A recent article by a major independent testing company has made the recommendation to switch to a convertible car seat sooner rather than later. The majority of newborns come home in a rear facing only car seat and then switch to a convertible car seat when they outgrow their rear facing only car seats.
Making the Transition
While there are many convertible car seats that fit newborns well at birth, the convenience of the rear facing only car seat often wins out and many families start with that type of seat.
Height and weight limits
All car seats have weight AND height limits that help determine when the seat is outgrown. There are three different ways a child can outgrow their rear facing only seat.
- Weight. Once the maximum weight limit of your rear facing only seat has been reached, 22-40 lbs in the US, the seat is outgrown. Your child then needs a convertible car seat.
- Space above the child’s head. Rear facing only seats require at least 1″ of space above the child’s head at all times. Once there is less than one inch of shell above the child’s head, the car seat is outgrown and your child then needs a convertible car seat.
- Stated height limit. All rear facing only seats have a stated height limit of 29-37″. Once the stated height limit is met, independent of weight or space above the child’s head, the seat is outgrown and the child is ready to move to a convertible car seat.
Many children can stay in their rear facing only seats safely for upwards of their first twelve months. We suggest allowing some time to research and select a convertible car seat before your Little is ready to make the move.
When to Make the Switch
There are many reasons to switch a child to a rear facing convertible earlier than later. For some convertible car seats, once a child is sitting unassisted and/or weighs 22 lbs, the seat can be installed much more upright which means the car seat takes up less room front to back than even a compact rear facing only seat.
Some infants find a convertible sits them up higher, and is more comfortable for them. When that happens, especially when they’re of an age where the outside world is of more interest to them, that may equal less crying and a more peaceful ride for everyone in the vehicle.
Others may have a medical reason such as reflux, where laying in a more reclined position in a rear facing only seat may be quite uncomfortable. Or the shape of their seat is bothering them. Moving to a more upright and potentially more flat backed convertible (rather than a curved seat) will ease the pressure on their stomach, giving them a little bit of relief.
Many parents find that their child never officially outgrows the rear facing only seat, nor do they dislike it, the parents themselves are the reason for the switch. Their arms get tired of carrying baby plus seat everywhere, or they find themselves carrying the baby separately and wheeling the carseat unnecessarily while it’s empty. This is a perfectly valid reason to switch to a convertible car seat that stays in the car.
For other parents, having to fight a child who is on the brink of outgrowing what has become a very small seat is also very tiresome. Your baby fit with so much room to grow at the start, but now several months later it’s back to all arms and legs as they’re seemingly oozing out of every side and they have opinions that make them not want to get buckled. Then it may be easier to buckle them into a seat already in the car where their fit is a little more manageable.
No matter when you switch, children need to be rear facing until at least 2 years old, with 3-4 years old being a safer goal.
The best seat is one that fits your child, fits your budget, fits your vehicle, and can be used properly every time. Here are some important points to consider when selecting a convertible or multimode car seat:
- The seat fits your child. There are convertible car seats with rear facing weight limits from 33-50 lbs and heights from 36-49″. If your child is petite you will have more choices for a car seat that will last a long time. For taller or heavier children, you may have a narrower set of car seats to choose from that will be long lasting. Knowing where your child falls on the CDC growth chart can help when choosing a car seat.
- The seat fits your budget. The CSFTL recommended car seat list has convertible seats ranging in price from $46-$400. Knowing your budget before shopping can help narrow down the seats at which you can look. If your budget is $125, looking at a Clek Foonf won’t make things easier.
- The seat fits your vehicle. There’s a huge difference between a Chevy Cruze and a Ford Expedition. Know your vehicle and give yourself time to research car seat sizes before buying. If you have a store that allows you to try car seats before buying, take advantage of it. This may mean different car seats for every vehicle in which the child rides.
- The seat can be used properly every time. Some car seats can be harder to install and use than others, and if you know there are limitations with caregivers such as arthritis, weakness, etc, it’s important to have a seat that everyone can use properly. This may mean different car seats for different caregivers. See #3 about trying before buying if possible. Also, things like the Buckle Bopper may help make things easier for some caregivers.
In the end, when to switch to a convertible car seat is a personal choice as long as the child has not outgrown their rear facing only car seat. Allowing plenty of time for research can take the stress out of selecting the right seat.
Once your baby has stopped using the rear facing only seat, there is a small gap left in your routine. First, what do you do with the seat you’re no longer using? Check out our article on storing an unused seat if you are planning on reusing your seat for a future Little. Remember that while the seat is stored the lifespan is still ticking down to its expiration, and it may be recalled while it’s not in use. Double check the seat when you pull it back out of storage.
Now, instead of loading up your child in the house and covering them with a blanket while you carry them out, you’ve got a child either in your arms or walking under their own power to the car. This is a new way to get in, and give yourself a few extra minutes as you transition. Especially in the colder months, instead of putting a blanket over a child in a rear facing only seat, now you may need a few extra minutes to remove a jacket, maybe their boots, and get them buckled up in a colder car. Remember, wearing a bulky coat or snow suit is not safe in the vehicle for any passenger.
Often about the time most parents transition to a convertible is also at the height of separation anxiety, the little newborn is long gone and a larger opinionated nearly child is in their place. As you switch, allow yourself some experimentation to figure out what the best way is for you to get your child into their new seat. Maybe it works best to sit next to the seat and scoop them up and put them in bum first. Or maybe they’re walking and very much in the “I do it myself” stage and the easiest way is to allow them to climb in on their own. Keep in mind how big your child has gotten and how big they may get before they can get themselves into their seat. You may not want a tall seat with high sides if you have a 30 pound one year old and a tall SUV. Or if you have a small two door car, since then your available space to get a child in is nearly gone. Remember these as you start doing your research before you transition to a convertible.
Originally written by Jennifer Penick. Edits maintained by CSFTL.