Rear Facing Car Seat Myths Busted

(Last Updated On: October 19, 2020)
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We hope it’s now common knowledge that rear facing in the car is the safest way for toddlers to ride. As child passenger safety technicians, we’ve heard all the reasons that parents choose to forward face too early, and we’d like to provide some answers to those car seat myths here. Hopefully, this guide will help keep your child rear facing as long as possible!

Myth #1: My child is too big!

Graco Grows4Me rear facing 4 years old

Graco Grows4Me rear facing 4 years old

The lovely young lady pictured here is 4 years old, weighs 38 pounds, and is 40 inches tall.  She is happily rear facing in a Graco Grows4Me, which is outgrown when the child weighs 40 pounds or is so tall that the top of their head is within one inch of the top of the shell.  She still fits comfortably in this mode and has found a fine place to put her legs.

There are many other reasonably-priced car seats on the market that would fit her rear facing.

Chicco Fit4 3.5 years old rear facing

Chicco Fit4 3.5 years old rear facing

Even a child who is in the 90th percentile for height or weight can easily rear face past two years old at a reasonable price.

This 3.5 year old model has room to grow in the Chicco Fit 4.   As you can see, she’s found a perfectly fine place to put her legs while she’s on the go!

Myth #2: My child’s legs are too long!

Evenflo EveryFit 3 years old

Evenflo EveryFit 3 years old

This 3 year old model has plenty of legroom in the Evenflo EveryFit.  Like all of our models, he was able to find a comfortable spot for his legs.  He’s safe riding this way, too!  Leg injuries to children who ride rear facing kids are almost non-existent.

Extended rear facing

Extended rear facing

This child is perfectly content in her Graco Extend2Fit, despite her long legs. Kiddos can put their legs up on the seat, cross-legged, over the sides — each child sits in the way they find the most comfortable.

Myth #3: My child is SO uncomfortable!

The Nuna RAVA is a comfy place for a snooze

The Nuna RAVA is a comfy place for a snooze

Have you ever found your child asleep in a strange position? Upside down on the couch? Hanging halfway off their bed? Asleep at the kitchen table? Kids do this all the time, and there’s a reason for it – their joints are far more flexible than ours are as adults. Nature intended it that way, this flexibility protects kids when they’re finding their balance, learning to walk, falling off playground equipment.

Snoozing while rear facing

Snoozing while rear facing

It may seem incredibly uncomfortable to think of sitting with legs crossed or propped up for an extended period of time as an adult, but toddlers and preschoolers just really don’t care.

This kiddo proved our point when he fell asleep while safely buckled into the seat rear facing.

Myth #4: My car is too small!

Chicco Fit4 rear facing installation

Chicco Fit4 rear facing installation

Many car seats that can be installed rear facing can be installed somewhat-to-fairly upright once the child has sufficient head and neck control.

There is a car seat that will fit in your small sedan or coupe, I promise. And we CPSTs love a challenge – if your life includes a tiny car that your child needs to ride in, let us help!

Myth #5: My toddler hates rear facing!

Children get angry in the EU, too!

Children get angry in the EU, too!

The list of things toddlers dislike is lengthy: cereal on the floor, cereal in a bowl, cereal in the wrong bowl, cereal in a bowl at the wrong time, the wrong cereal in the right bowl, the right cereal in the right bowl at the wrong table… the list continues for days. Toddlers are fickle little creatures, full of boundless energy and opinions they can’t always express. Toddlers rarely scream in the car because rear facing is terrible – it’s just as likely they’re screaming because the sky is blue, their cereal was in the wrong bowl at breakfast time, or they just plain don’t like being restrained, regardless of the direction they’re facing.

This kiddo lives in the EU — that’s why his harness doesn’t have a chest clip.  Like kiddos around the world, he also has moments of anger or frustration but he’s still riding safely rear facing!

Children get angry in Canada too!

Children get angry in Canada too!

We know that toddlers are much safer rear facing and just like you wouldn’t let them run into a busy street because they threw a fit about how fun it is to play in traffic, it doesn’t make sense to compromise their safety in the car just because they throw a fit about being stuck in one place for more than fourteen seconds.

