How Long Should A Baby Be Rear Facing In A Car Seat?

Many parents of small babies are unsure about the position to keep their baby in the car seat.  Since babies usually hate to sit in the rear-facing position and cry more than when they are in the forward-facing position, parents give in more easily and switch the car seat to the forward-facing position.

The question then is, how long should a baby be rear facing? Although there is no rule of thumb, most parents should wait a bit longer before they actually switch their baby into a different position.

We are going to discuss the answer to this question in this article and give you some good reasons to wait longer than you like before you put your baby in the forward-facing position.

Why Are Car Seats Necessary?

When the automobile industry came into life, there were no seat belts in the vehicles, because people did not yet know about the importance of being able to stay safe in the event of a crash.

Back in those years, the cars could not go as fast as nowadays, but since they were so new on the market and had many faults, crashes were not uncommon.  It was even more common that curious youngsters took the cars and tested them.  That often turned curiosity into tragedy.

Click here to read the interesting story about driving in Detroit between 1900-1930.

When we think about children in cars, we know how children move around in vehicles when they are not in their car seats.  It was no different back in the 1920s.  Drivers were often distracted by children who were not sitting still in the back seat of the car.

So, people had to come up with ideas of how to keep children restrained.  That is how the first car seats were born.  However, the first models did not have safety features.  They were there to keep children in place by having them high enough so they could look out the window.  Safety was not yet seen as necessary.  Look at one of the first car seats.

How Long Should A Baby Be Rear Facing

However, fatalities were on the rise, since more and more people were on the roads and had access to vehicles.  Nevertheless, it was only until the mid-1970s that regulations were getting tougher on the car seat industry.  They now had to meet certain safety standards.

It was only until the 1990s that crash-testing and so many other things were a requirement for all car seat companies.  Ever since those days, car seats are more and more sophisticated.  Indicators show how fatalities have reduced drastically over the past 40 years, and that is because of strict regulations and laws.

Nonetheless, it is surprising that car crashes are still the leading cause of death in children.  However, in nearly half the cases is not because of car seats, it is because car seats are not correctly installed or babies are not properly seated in their car seat.

If parents would be aware of that and follow the instructions when using car seats, we would see even fewer fatalities.

Why Rear-Facing Anyway?

The question now arises why babies have to rear-face.  The answer is very simple.

When a baby is born, its head is proportionally larger than the body.  That makes the baby unstable because of its weight and this disproportion continues until a child is at least 4 years old.  The head houses the most important organ: The brain.  The brain is at its full capacity before the age of 6, which explains why the head is larger.

The baby’s spine, neck, and head are very delicate before they reach the age of 2 years because they are still developing.  In the forward-facing position, babies cannot hold their head enough in a crash, thus serious damage can be caused to the head and spine, and consequently, brain damage is unavoidable.

In a car crash, there are so many forces.  If your child’s car seat is properly installed, and the child safely strapped into it, you can rest assured that your child will pretty much be safe in any position.  However, the younger the child, the safer the rear-facing position.

Most impacts in car accidents are either side impacts or front impacts.  Now you might ask what happens in a rear-end impact.  Studies show that the energy is still absorbed in rear-facing car seats and that they perform well.  It is not so important from where the impact comes, the point is to have your baby securely fastened.

Here is a real-life story that will impact you because it shows the importance of having your baby rear-facing.

How Long Should My Baby Rear-Face?

As said, there is no rule of thumb when exactly your baby is ready to transition into a convertible front-facing car seat.

However, you should know that infant car seats are made for children between 5-40 pounds, and some up to 50 pounds.  Your child will weigh 40 pounds at or around the age of 4.

An infant car seat might not have enough room for your baby, although they are made for children up to 40 pounds.  You will want to consider a convertible car seat because they have more room.

Isn’t that too long to keep the baby rear-facing?  We recommend that you keep them rear-facing as long as you can.  Yes, we know that there is not much leg room as your baby grows, and your baby is more uncomfortable as she grows.  Because it is different for every child, we cannot give you an exact age when to switch, but not before 2 years of age.  You have to decide for yourself when your baby is old enough to change to the forward-facing position.

