When to turn the carseat forward-facing

Archived Responses: 

May 2002

Hi, I have yet another question about when to turn a carseat forward? We have the Britax advantage, our 7 mo. old son is 21 lbs. When it is in its rear facing position, I have two problems: 1) he seems to be tipping forwards (towards the rear of the car) so when he falls asleep his head is ALWAYS slumped forward and 2) In our new car, I can't really see out the passenger side rear window b/c the car seat is too tall and blocks my view of the blind spot. I find that very disturbing, and am really reluctant to change lanes ever. The archives on the parents network seemed to give conflicting information about when to to turn it forward -- 20 lbs and 1 year, 20 lbs or 1 year? I realise that optimally I would wait as long as I could to turn it around, but does anyone know the reason for the ''1 year'' recommendation if I want to do it now? Am I risking serious injury if I turn it around at 7 months, and is this risk greater than my blocked view of the blind spot? I have a call into the NC-5 (from the website) but any advice & reassurance would also be appreciated! Thanks! Shahana

From what I recall from my research (we had a similar issue), it's pretty clearly 20 lbs and 1 year -- the reason is that their neck muscles aren't strong enough until 1 year (whatever the weight) to withstand the stresses of a forward-facing accident. It's a very important rule. As for the blind spot: is the car seat in the middle of the seat? That's the safest anyhow. --Chris
The conflicting messages on the website are because the laws have changed. Currently, it's twenty pounds AND one year. The reason is because, no matter what size the baby, the neck muscles are insufficiently developed to handle the impact of a car crash while forward facing.

(In fact, I know of some car seat safety places that recommend keeping your child rear-facing for as long as possible because of the lesser impact in the event of a crash. I think this recommendation needs to be balanced with the potential driving hazard of a screaming baby who hates facing backwards, though!) -- Ilana

My understanding of the law is that the car seat must face backwards until the child is both 20 lbs AND one year. The reason for this is that until they are one year old, children's necks aren't strong enough to handle a collision. (After suffering from whiplash from an accident in which my infant was also in the car, I can tell you that it is a very good law. She was fine because she was rear facing, while I had long-lasting pain.)

If you want more information, or to have your car seat checked (most car seats are installed incorrectly, which could be why your child slumps), many police departments have programs to check car seats. Berkely's phone number is: 510-981-5980, and they can tell you when they next have an event to check seats. Melissa T

here are some websites to check out on reasons to keep him rearward facing as long as possible. Also the American academy of Pediatrics now says you should keep them rearward facing for at least 20 pounds AND 1 year longer if possible. Are you using the tether?? If not maybe you are not getting enough of a recline. You can call you local police and see if they have a carseat tech to check your seat. I know Pinole Fire Dept has 2 car seat techs that could check it for you. If you want any non-tech help with your seat from a car seat finatick I would be glad to help you. The first website below has photos at the bottom of what happens in a crash if the child is rearward vrs. foreward facing.

http://thematlocks.com/jennifer/CPSafety/ExtendedRF.htm http://boards2.parentsplace.com/messages/get/ppcarseats340/4/5.html Good luck Melinda

Hi: We had a simular issue when our son was 10 mos. old. I called the highway patrol to get the final word and I was told the law is 1 year and 20 lbs. We turned him around at 11.5 months. adina
Hi, I have read and been told by my child's Dr. that the carseat must be rear-facing until the baby is 12 months AND 20 pounds. Apparently the American Academy of Pediatrics is recommending that you keep the child rear facing as long as possible, up to the car seat's rear-facing weight limit. The reason for the 12 months is that the structures in the baby's neck are not strong enough to support the head without major injury in a crash. A baby's head is a huge percentage of it's overall body weight.

A rear-facing car seat is usually in a reclined position (if installed properly, which leads me to your second point about his head falling forward), so the head is less likely to come forward with as much force as if the child were sitting more-or-less straight up and forward. To make sure that the seat is properly installed, you can take the car with the carseat to a dealership (what kind of car do you have?) and they will check it. Your child's head shouldn't be falling so far forward... check the owner's manual..

As for the blind spot issue, could you adjust the side view mirror 0r add a magnifying mirror to it to see the lane beside you? Also, they make little mirrors that install to the back of your car's back seat to see the baby's face in your rear view mirror (make sense?) I think Safety First makes these.

