As a parent, there's a lot to be said for following the rules, and when it comes to car seat safety, that's especially true. From the day your babe comes home from the hospital, car seat safety is a must. Making sure your seat is installed correctly for your child is priority numero uno.
But as your babe magically transforms from an infant to a toddler right before your eyes, it's like they've suddenly outgrown their infant seat overnight. So, you have a spacious convertible seat for your little teenager (okay, I'm being dramatic, I know) but they're still your baby, because they're sitting in a rear-facing seat.*sigh of relief* But that's not going to last forever, right? So the real question is: when can you turn your toddler around so he/she is in a forward-facing seat?
The AAP has recommended for 20+ years that children should remain in a rear-facing seat for as long as possible; generally meaning until they have outgrown their car seat, or have turned two years old. Additionally, different states may have specific guidelines, so you can check out your state here to make sure you're not turning your child prematurely. Children who remain in a rear-facing seat until the age of two are 75% less likely to sustain serious injury or death than those who are in a forward-facing seat.
Your child should remain in a rear-facing car seat until they have reached the top height or weight requirement for the seat. Car seats are now starting to mirror the current research of rear-facing safety, and are making the seats with extra height adjustments and upping the weight requirements. This will ensure that your child can comfortably remain in a rear-facing car seat before you turn them around.
Most convertible car seats can safely remain facing the rear until the child is 50 lbs. This means your child could be, like, a first grader before they're facing forward. But, the height limit for the average convertible seat is when the child reaches 1 inch below the top of the seat; meaning that your child will probably outgrow their seat by height before they outgrow it by weight.
A lot of mamas put their tots in a rear-facing seat and see their legs fold up and get a little anxious. Won't this hurt them? The AAP has heard it all before, mama. Here's what they have to say:
"This is a very common concern of parents, but it should cause them no worry. Children can bend their legs easily and will be comfortable in a rear-facing seat. Injuries to the legs are very rare for children facing the rear."
So, if comfort isn't an issue, and babes are supposed to stay facing the rear as long as possible, why would you actually have to turn them around early? A lot of mamas turn their babes around because they are bored or are anxious to turn forward for all of the
fun features of the front seat. Do your best not to face your child forward just to make them happy--better to be safe than sorry!
The safest rule is to follow the weight/height requirement for your car seat, and disregard age. If you have a large 2 year old who has hit the height requirement, feel confident to install the seat facing forward. But if your child is 3 years old or older, and hasn't yet reached either of the requirements for height or weight, then you should consider keeping them facing the rear.
The number one thing you need to ask yourself is if it could hurt my child, would I do it? Nope. You wouldn't. So, don't take the risk with your seat. Do your research, find the type of car seat that fits your personal style, and your child's needs, and invest. Your child's safety is king, and turning them forward too soon could risk that.