seats became the norm, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommended that children should be turned forward once they were at least 20lbs and 12 months of age.
But in March 2011, the AAP issued a new recommendation, based on solid science: we should keep our children rear facing until they outgrow the weight limits of their convertible car seats, which is usually between 30-40lbs. As research continues to prove the benefits of rear-facing, more and more manufacturers are designing seats that can keep a child rear facing up to 55lbs.
Here are some things to keep in mind when deciding how to position your child:
- Rear facing is actually safest for all car passengers, but especially for infants. Tiny babies don’t have much strength in their necks, which puts them at a much greater risk of injuring their spinal cord if they are facing forward during a frontal car crash.
- In a rear facing car seat, the effects of the crash are spread over the larger area of the child’s back, neck and head, reducing the stress placed on the child’s head and neck.
- When rear facing during a frontal impact, your child’s neck won’t be snapped forward, greatly reducing the risks of internal decapitation which, in most cases, is fatal.
- Though rear-facing may not be as effective in a rear crash, the probability of a rear crash is far less — 72% of crashes are frontal impact and 24% are side impact. Rear crashes generally happen at lower speeds, translating into a lower chance of injury.
Many parents wonder about their child’s legs. Just because your growing babe has to bend or cross his legs doesn’t mean he’s at risk. There are no rear facing crashes on record where a child’s legs have broken. However, there are many recorded cases where a head/neck injury could have been prevented due to a child facing forward too soon. Even if his legs were at risk, most of us would choose a broken leg or two over a fatal spinal cord injury any day.