Randi - posted on 08/25/2009 ( 2 moms have responded )
Why is rear-facing safest?:
A rear-facing seat provides superior protection. In a crash, the seat moves in the direction of the force, not against it. The back of the seat is the primary restraint, and the harness is the secondary restraint, providing protection against "rebound." The shell takes the bulk of the forces and passes very little along to the child. The forces that do get passed along to the child are spread across the entire area of the back, neck, and head, which are kept aligned. The babies head is cradled within the shell of the seat and moves in unison with the seat. When rear-facing, the head is contained within the shell, and the neck is protected from streching forces. A rear-facing seat also provides additional side-impact protection. In a side-impact crash, the child's head is kept within the confines of the carseat wings.
The opposite is true for a forward-facing child. In a crash, the harness straps hold the shoulders and torso in the seat, but the head and neck are thrown violently forward. This can cause a lot of serious injury to a young child. A young child's spinal cord is still very immature. It contains a lot of cartilage and not as much bone as an older child or adult. Research has shown that the forces applied to the necks of a forward-facing child can cause the spinal cord to stretch up to 2 inches. A spinal cord will rupture if streched more than 1/4". This will cause decapitation. While the head will still be attached to the body, the neck will not. It's the same thing as ripping an electrical plug out of the wall by the cord and breaking the wires.
We have very little control over what happens on the roads. We cannot control the other drivers. The minimum requirements to turn a child forward-facing are just that - minimums. For optimal protection, keep children rear-facing until the upper limits of the seat are reached.
Debunking the Myth's and Misconceptions:
Is it dangerous to have my child's legs bent and/or his feet touching the seat?
No, this is not a safety hazard. There are no documented reports of children breaking their legs or hips in a crash. However, there are countless cases of forward-facing children with spine or neck injuries. In a crash, a rear-facing child's legs will be thrown up and back away from the vehicle seat. It's important to note that children are very flexible and do not find riding this way uncomfortable. What looks cramped to an adult is fine for a child.
Can I put my infant-seat in front of an armrest?
That depends. Generally, yes you can. Most infant seats allow this. Evenflo (who at one time said that you could not) recently released a statement saying that you could put their infant seat in-front of an armrest as long as the vehicle manufacturer allowed. The concern is that the armrest "may" dislodge in a crash and hit the child. Testing has not shown this to be the case. Check both your infant seat manual and your vehicle manual for instructions.
My child's doctor says I can turn my child around forward-facing even though she is not yet one year old.
Unfortunately, your child's doctor is giving out very outdated and very dangerous information. Many doctors have a very brief lesson on child passenger safety in medical school. They do not keep up with the changing standards and safety recommendations. The American Association of Pediatrics states that child should remain rear-facing until they are at least one year and 20 lbs, and preferably until the upper limits of the seat are reached.
My child is only 9 months old, but he can hold up his head, sit, crawl, and walk. Doesn't he have enough muscle strength to ride forward-facing now?
This is a big misconception. The recommendations on turning a child forward-facing have nothing to do with muscular strength. They are based on skeletal strength. A 9 month old who can sit, crawl, and/or walk has the same skeletal strength as a 9 month old who can do none of these things. Turning a child forward-facing too early has major consequences in a crash. Read what happens to a child who is forward-facing too early up above.
My child screams the entire time in the car. It is distracting to me and I think I should turn him around forward-facing. He will be happier, and I will not be a distracted driver.
This tends to be one of the biggest reasons why parents turn children forward-facing. What they don't realize is that they are taking a huge gamble on their child's safety. It is no fun to listen to a crying baby, especially in the car. However, it is MUCH better to have a crying baby than a dead baby. Many parents have found that children can be MORE of a distraction forward-facing than they were rear-facing. The child can now see you, see what you are eating/drinking, and can demand attention from you.
If your child is still in an infant seat and is crying, trying switching to a rear-facing convertible. If your child is already in the convertible seat, investigate the seat itself to insure that it isn't causing your child discomfort. Check to make sure it isn't pinching, poking, or digging into your child. Have your seat installed by a certified technician. A misuse can also cause discomfort to the child.
A rear-facing seat must always be kept at a 45 degree angle
This statement is very true for young infants. The seat must be kept at 45 degrees so the child's head does not roll forward. A head that is rolled forward can restrict or cut off the airway causing suffocation. Also, if the head is forward and off the back of the car seat, in a crash the baby's delicate head will be slammed down against the seat. If you are having trouble achieving the appropriate angle, use a rolled up towel or foam pool noodle under the front of your restraint (place the towel/noodle in the crease of the vehicle seat).
Once the child has full control over her head (around 6 months), you can install the seat at less of a recline - more towards 30 degrees. For the older child, sitting more upright is safer as it lessens the chance of ramping up the seat and hitting the head on something in the vehicle.
Can my rear-facing seat touch the back of the seat in front of it?
Most manufacturer's allow the seat to touch the vehicle seat infront. There are a few exceptions, so always check your manual for any instructions. It is better for the seat to already be touching the vehicle seat than for it to slam into it during a crash. The later will allow more forces to be subjected onto the child.
Does the handle on my infant seat really need to be in the down position? I cannot fit the infant seat in my car with the handle down. The driver and/or passenger is scrunched (or my seats don't move up far enough).
Yes, the handle on the infant seat must always be put in the down position (unless the manufacturer's manual says otherwise). In a crash, the handle is likely to break and will become a projectile. It could hit the baby or another passenger in the vehicle causing serious injuries. If your child's infant seat will not fit in the car with the handle down, try another seating position (i.e. - from behind driver's to passengers, etc.) Many times an infant seat will fit correctly when used without the base. If neither of these options work, you will need to find another infant seat or switch to a convertible seat.