Myth #6: My child gets carsick!

Cleaning the car seat

Cleaning the car seat

This one is tough, it’s almost not a myth because we know there are a lot of kids that really, truly battle motion sickness. To any parent who has ever reduced the outer pieces of their car seat into a pile like this in order to clean puke from all the crevices: we feel for you. A car sick toddler is still extremely vulnerable to serious spinal injuries from forward facing too early, so we bring you some tips from seasoned vomit-warriors to help make your kiddo safe and less likely to lose their lunch.

  • Sea-Bands: available online or in drug stores, these bracelet-like devices use acupressure to help reduce nausea.
  • Food: Eat (or don’t eat) before traveling. Some kids who are prone to carsickness do better on an empty stomach, other kids feel better with a small snack in their belly when they’re going for a ride. Figure out what works best for your child and try to plan accordingly.
  • Ginger: This natural nausea aid is available in many different forms. Ginger candies may pose a choking hazard for younger children but iced ginger tea is a great substitute and may be helpful for some children.
  • Windows: Sometimes the motion out the side window can aggravate or trigger motion sickness. Try covering the window with a cling-on window shade, or encouraging an older child to look out the back window rather than the side windows.
  • Visit the eye doctor: some children have undiagnosed vision problems that lead to car sickness. For kiddos in this situation, a pair of glasses can be life-changing!
  • Car seat angle: Always follow the instructions from your car seat manufacturer, but many car seats allow for toddlers to sit more upright. This can be a more comfortable position to reduce nausea while traveling.

If your child is prone to carsickness, consider carrying a lightweight basin with you or placing a towel over the child’s torso to help minimize cleanup if all else fails.

Myth #7: Extended rear facing carseats are so expensive!

Good harness fit

The Cosco Scenera NEXT is a budget-friendly option

This kiddo is rear facing in a Cosco Scenera NEXT that rear faces to 40 pounds and 40″ and costs under $50. Even a seat like the Scenera NEXT will get most average kids past two years old rear facing. There are several other seat options under $100 that rear face to 40 pounds and 40 inches tall. You don’t have to eat beans and rice for six months to be able to afford a seat that will allow for extended rear facing.

Myth #8: My pediatrician said it’s fine.

Remember that not all Doctors are up to date on car seat guidelines

Remember that not all Doctors are up to date on car seat guidelines

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends rear facing until your child outgrows their convertible car seat.

“This best practice results from the need to support the young child’s posterior torso, neck, head, and pelvis and to distribute crash forces over the entire body. Developmental considerations, including incomplete vertebral ossification, more horizontally oriented spinal facet joints, and excessive ligamentous laxity put young children at risk of head and spinal cord injury. Rear-facing CSSs address this risk by supporting the child’s head and preventing the relatively large head from moving independently of the proportionately smaller neck.”  PEDIATRICS Vol. 127 No. 4 April 1, 2011 pp. e1050 -e1066 

The science is very clear: spinal maturity happens with age, whether a child is 18 months and 20 pounds or 18 months and 30 pounds – their spines are maturing at the same rate and similarly vulnerable to significant injury.

When can my child ride forward facing?

Evenflo EveryFit 6 years old

Evenflo EveryFit 6 years old

The minimum is age 2, however the ideal is as close to age 4 as possible. We would all be safer rear facing, but the physiological differences in a child lessen the older they get. By the fourth birthday, spinal ossification is far more mature than a toddler’s, and a child’s head is also much more proportionate to the rest of their body and better able to withstand the forces of a crash. For more about the science behind rear facing, check out our article: Why Rear Facing, the Science Junkie’s Guide.

Around here we like to say, “when you know better, you can do better,” so hopefully this guide has given answers to any concerns you may have about rear facing. Keep those Littles riding safely – rear facing as long as possible!

If you have any questions about extended rear-facing that aren’t addressed here, please feel free to post on our Facebook group, or send us an email.

 

Reference

 

Henary, B. & 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.