Updated: Oct 19
There is so much information out there on what you should and shouldn’t do as a parent…but hear me out because this one is extremely important and unfortunately it is not something that is explained well to new parents. You take your precious newborn baby home in the car seat, and not one bit of information is given to you about how to secure them in safely, the correct positioning, and when to convert them to a forward-facing position.
So why is this important?
In a car accident, a child who is rear-facing will be 5 x SAFER than a child who is forward-facing. In a rear-facing seat, the crash load is distributed and absorbed into the car seat, rather than through their neck, spinal cord and vital organs.
Firstly, we have rear facing car seats which babies start off in (facing towards the back of the car). The rear-facing position is important for babies whose spinal cord hasn’t yet ossified (turned from cartilage to bone). They need more support of the head, neck, and spine to protect their delicate bodies.
In the event of an accident, a rear-facing car seat absorbs the force from the crash, rather than your child’s neck, spine and vital organs. The seat hugs and supports every part of your baby, rather than just the seat belt contact points. This is crucial for the safety of your child in the event of an accident! In a forward facing position, the seat helps to slow down the child’s body, but not support their head, neck and spine. Forward facing car seat restraint systems protect the contact points of the belts, much like a standard seat belt. In the event of an accident, injury to the head, neck, and spine are more likely in a front-facing seat, especially when it comes to young children who shouldn’t be front-facing yet. Accidents in rear-facing car seats place less pressure on the organs, which are experiencing a final, internal collision of their own. Choosing a car seat that has extended rear facing position is therefore ideal, to enable your child to be rear facing for as long as possible. All of the Maxi Cosi convertible car seats are extended rear facing. See list here: https://www.maxi-cosi.com.au/car-seats.
How Long Should a Child be Rear Facing?
According to VicRoads, it is a legal requirement for children under 4 to be in a rear facing or forward facing child restraint. However, the specific requirement of when to turn your child from rear to forward facing, is not based on age, it is based on your child’s height and the specific requirements of your child’s car seat. It is best to check your car manufacturer’s details. Usually there is a dotted line on the car seat near your child’s shoulders. Once their shoulders are above a specific line, this is when they should be turned around. This should be the ONLY reason to turn them. Not the pressure of a family member asking you when you will turn them, or their legs looking squished, or they seem to be bored and frustrated. I know that your baby may be upset in this position or you may feel they are bored. It’s best to try and find other ways to distract them- fidget toys, songs, comforters, dummies. Anything you can think of to help them. It may also be a good reminder to check the fit of the straps, to ensure they are correct and comfortable. Remember, your child only knows what they are used to.
My child’s legs look so uncomfortable and squished. Do I worry about this?
It is not a concern if your child’s legs are bent or on the outside of a rear-facing car seat. Leg injuries are actually more likely in a front facing accident — just like the rest of their body, a forward facing child’s legs will be thrown forward so forcefully that they can be injured when they hit the back of the front seat or other vehicle surfaces. So, if anyone comments on your child’s leg positions, remind them that cross-legged sitting or hanging over the edge is perfectly safe.
This video is a great visual as to what occurs in the body in the event of an accident when looking at rear-facing vs forward-facing.
1 Henary, B. Y., Sherwood, C. P., Crandall, J. R., Kent, R. W., Vaca, F. E., Arbogast, K. B., & Bull, M. J. (2007). Car safety seats for children: rear facing for best protection. Injury Prevention, 13(6), 398–402. https://doi.org/10.1136/ip.2006.015115