Take into account that car seat laws were updated recently and that some states already require babies to sit rear-facing until they are 24 months old.

We recommend that you keep your babies rear-facing as long as possible.  Don’t make the mistake we made.  We switched between the age of 1-1.5 to forward-facing.  We did not know about the benefits and laws.  Once you have them forward-facing, you will hardly move them back again because your child will like it even less after experiencing a different position.  So, better keep her rear-facing until she is at least 2 years old.

Because of limited legroom, many parents are worried about what happens to their child’s legs in the event of a crash.  Don’t they break?  And isn’t it better to forward-face your child once the legs are too long to fit nicely in the rear-facing position?

Researchers say that it is not common for legs to break even if there is reduced space.  If your car seat is properly installed, you should not worry if your child’s legs are leaning against the seat.  And if the force were to be hard enough to break the child’s legs, don’t you think that the same force would have the power to damage your baby’s spine and head in the forward-facing position.  Legs are just easier to mend than the brain, spine, and neck.  Therefore, we prefer to have a child with a broken leg than one with severe brain damage.

What If My Child Wants To Forward-Face?

Your child will be adamant about not being strapped into the car seat in the rear-facing position.  Our oldest son was never so upset to be restrained to a car seat as the second baby.  The second child would scream, and we mean scream, for 30-40 minutes before he gave in and slept (sometimes).  Those were terribly long trips, but he eventually learned to sit in the car seat.

However, there are a few things you can do to help your child to get used to the car seat faster. These have helped us over the years, some more than others and that depends on each child.

  1. Be consistent.  Don’t help her out of the seat one time, and let her sit on your lap, and the next time you expect her to sit in the car seat again.
  2. Choose traveling times.  Although you cannot always do something about this, when you plan longer road trips, make sure baby is either tired or well rested.  When she is well rested, she will keep herself busy playing in her car seat for some time.  When she is tired, she will soon doze off and let you ride peacefully.
  3. If you are traveling with another adult, consider sitting in the back with your baby.  That way you can play with her and things will go smoothly.
  4. Have special travel toys.  We did not let our oldest have his pacifier at home, except for 2 reasons: When sick or at bedtime.  However, we had the rule that he could have his pacifier as much as he wanted in the car seat.  Also, his favorite bedtime pal would go with him in the car seat.  We also liked to keep some special toys in the car that they liked very much.
  5. Music.  You have no idea what a difference music can make in the car.  It can be either toys that make music or children’s music in the car stereo.
  6. Make the baby comfortable.  Ensure she has a fresh diaper, that she is warm enough and that nothing is bothering her.  Colicky babies can be tough to keep in the car seat.  Make sure she feels well before restraining her the car seat.
  7. As soon as your baby grows, you need to tell and explain to her why you want to have her in the car seat.  Although it seems impossible to reason with your child, choose the correct moment when she is in good mood and tell her a little about car seat safety.  Children understand facts from a very young age.  If you give them only facts and not opinions about car seats, it will help them.

When Do I Need to Buy Another Car Seat?

Not until you are sure that your baby has outgrown the rear-facing car seat and is ready for a convertible car seat, you should consider buying another one.

As said, there is no specific rule when that should happen.  However, it is anywhere between the age of 2 and 4.  And you do well if you buy the new car seat in time so you have it ready when that time comes around.

Nevertheless, when you buy a new car seat, you will be tempted to install it in the forward-facing position before you have actually planned to do so.  So do not buy it months before you will actually use it.

You will be looking for either a convertible car seat or a high back booster seat.  At that age, your child is probably not yet ready for a backless booster.

As said before, it might be a good idea to buy a convertible car seat for the rear-facing position as your baby grows, because they do have more room.

Conclusion

Children have to rear-face in their car seats as long as possible because of the danger front-facing car seats pose to their tender spine, neck, and head.  In order to protect them as much as possible, you will want to have them in the rear-facing position.

