Extended rear-facing: when to turn the car seat around?

There are no easy decisions in parenting.  Especially not for me.  I can’t help but think of every possible scenario when weighing a decision, always wanting as much information as I can find to help me choose the right path.

When Meghan was close to the weight limits for her infant car seat, I started researching convertible car seats, the next step for our growing baby.  Through my research, I started finding information on what is called “extended rear-facing”–keeping your child facing backwards longer than the standard time recommended.  Most people believe the minimum recommended time to be rear-facing is one year and 20 pounds.

I found that facing backwards is a much safer position, especially for a baby/toddler/child.   Their necks are more vulnerable to life-threatening injury when forward-facing because the mass of the head of a small child is about 25% of the body mass, whereas the mass of the adult head is only 6%.  There is tremendous force applied to these areas when in the forward-facing position. Rear-facing seats do a better job of protecting the child’s head, neck, and spinal chord because there is little to no force applied to these areas in the event of a crash.  (source)

Based on this research, we decided to keep Meghan rear-facing when it was time for her to graduate to a convertible car seat.  (We have the Britax Advocate)  Even though I’ve gotten a few comments and a lot of strange looks, it never bothered me.  At Meghan’s 18-month-old well check appointment, the doctor asked if she was still rear-facing.  I said yes, and he remarked, “Good.  The new AAP recommendation is to stay rear-facing a minimum of 2 years.”  Ah, sweet validation.

Meghan is now going to be 3 in September, and we still have her rear-facing.  The seat we have will allow her to stay rear-facing until she’s 40 pounds or 49 inches tall.  Right now, she’s about 28 pounds and 37 inches, so she’ll be within the requirements for a long time.

But as we have two long road trips approaching this summer, we’re starting to question how much longer we should keep her rear-facing.  The two biggest concerns we have are that it’s getting more and more difficult to get her in her seat and we want her to be comfortable.  Of course, even as I type out these concerns, they seem silly next to the safety benefits of staying rear-facing.

We have no reason to believe that she’s uncomfortable; she’s never complained.  Tim constantly comments that her legs are scrunched and she can’t be comfortable, but I’m not so sure.  Does she look uncomfortable to you?

Since our first long road trip is next week, we will be making a decision shortly.  I’d love your feedback.  What would you do?  Keep her rear-facing or turn her around?  How long did you (or will you) keep your child rear-facing?


About Maryea

I am a wife and a mama who has a passion for healthy living. Happy Healthy Mama is a place for me to share recipes for delicious, wholesome food and my desire to live everyday with great health and happiness.
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43 Responses to Extended rear-facing: when to turn the car seat around?

  1. Sarah says:

    I turned Jacob around at about 18 months because his legs looked squished to me, but I wish I had held out longer. This was before I had heard about the 2 year recommendation. Even so, I still should have just left him rear facing. But for Meghan, I would say it would be fine to turn her around. But like you said, she doesn’t look uncomfortable, though I wouldn’t like to sit like that. But that’s just me.

    I’m just realizing that none of that is really advice or anything helpful. Wish I could be more helpful. Good luck!

  2. Mara says:

    You must do whatever your instincts tell you to do. Don’t worry about what others think. Every time in my parenting of 4 kiddos (aged 12,9,6,4) I have let others talk me out of using my instincts, they were dead wrong and I was right all along. Now I don’t even ask anymore!

    That being said, the industry guidelines are written by lobbyists for the car-seat industry, which nets hundreds of millions off of regulatory compliance. Doctors and legislators just agree with whatever the industry tells them to believe. Since there are so few statistics for dangerous car accidents involving small children, the numbers can be skewed any way they desire. (<—I did my graduate work in public policy/safety industry)

    Will it hurt to keep her rear facing in a Britax for another year? Nope. Not even a little.