Hope this helps! Laura

I also have a Britax car seat. You should definitely NOT turn your son around to face forward until he is both over 20 lbs. AND one year old (their necks aren't strong enough before a year if there were an accident and they were thrown forward). If his head is falling forward when he sleeps in the current position, it might be that the angle of the carseat is wrong. You could see if Rockridge Kids would check out the placement of your seat or call the Berkeley Police Department (non-emergency number, of course!) and ask for an appt. for someone to check the positioning of your carseat. They are trained to do this! Finally, while the safest place for your carseat is in the middle of the back seat, if you can't see out the rear window you could put the seat on the side. - A Fellow Britax Fan
Our daughter hit 20 lbs long before her first birthday. Our pediatrician was adamant that we wait until she turned one to turn the seat around. We discussed it several times, but did as the pediatrician suggested. Anonymous
Please don't turn your baby around at 7 months!! The reason infants are not allowed to forward face in carseats until the age of 1 (or older IMHO - I had very petite babies) is because their heads and necks are not stable enough to withstand the forward jerking (like shaken baby syndrome) that occurs when the car seat is turned around to face forward. May I sugguest you look into finding a way to anchor the back of the seat while it is rear facing so that your precious cargo remains safe (maybe your car dealer can help you). A concerned Mommy of 2
The recommendation for forward-facing car seats is one year AND 20 lbs. The reason for this is that the neck muscles of an infant less than one year are relatively weak, and there is more risk to the forward-facing infant in the event of an accident. You may want to consider looking at other car seats that can hold infants up to 30-35# rear-facing to see if another brand fits your car and baby better (see previous posts in the archives for info re: other brands for big babies). margery
SafetyBeltSafe USA says, ``In a crash, an infant's spinal cord may stretch if he is riding facing forward -- and the baby could die or be paralyzed for life. This is true even for babies who have strong neck muscles and good head control.

Why is facing rearward so important? Babies have heavy heads and fragile necks. The neck bones are soft, and the ligaments are stretchy. If the baby is facing forward in a frontal crash -- which is the most common and most severe type -- the body is held back by the straps, but the head is not. The head is thrust forward, wrenching the neck. Older children and adults wearing safety belts may end up with temporary neck injuries. But a baby's neck bones actually separate during a crash, and the spinal cord can rip. It's like yanking an electrical plug out of a socket by the cord and breaking the wires.

In contrast, when a baby rides facing backwards, the whole body -- head, neck, and torso -- is cradled by the back of the safety seat in a frontal crash. Facing rearward also protects the baby better in other types of crashes, particularly side impacts.

There are several convertible safety seats which can be used facing the rear up to 30 pounds, so there is no reason to turn your baby forward before age one and risk spinal injury.''

SafetyBeltSafeUSA Website: http://www.carseat.org

If you want more detailed and graphic information (``According to documented research, autopsy specimens of infant spines and ligaments allow for spinal column elongation of up to two inches, but the spinal cord ruptures if stretched more than 1/4 inch.'') you can read the article ``Rear-facing vs. Forward-facing'' on their website: http://www.carseat.org/Technical/tech_update.htm#rearfacFF

Also, thoroughly read your carseat's manual. Most infants' heads slump forward when they fall asleep in their carseat, but if you have a very slanted back seat your carseat may not be at the right angle. You may need to put some tightly rolled towels under the front of the carseat to get the correct angle. This may lower the back of the seat enough that you can see out the window.

Good luck, susan

I read more on SafetyBeltSafeUSA (a great website with extremely detailed info on carseat installation, use, research) and discovered that it is not good for babies' heads to slump forward while they are sleeping. THey have an index of carseat terms and issues where you can find the article on ``Angle of recline, rear-facing'' http://www.carseat.org/Technical/tech_update.htm#harnesstype

Here is an excerpt, but you may want to read the whole article on the proper angle of recline for a rear-facing seat:

For protection and comfort of a newborn or very young infant, the rear-facing restraint should be reclined so that the angle of the back surface is just enough to allow the baby's head to lie back comfortably but not more than 450 from vertical. Beyond this angle, the force to restrain the child starts to be exceeded by the force to project the baby toward the front of the vehicle. As the child grows, becomes heavier to restrain, and can hold his head erect, the angle should be decreased, making the restraint more upright, to provide better crash protection. An angle greater than 300 from vertical is needed for comfort of a newborn or a resting child to keep her head from flopping over and potentially pinching off the airway. Ensuring that the head is in contact with the CR back is also best for crash protection.