Not long ago, a mom’s picture of her baby’s and toddler’s almost intact car seats in front of her completely crushed car go viral (see image).  She states that both her babies survived the crash with only minor injuries.

crashed car with two intact car seats

Although this story does not have anything to do with rear or front-facing car seats, it conveys the message that we as parents have to decide for our children where and in what position they sit when on the road.  Children should not have a word in it, either through screaming or crying.

It sounds as bad parenting, but WE are the ones responsible for our children’s safety.  Once they are old enough, they will have to decide what is best for them and what they want, but in the meantime, we have to be consistent and convey this message in a positive way.

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10 thoughts on “How Long Should A Baby Be Rear Facing In A Car Seat?

  1. Buck

    This was an extremely in-depth view of rear-facing car seats for babies, and I appreciate the information. I have a relative who is about to have her little one (2 months away actually!) and she still hasn’t purchased a seat. Do you have any recommendations of products that fit within the boundaries of your article and its recommendations? 

    Thanks again!

    Reply
    1. Oscar Post author

      Hi Buck,

      we are happy that you found this information helpful.  And congratulations on the arrival of the baby of your relative.  Indeed, there are great car seats that would fit her needs.  You can feel free to share the following article with your relatives.  Hope this helps,

      Oscar

      Best Infant Car Seats 2019

      Reply
  2. Lok Which

    I have always been bothered about how long should a baby be rear facing in the car but no answer to the question. But reading this article I have the answer. As long as I can. I’m so glad I came across this article because I do take anything that had to do with my safety or my baby’s safety seriously. This article is a must read for every parent do they won’t make the mistake that was outlined in this article. Thanks for sharing this information.

    Reply
  3. Louis

    It’s important to pay attention to safety precautions especially when travelling. I can imagine it must be annoying for a hold to face the rear while the car is driving, but since this if for their own good, I believe it’s good parenting. No one hopes to get involved in a crash, but in case of a crash, you want to be sure that you have taken the right safety precautions to protect your little ones. I think dialoguing with the child can work, especially when there are some rewards for the child’s cooperation. From the age of three four, children should be allowed to front face, as rear facing make become uncomfortable for their legs.

    Reply
    1. Oscar Post author

      Hi Louis,

      you are right.  Discussing with the child often helps.  However, that is only when they reach that age where they can understand what it is about.

      And parents should keep the baby rear-facing even though it does not want it.  It is for the safety of the child.

      Oscar

      Reply
  4. Vapz

    I totally agree with you that it comes off as bad parenting when we let our kids through crying or screaming have a say in their own safety at that young age but I must admit, fighting the temptation to just turn them around or have them on your lap is usually very strong. I remember slightly brushing another car because I was riding alone with him rear-facing in his car seat and he was screaming so much that I got distracted. I of course didn’t have the idea of baby music in the car stereo but I always had his favorite toy. And because I didn’t know how long a baby should be rear-facing in a car seat, we turned it around by the time he was 18months. Luckily, we never had a serious accident. 

    This is a valuable information, capable of saving babies lives, we parents just have to toughen when we  realize that it is for the safety of the kids and benefit of the parents. No one really wants to have their child dead. So, we just have do the right thing for us and them, always. 

    Reply
    1. Oscar Post author

      Totally agree with you.  Too soon we think they are big enough to sit forward-facing.  However, that is not the case.  We made the same mistake that you made.  At around 13 months we turned our second baby around, which we realize we should have not done.  We are also glad that we have did not have an accident.

      There is so much proof that it is too dangerous to have a child forward-facing at such a young age.

      We were not taught much regarding child safety because in our country it is not very important.  We hope that we can help parents realize the imporantance of it.

      Oscar

      Reply
  5. Fortune

    Thanks for sharing this article.  Larger numbers of  parents are not aware of this, only few know. Many accidents cases have been recorded and kids die in the process due to wrong sitting position. I will agree that parents are the one to have the final say on where the children sits in the car. This is to safeguard their lives. I will share this article with friends. Thanks  

    Reply
    1. Oscar Post author

      Yes, few parents are aware of the importance of car seat safety.  We are happy you found this helpful.  We are here to help parents become more aware of how important it is to use car seats.

      Oscar

      Reply

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