    • Maryea says:

      Thanks for your input, Mara. I hadn’t thought about it from the political perspective. I think you’re totally right, though–I just need to follow my instincts. :-)

  3. That’s a tough one. We turned Carter’s seat around at 18 months. He was just really starting to fuss when we put him in there and he’s pretty tall so I think he was short on leg room. Once we turned him around, he was thrilled. But if Meghan isn’t complaining about it, then I would keep the seat rear-facing. If she starts to fuss on the road trip, you can always stop and turn the seat around. I think once they are 2, it’s perfectly okay to turn the seat around. Why do I want to sing each time i write that? “Turn the seat around….love to hear percussion.” Oh my…I need some sleep haha :)

    • Maryea says:

      See, if she was fussing that would definitely make the decision easier. Ahhhh–what to do?! Thanks for your input. :-)

  4. Leslie says:

    I would turn her around. Great job keeping her rear-facing for so long, but at 3 I would turn her around. She probably doesn’t complain about being squished cause she doesn’t know any different. But at 3 how exciting for her to face forward on your road trip and see everything from a different view.

    • Maryea says:

      She actually won’t be 3 until September, so she’ll still be 2 for our summer road trips. You’re right, though, I’m sure it will be super exciting for her to see everything from a new point of view. This is such a tough decision for me. Thanks for your feedback, Leslie.

  5. Nancy says:

    We turned our girls around when they had reached the previous guidelines of 1yr but still keep both in a 5-pt harness. Our girls are 6 1/2 and 4 1/2. We bought seats that can maintain a harness up until 80lbs, my oldest is 44lbs. I have never wavered on the safety issue even when my girls have realized that others are just using boosters or seats without the 5 point harness. I’d be curious about whether there are leg issues in a crash such as knee hitting forehead or broken bones when children reach a certain height and are still rear facing. I have never read anything about that when reading guidelines. You have a great carseat and your daughter doesn’t look uncomfortable. Do what feels right to you.

    • Maryea says:

      I have read that if you’re in a car accident severe enough to break a rear-facing child’s legs, that child would surely break their neck if they were forward-facing. You can fix broken legs, but not broken necks. I haven’t read anything about the knees hitting the forehead, though, so that’s something to think about. I’ll have to see if I can find any info on that. Thank you for your input, Nancy!

  6. Jillian says:

    I can’t believe she did it for this long! She looks sooooo squished. Addie gets car sick so keeping her rear facing wasn’t and option for us. I think it would be okay to turn it around at this point. She will love it and probably do really well for you on your next trip!

    • Maryea says:

      She does look squished doesn’t she? Getting her in is the hardest part. But she never complains or acts like it bothers her at all. I can’t decide what to do!

  7. That’s always tough. She does look squished in there but I don’t think she particularly looks uncomfortable. I’m sure she would be more comfy if she had more room for her legs, but I think she’d let you know if she was really uncomfortable. Like the commenter above I’m curious about legs getting hurt in that kind of situation, I really have no idea and haven’t heard anything. My daughter is 18 months now and only about 18 lbs so I’m sure she’ll be rear facing till she’s 2, or close to it. But I think as soon as she can we’ll move her to forward facing. We don’t spend a lot of time in the car and don’t do much highway driving except for special trips, so for us I’d just much rather have her forward facing for convenience. But do whatever feels right to you! If you want to keep her rear facing and she’s not complaining, then why not? :D
    Love her little bow!

    • Maryea says:

      Everything that I’ve read states that if you’re in a car accident severe enough to break the rear-facing child’s legs, that child would surely break her neck if she was forward-facing. You can fix broken legs, but not broken necks. She has never complained, so I’m still not sure what we’re going to do. Thanks for your input!

      • Oh, thanks for mentioning that, I haven’t done a lot of research on it because Leela isn’t anywhere near even being allowed to be forward facing by law. Now that I think about it though, I may just leave her in her rear facing seat as long as she can be in it by weight and height, which I think will be quite a bit longer. My sister in law was mentioning something about it to me too so I think I need to go do more research.

  8. Meghan says:

    We kept Emma rear-facing until she turned two. I am a big believer in extended rear-facing and would have kept her facing that way longer, but she looked really uncomfortable at that point. Trust your gut!

  9. Catherine says:

    I agree, trust your gut.
    Our daughter is 20 months and still rear facing; though for a day her dad tried her forward facing and she LOVED it. She’s not big on travel in the truck/car seat & forward facing she actually refused to get out when they got home :)
    She’s 28lbs and 34in and our Radian is good for rear facing up to 45lbs.
    Your daughter looks so squished but she’s not crying either! So if you like it and she likes it.. Why not?

