The Forward-Facing Car Seat Controversy Continued

forawrd facing car seat safety

photo by Sydneysmoma89

Nice and safe, and ready to ride

I recently did an interview with wells75904, a mom who put her children in forward-facing car seats before they were 1 year old and weighed 20 pounds, that sparked a firestorm of discussion.

Many of you said that CafeMom was wrong to run the interview in Daily Buzz because by discussing the issue, we were inherently promoting this behavior. I disagree and want to re-address the issue in hopes of opening up a supportive and beneficial discussion on this topic.

wells75904 is representative of many moms on (and off) CafeMom who face their children forward before car seat laws allow. Clearly, many of you wish she and others didn't turn their seats so early. These moms certainly want their kids to be safe. So as a community, we need to understand why they don't follow the rules and to help them by giving them practical advice that works in their daily lives.


To that end, I enlisted the help of carseatmama, mom of two and a certified passenger safety technician, and Laura Jana , M.D., a pediatrician, certified child passenger safety technician, and mother of three. They've come up with solutions to the common problems many moms have with keeping their kids rear facing.

Please read their suggestions, and add any advice and encouragement you have—you've very likely experienced these same issues and we'd love to hear how you dealt with them.

The Rationale I can't see my baby when he's sitting rear facing and this makes me nervous. I want to see his face so I know that he's okay.

The Solution  "We recommend that someone sit in the back seat with the child until about two weeks of age," says carseatmama. "It is the best practice not to use a mirror, which is usually mounted on the vehicle seat in front of the baby. A rear facing seat will flop up and cocoon the baby against the vehicle seat in a crash, potentially causing the child's head or face to crash into the mirror. Or the mirror could break creating sharp projectiles.

However, the benefits of keeping your child rear facing outweigh the risk of using a mirror. It is a parental decision. If you feel you must use a mirror to continue to rear face your child, buy one that firmly anchors to the top tether anchor in your car (look in your car manual to find this) and make sure it is completely secure. Also consider mounting it off to one side of your child rather than directly in front of them, and angling it so you can still see them. Try to keep the vehicle seat back directly in front of them completely clear."

The Rationale My baby gets car sick when he is rear facing.

The Solution "Some babies truly have a medical condition that precludes them from riding rear facing for an extended period," acknowledges carseatmama. "But this is exceedingly rare. If your child seems to get sick in the car, visit your child's doctor to see if there is a medication you can give them before car rides. Another solution is to buy a rear facing convertible seat that sits taller in the car, thereby allowing the child to see out the windows. Motion sickness often happens because a person is not looking out the window."

The Rationale My baby's feet are touching the backseat so he's clearly outgrown the car seat and he'd be safer facing forward.

The Solution "This is a very common concern, and one that a little extra information can help put to rest," says Dr. Jana. "Child car seat manufacturers clearly list the upper height and weight limits above which children can no longer safely use any given car seat, and these limits are what you should use to determine when it's time to turn your child face forward. In the case of infant (rear-facing) only seats, the height and weight limits tend to be lower than those of convertible seats which are designed for use both in the rear facing and then in the forward-facing position as a child gets bigger.

While a child sitting with flexed legs seems to be a common concern amongst parents, this seating position rarely seems to bother children. And what's most important to remember is that the rear-facing position better distributes the force of a crash and provides children much better head, neck, and body protection than forward facing."

The Rationale No one can fit in the front passenger seat when the car seat is rear facing. We've got three kids in the back seat and need room for two adults in front. We can't afford a new car or a new car seat.

The Solution "Unless you have an extremely small coupe, a properly installed rear facing seat should fit no problem," says carseatmama. "Three seats will not fit in a car smaller than a sedan, so that shouldn't be an issue. In fact three seats usually don't safely fit in a sedan, so the first step would be to see a certified tech to make sure you can actually install three seats safely in whatever vehicle you have—sometimes a different car is the only option. We usually recommend putting the rear-facing seat in the middle (between the two front passenger seats) or behind the passenger so as not to impede the driver.  Three seats across usually works best with a rear facing seat between two forward facing seats. This allows you to puzzle the seats together (the edge of the rear facing seat usually fits under the edge of the forward-facing seats, or vice versa).

Install the rear facing seat first in the center. If baby is 8-9 months or older, the seat no longer needs to be at a 45 degree recline—you can install the seat at a 30 degree recline, providing more room in the front seat. You can also brace the car seat against the front vehicle seats by moving the front seats back against the top of the car seat once it's properly installed. The only exception to this rule is Evenflo seats. Evenflo requires at least 1" of space between the top of the rear facing car seat and the vehicle seat in front of it. So if you have a small car, avoid Evenflo seats. Bracing allows you to move the front seats back a bit more."

The Rationale  I've tried to put the car seat in rear facing and it's a real struggle. I can't get it in there. But I can put it in forward facing no problem.

The Solution  "There are several simple steps to take to ensure proper installation and use," says Dr. Jana. "First, read your car seat and vehicle manual. Second, see if your car seat manufacturer has a Web site with additional installation information (Britax has demos to help you install your car seat yourself). Next, have a certified CPS technician check your child's seat to make sure it's correctly installed. By visiting the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Web site and entering your zip code, you can get a list of child safety seat inspection stations and trained technicians in your area.

The Rationale The only way my child's car seat becomes an issue is if I get into an accident. I'm a really careful driver so I know I won't get in one.

The Solution "While you may be a careful driver, there are lots of other drivers on the road at any given time—drunk drivers, distracted drivers, young drivers, elderly drivers, drivers on cell phones, drivers who are texting, drivers who dropped something, drivers with screaming kids, drivers who are late ... the list goes on and on," says carseatmama. "There may also be road conditions out of your control. A child may only need their car seat once in their entire life, but during that one use they need it work 100 percent so you need to make sure it's installed and used properly on every ride.

"There is no vacation from safety. Car crashes are the number one killer of children age 1-14 (the number two killer of kids under 1 year). This is the biggest existing threat to your child's life. We take the time to childproof our homes, put baby on their back to sleep, and provide constant supervision to prevent accidents at home. Death from any of these other threats is much less likely than being in a car crash. So we should pay the same level of attention to our car seats. I certainly don't ever plan to be in a crash, but I know that if I am I have done everything possible to keep my kids safe."

The Rationale I never sat in a car seat when I was growing up and I was just fine.

The Solution  "This is not the first time I have heard this line of reasoning, and I like to start out addressing it by reminding everyone that it wasn’t that long ago that people grew up without penicillin, too," says Dr. Jana. "People also died from what we now consider to be easily treatable infections. All you have to do is refer back to the sobering statistics to understand the risks associated with not using a car seat. Really, it’s a matter of realizing that we are incredibly fortunate to have the benefit of new and constantly improving knowledge, technology and products that allow us to live longer, healthier and safer lives. Car seats, which were introduced in the late 1960s, are a prime example. We know they save lives."

What were your biggest issues with your car seat? How did you resolve them?

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