For the past several weeks, I've been sorting through information on car seats. Although Peanut is still a couple inches and many pounds away from outgrowing her infant seat (she really is a peanut!), I thought she might be more comfortable in a larger seat.
There are so many things to consider when purchasing a car seat. While factors like price and style come in to play, it really all boils down to safety, safety, safety.
I first heard about the benefits of keeping your child rear-facing past the first year when I was pregnant with Peanut. I'm shocked that there is not more exposure to significant benefits of extended rear facing. Infants are required to remain rear facing for a minimum of one year and twenty pounds. The word that gets lost in this sentence is minimum. Infants continue to be safer in the rear facing position past the one year and twenty pounds requirement. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that a child be kept rear facing until the rear facing limits for the seat, which in most seats is 30-40 lbs.
Vehicle accidents are the number one cause of death for children 14 and under. When you consider that rear facing toddlers are five times safer, it's easy to see that this is not a small benefit.
A toddler's vertebrae does not completely form until they are 3 to 6 years of age. Because of this, the impact in a crash (even in a rear end crash) can permanently damage their developing vertebrae, causing handicaps and even death. This website shows side by side comparisons of a 1 year old's vertebrae versus a 6 year old's. The difference is drastic.
If you only visit one of these links today, make it this one. Scroll about halfway down the page and take two minutes to watch actual crash test footage of a forward facing toddler and a rear facing toddler - it's quite shocking.
In my opinion, the only benefit to turning your child around at the 20 lbs and 1 year minimum would be for the convenience of being able to access your child more easily. I'll be the first to say that I'm terribly tired of pulling the car over because Peanut dropped her cup for the twentieth time, or because she can't reach her pacifier. However, when you compare that convenience with the overwhelming safety benefits, I don't think anyone could argue it's a risk worth taking.
I'm not trying to put down parents who choose forward facing over rear facing for their toddlers. I just want parents to make educated choices. I would hate for any parent to find out too late that there was something they could have done to prevent a fatal injury. It's not a fun topic to talk about, but somebody needs to. I totally understand that for a toddler that is already forward facing, turning their seat back around may cause World War III, but for those of you with young infants and toddlers, I encourage you to do your research and understand your choices.
Peanut is thrilled with her new seat. My favorite features are the adjustable slide harness and the fact that she'll be able to stay harnessed until up to 50 lbs (which at her current rate will be when she's eight!) which is about 10 lbs higher than most seats.
Other helpful websites:
Particularly if you have a small car, check out this website. The list isn't exhaustive, but you may be able to determine whether or not a particular car seat is compatible with your vehicle.
Find out if the NHTSA has issued any recalls on your car seat.
Great MSNBC article on rethinking car seat safety.