Sunday, August 26, 2012

The one with the car seat 101

As Charlotte nears two years old (side note - what the what?!), car seat questions seem to be popping up more and more.  We have made the decision to rear-face Charlotte as long as she fits in her seat which will likely be for a few more years yet.  Extended rear-facing isn't very common in our circle, it seems, so the fact that we didn't immediately turn her around when she turned one is puzzling.

There are few things that I am hardcore about when it comes to parenting.  I consider myself pretty easy-going, but car seat safety is the one thing that I think I'm "crazy" about.  If my daughter is in a vehicle, I am going to keep her as safe as I possibly can.  Every step up in a car seat is a step down in safety.  I am in no hurry to move her through the stages of car seats when all it does is make her less safe in the car.  So, with that, let's answer some commonly asked questions about our current car seat arrangements!

Why didn't you turn her around when she turned one?  It's the law!
The current law in Nova Scotia states that children must be one year old and 22lbs before they can be turned around forward-facing.  New legislation in January 2012 also recommends that children must be walking sturdily before being turned forward.  This law is the minimum safety standard.  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children rear-face until at least 2 years old and Child Safety Link here in NS recommends that toddlers remain rear-facing as long as possible according to the limits of your car seat.  So, yes, she is technically legally allowed to be turned forward-facing but it is not the safest option.  I'd be surprised if she has hit 25lbs at this point.  She's small.  Her car seat can rear-face up to 45lbs and will keep her harnessed until 65lbs, provided she does not outgrow the seat by height.  Many seats on the market now can easily rear-face children up to 4 years of age.

How is rear-facing safer?
Rear-facing for young children is safer because of the way the seat cradles them in the event of a crash.  I recently attended a car seat safety workshop where it was stated that the force felt from a crash at 50km/h is the same as being dropped out of a third story window.  As a family that is on the highway, driving 110km/h, VERY often, keeping Charlotte as safe as possible is priority.
When a child is rear-facing, their head and spine are cradled in the seat.  When a child is forward-facing, their body is harnessed tight but their head and spine are not protected.

The image above shows a forward-facing child and a rear-facing child at the same point of impact during a crash test.  Notice how the child forward-facing is thrown forward.  Now imagine the force of the crash on the child's spine.  Young children have large, heavy heads in relation to the rest of their bodies and their spines are not as developed as an adult's spine.  These factors combined with the force of a crash can SERIOUSLY injure or even kill a child even if they are strapped tightly into their seat.  Simply Googling "rear-facing vs forward-facing crash test" will bring up videos of crash tests where you can see the ways in which the seats restrain the child.  Rear-facing is the safer option.

But she's too tall!  Her legs are touching the back of the seat!
A child outgrows their rear-facing car seat when the top of their head is less than 1" away from the top of the shell of the car seat.  Legs have nothing to do with outgrowing a rear-facing seat.  A child's legs are allowed to touch the back of the seat.  Safety is not compromised in any way.  There are actually more reports of broken legs in forward-facing children as their legs are thrown forward in a crash and not cradled as they are in a rear-facing seat.
Most children do not sit with their legs straight out as adults do.  Watch a young child at play.  How are they sitting?  Most children sit with their legs tucked up.  The "lack" of leg room with a rear-facing seat is not an issue.  Most children will sit with their legs bent at the knee, cross-legged, stretch their legs up, or simply toss them over the sides of the seat.  Again, this is not a safety issue and does not compromise the safety of the child in the seat.  The purpose of keeping a child rear-facing is to protect the head and spine.  As one quite sombre catch-phrase goes: "broken leg, cast it - broken neck, casket".

Note how she bends up her knees.  This is a comfortable and natural position for her.  In fact, she often kicks the back seat with glee, exclaiming "kickin' seat!!" or she will push against the back of the seat to make her car seat "rock" (i.e. rebound - a totally normal and necessary feature of rear-facing) and she will laugh and laugh.  She enjoys the position and has never once complained.

Another thing to note about height is the height of the harness straps.  In a rear-facing seat, the harness straps should be AT or slightly BELOW the shoulders.  This keeps the straps nice and snug around the shoulders.  If the straps are above the shoulders, there is more room for the child to move up in the seat in the event of a crash and may be ejected from the seat.  A child has not outgrown a rear-facing seat if their shoulders are slightly above the harness slot.  This is correct usage of the seat.  The chest clip should be at nipple/armpit level to ensure that the straps stay put on the shoulders.  The chest clip is simply a place holder and will break in the event of a crash.  Keeping it at nipple/armpit level ensures that the straps stay in place and do their job.

But she can't see anything!  Wouldn't it be more enjoyable for her to see out the window?
She can see out the window.  She can see out the back window and both side windows and will often comment on the things she sees.  This is not an issue.  Besides, she doesn't know there's another option.  This is how she sits in the car and she doesn't know that she even has the option of facing forward.  What she does not know does not cause any problems!

Yeah, rear-facing is all well and good until you want to have someone sitting in the front seat!  Rear-facing takes up too much room!
Rear-facing infant seats (aka "bucket" seats) take up a ton of room, yes.  However, convertible car seats actually take up less room rear-facing than the buckets do!  In addition, as your child gets older, the seat no longer has to be at the 45 degree angle.  This angle for newborns is due to their inability to hold their heads well and sitting at a higher angle can cause their heads to flop forward and close their airway.
We currently have Charlotte at the 45 degree angle simply because that is what the manufacturer of her seat has recommended.  However, we have her in the middle and her seat does not touch either front seat.  I can push the passenger seat all the way back and recline it all the way down and it does not touch her car seat.

I hope this has answered any questions about our decision to rear-face Charlotte and about car seat use in general!  For more information about car seat safety and proper car seat usage, I highly recommend Child Safety Link and Atlantic Car Seat Safety.  There is a lot to know about proper car seat usage at all stages but once you know, it is information that can literally save your child's life.

Her seat was uninstalled due to switching it between cars and she LOVES sitting in it!  She asked to be buckled in, haha.  That is one happy little toddler in her car seat!


  1. Great post Lisa!
    Unfortunately V has become to tall and her head is too close to edge... yesterday was the first day she rode forward-facing. I was hoping to make it till at least 2...

  2. We still have Charlie rear-facing and plan on doing it until he's too big for it in his current seats. We cannot afford to go out and by new seats, so ones we have are going to do him for awhile. They have to. I'm hoping that even with his growing, he can stay rear-facing until he's 2, but if not, then we'll turn him around. I know most people turn their kids around somewhere near the 1 year mark, but you can rest assured you've got at least one friend who is at least trying to make it to the 2 year mark!

  3. (I'm not usually a huge creeper... after almost a year decided to check out whats going on in blog world) Great post! the hubs and I actually got into a lot of trouble because we spoke up about the gross mis-use of my nephew's carseat (was forward facing and barely clipped in at 9 mo.) I am with you on this one! When I grow up I want to be just like Lisa!

  4. I certainly hope this post didn't come off as judgmental! I tried to emphasize what WE do for OUR family and that isn't always what's best for other people and their families and situations.

    Kalynn, yikes. That's scary. Good for you for speaking up!!