I’ve read in so many places to keep babies in a rear-facing car seat until they’re two or older, but all the seats I have found say 22 pounds (10 kilograms), including the one I have now. But my son is 10 months old and weighs 22 pounds already. So how long should I keep him rear-facing? – Miranda
There are plenty of milestones, like your kid’s first words and first steps, that can’t seem to come soon enough. But there’s one you don’t want to rush – the switch to a front-facing car seat.
“Children are safest facing the rear when riding in a car,” said Pamela Fuselli, vice-president of knowledge transfer for injury-prevention charity Parachute. “We all are, but that doesn’t really work for driving a car.”
Kids should stay in rear-facing car seats for as long as they fit, Fuselli said. That could be until they’re three, or even older.
“It could be up to even four years – as long as the child is within the height and weight limit for the seat,” Fuselli said.
So why’s it safer to face the rear? In a frontal collision, everything in the car moves forward, including the child.
“In a forward-facing seat, the five-point harness is holding the child by the five points of connection but the head and neck are still thrown forward,” said Katherine Hulka, president of the Child Passenger Safety Association of Canada (CPSAC). “It can cause a lot of damage to a child’s head, neck and spine.”
In a rear-facing seat, the child is pushed into the back of the seat during a frontal crash. The seat absorbs the crash forces.
Frontal collisions can be deadly for adults too, but kids are especially vulnerable.
“We know all newborns have to start out in rear-facing – they have large heads and weak necks and have to be reclined at certain angles to take crash forces,” Hulka said. “We also know toddlers are not little adults, they also have large heads and weak necks.”
Go by weight and height
The American Academy of Pediatrics had previously recommended that kids stay in rear-facing seats until they’re at least two years old.
This year, it updated its recommendations and took away a specific age recommendation. Now it says kids should stay rear-facing “as long as possible, until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by their seat.”
In Canada, Transport Canada regulates car seats, but the provinces and territories set the rules for using them.
Some require rear-facing seats until kids reach specific weights and ages for – for instance, in British Columbia, kids must face the rear until they’re both 20 pounds and a year old, while in the Yukon, it’s until they’re 22 pounds and able to walk on their own.
But, according to Transport Canada rules, manufacturers can’t make forward-facing seats for kids under 22 pounds – so all approved infant seats are rear-facing only.
“Even if your provincial or territorial regulations allow you to move to a forward-facing seat, your child should keep using rear-facing seats as long as possible,” Transport Canada said on its website.
While you shouldn’t keep a child in a seat they’ve outgrown – it won’t protect them properly if they’re too big – kids under one should never be in a front-facing seat.
So, if you have an infant seat that only goes up to 22 pounds and your baby is bigger than that, it’s time to switch – but not to a seat that’s front-facing only.
Instead, there are convertible seats that can be both rear- and front-facing, Hulka said. When the child outgrows the rear-facing height and weight, then you can switch to front-facing. Some convertible seats can also be used as booster seats later.
“Nearly all of them go [rear-facing] to 35 or 40 pounds,” Hulka said),
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