Safe driving, susan

The forward facing rule is 20 lbs AND one year (not or). The reason for the rule is that kids under one year may not have strongly-developed enough neck muscles to deal with the whiplash that results from the type of accident that tends to be most severe (head-on type collisions; these accidents usually involve the most force). Thus, serious spinal injuries can result in kids under 1 year. Even over 1 year, rear-facing is still preferable. There is a way you can make the seat more comfortable for your child, and a little less in your way: change the tilt of the seat by tucking a tightly rolled towel under the base of the Britax seat next to the back of the seat of the car. This will make the seat recline a little more, so that your child leans back a bit. In addition, it makes the seat appear shorter. Karen
The forward facing car seat issue is confusing, but please do NOT turn your baby around now because you can't see him or he looks uncomfortable. The current mandates state that a baby needs to be 20 pounds AND 12 months old before turning the car seat forward. Even if your baby is 20 pounds at 7 months, it's his neck muscles that are immature, and you need to protect that by leaving him rear-facing as long as possible.

You can get a mirror for the back seat so you can keep an eye on your baby. I'd suggest looking at the manual again to make sure your carseat is installed correctly, or go to a fire station that can help you with the installation. Some cars and car seat models just don't work well with a rear-facing convertible seat, so you may need to get a different seat until your son reaches the one year and 20 pound minimum. You also might want to contact Britax or your car manufacturer for more information on making your baby comfortable.

I used to work at BabyCenter.com and I think this article is very good and straightorward: http://www.babycenter.com/refcap/baby/babygear/430.html . You can also look at parent comments about this particular car seat by clicking here: http://store.babycenter.com/comments/gear/car_seats/infant_and_toddler/2057

hello, In response to your wondering about facing the car seat forward. I have a very big 7 month old as well. He weighs 21lbs. and is about 27 inches tall. My carseat manual says that the child should remain rear-facing until 20lbs. or 29 inches tall then the seat can face forward. I have since then put the seat forward facing just because the seat also seemed alot more secure while facing forward instead of backwards. I know that he still is a little short but he fits in the seat fine and is comfortable. My son is big as my friends son who is over one year old. I think the size of the child is the deciding factor when you decide to face them forward. I hope this helps!
The new reccomendation is to keep your kids rear-facing, in the middle of the backseat until 30lbs. That is the safest position. I have been to the carseat check twice (once for the infant seat, and once for the Britax) and this is what they told me (the police) both times. When I asked them why my pediatrician said 20 lbs or l year, they told me that they are in the process of educating them.

I didn't like the head-drooping thing, either, and the policewoman at the check showed me how to adjust the seat so that it was tilted back the maximum it could go. (I think it was 45 degrees, but check with them) and now my daughter's head doesn't droop when she sleeps.

They have the carseat checks about every two months or so in the Kittredge Parking lot. I highly, highly reccomend them. There is just so much conflicting info out there. When I asked the cops why, and who should I listen to, they told me that they are the ones who see what happens when the seats aren't installed/used correctly. That was enough for me.

Shahana, I have an answer to 1/2 of your question. My 6th month old son outgrew his infant car seat and I was about to move him to the Britax Freeway Plus which is forward facing only. He met the height and weight requirements, but not the 1 year forward facing only requirement. We went to Rockrdige Kids and this is the advice they gave us when we asked if we had to buy a new seat. If you are in an accident and the baby is rear facing, the baby's weight and spine are pushed in to the car seat, which is made of a cushioned material in the event of an accident. If forward facing and under 1 year, the only thing that stops the baby's head from being whipped forward is their spine, which is not strong and could paralize the child. With that said we bought the Roundabout. Good luck. Jennifer
Please look at this link for answers to your questions about age of child, etc. They have excellent resources for making sure your child is as safe as possible http://boards2.parentsplace.com/messages/get/ppcarseats416.html

Its important to keep the child rear-facing until one -- Since you have bought the highest rated carseat available, I wouldn't even consider not following the manufacturers specifications. As far as the blindspot -- I've found that placing the rear-facing carseat behind the driver's seat is much better for visibility (no eyes in the back of my head anyway). For me it is safer anyway, because my older kids enter the car from the sidewalk, while I put the baby in the seat. It also means I actually have to STOP the car to tend the baby, instead of pretending to drive with one hand while rooting around with the other...The world is safer that way! Good luck. Heather

The carseat law states that the child must be rear-facing until 20 pounds *and* one year old. I don't know about the Advantage, but the Britax Roundabout has a function that allows the seat to be reclined for more comfortable sleeping. I found that a good way to make it recline a bit more is by putting a rolled towel under the front end. I was still able to install the seat very securely. I had the CHP install my infant carseat (which was quite difficult to properly install) and I found them to be very helpful and knowledgeable. If it isn't already, try installing your carseat in the middle of the backseat (safest place for the carseat). This and/or the rolled towel might solve the problem of your blocked view. Amanda P.
It is my understanding that the reason for facing backwards in the car prior to age one is because the baby has so little strength in the muscles of the neck and spine. Once they begin walking, these muscles are stengthened and help the baby in a whiplash situation. (In situations that would cause whiplash to the neck of an adult, babies get whiplash of the neck AND spine.) I've also read that it is wise to keep them rear-facing as long as their legs are not getting pushed into them - even if this means keeping them that way long after their first birthday. It seems to make sense, because if you were to be in an accident, the seat absorbs their body rather than their body being flung in a forward motion. May I suggest that you place the car seat in the center of the back seat to avoid the blind spot issue you are experiencing? Good luck, a mom
I'm sure many others will respond, but for what it's worth, my understanding is that the rule is 20 pounds AND one year old. I believe the idea is to make sure that the baby's back, etc. is strong enough, part of which comes with age and part comes with size. I think that is the whole idea behind the convertible car seats -- it gives you more flexibility than an infant car seat which a baby would outgrow at 20 pounds even if he was under a year and not ready to face forward. You should probably consult your pediatrician about the risk of turning it forward now. He or she can probably give you better advice based on his or her knowledge of your baby. On another note, is there any other place you can put the car seat in the back seat so it doesn't cause a blind spot? Stephanie
Car seats must face backward until the child is one-year-old AND 20 pounds. This is because their necks aren't strong enough to sustain an accident facing forward \x97 their necks could break. Regarding your view, try moving the seat to another position in the car. Or, you might try getting a small round wide-angle mirror that adheres to your side mirrors. You can buy them inexpensively from an auto parts store like Pep Boys. Helena
I think a big reason for the rear-facing until 12 months rule has to do with the development of muscles (maybe even strength of tendons?), so even a hefty 7-month old needs to be facing the rear. If you are really tempted to have him face forward, maybe you should talk to your pediatrician (who could explain the reasons not to do so).

I have a Britax too (different model though), and found that we needed to recline it in the rear-facing position in order to avoid the head hanging forward problem. If your model is non-reclining, you might try putting a rolled or folded towel under the part of the carseat that is closest to the rear of your car, and/or maybe tighten the tether if you are able to attach that to something forward of the carseat (e.g. where the front passenger seat is bolted into the car). You really should be able to have your baby at a position where his head doesn't flop forward, and this might make the carseat less tall too. If you still can't see over the seat, maybe you could try sitting on something to make you higher? We got help in all this when the city of Berkeley sponsored a carseat safety checkup. You could try calling your city's police or public health department to find out if they can help you with your carseat installation, or just help you assess your driving safety if you're having trouble seeing. Lisa

http://www.parentsplace.com/babies/safety/articles/0,10335,240282_263876,00. html

The rule is rear-facing until *at least* one year old AND *at least* 20 pounds. The reasoning is that the muscles of the neck aren't strong enough in an accident until your child is a year old. There is a further physical explanation, but it is stomach-wrenching; write me privately if you want the full story.

If you have trouble seeing out that side window, consider getting a right-rear-view mirror. I've found mine priceless. (If you have one, try to see if you've been using it. Sometimes it's easy to ignore.) Good luck. And congrats on your Britax--they are *great* seats. Jennie

When my son reached 20 pounds (at about 9 mo) I asked the pediatrician if the carseat recommendation was more about weight or developmental. She said that it was developmental and that it was better to leave the carseat rear-facing until a year to give their bones longer to develop. Joelle
If you have trouble getting your carseat to recline at the proper angle, a foam pool noodle works at least as well as a rolled-up towel. They're easy to cut to size and will set you back about $2. Jennifer