  10. 52weekbabyfood says:

    I agree with others…go with your gut and if she’s not complaining, then stick to your mommy instinct!

  11. I have always wondered about this!!!! =) Thanks for the info girl! <3 such a good mommy!

  12. Kristina says:

    Of course each moma knows best for her own child. I think 3 is old enough to turn her around… like a previous commenter said, it’d be fun and so exciting for her to see the world in a new way for your big road trip!

    • Maryea says:

      That is one reason I am a little anxious to turn her around–I think she’ll love the exciting new view. And it will be so nice to be able to turn around and see her face. I’m just not convinced if those reasons are worth it though. There’s so much to think about!

  13. Elizabeth says:

    I’m loving this post and the comments because as my son approaches the 1 year mark, I’ve been a bit uncomfortable about turning him forward facing (he’s 28.5 lbs.) just because of his age… but I didn’t have anything to back up my uncomfortable feeling… it’s good to get the safety info and hear other moms’ thoughts.

    • Maryea says:

      Definitely follow the link above to read even more information. There’s so much evidence out there that rear-facing is the safest way to go!

  14. Sabrina says:

    We turned our son’s seat around at age 1 because he was over 30lbs and 34inchs tall already. He was uncomfortable and started to hate his seat always kicking at the back seat so we had no choice. Right now,turning 3 this month, he is 37lbs and 41inches tall there would be no way to still have him rear facing. I think if your able to keep her that way than why not. At this point and at her age I would wait till she tells you that she is uncomfortable or wants to stretch her legs. Otherwise I’d keep her how she is.

    • Maryea says:

      Wow–what a big guy! Thanks for your input. She can stretch her legs out if she wants to, they just go either to the side of the seat or straight up on the seat. She doesn’t seem to mind though, so I may just keep her as is.

  15. Marcie placke says:

    I turned mine around at 18 months. He is tall on the charts so he was pretty squished. I’d personally turn her for a long trip. She looks squished…. But happy! Do what your gut tells you!

    • Maryea says:

      Thanks for your input. My gut tells me to keep her rear-facing to be honest, but I still feel conflicted!

  16. Helen says:

    We turned both of our boys around after their first birthday, but we had a great seat. It was a harness seat that tilted back so they were still reclined as opposed to sitting up straight. My boys have always been slightly longer than the average so we turned early. She does look like she is being squished, and she appears to be getting too big for a rear facing seat. But as we all know looks can be deceiving. There is a reason that age/weight limits are given for child safety. No matter what she looks like, go with how you feel, and if she isn’t complaining then she is probably not uncomfortable.

    • Maryea says:

      Thanks for your input, Helen! I am pretty sure that this seat will also tilt back if I turn her forward, but I’ll have to double check.

  17. Amanda says:

    We rear-faced until 19 months and the only reason we turned our son was because with our tiny sedan we kept bonking his head on the door frame trying to get him in.

    Funny thing about the supposed comfort of FF vs RF, our son (now almost 3) still scrunches his legs up! He sits cross-legged or props his feet on the back of the front seat half the time anyway. So I’ll be much less concerned about the scrunched legs being uncomfortable next time, lol!

    • Maryea says:

      That’s interesting about how he naturally scrunches his legs up! I’m definitely telling my husband this one. :-)

  18. Rochelle says:

    I wish we would have kept our daughter rf longer but it ended up being a big ordeal in our household as my fiancé didn’t want to discuss it anymore whenever I would question which car seat to get. We finally went with the Graco Nautilous (sorry for spelling) and turned her around just after 18 months. After seeing your pictures and others recently showing the difference I really wish we still had a rear facing seat! Next one will be rf much longer!! Wish I would have stuck to my guns and kept her rf since that is what my gut was telling me. So here’s to you keeping your daughter rf and that we don’t have an accident with mine!
    I’m also interested to hear what you did and how the road trip turned out! :)

  19. Erin says:

    From what I understand, children find it much more uncomfortable to have their legs just dangle in a FF car seat than have them ‘scrunched up’ RF’ing. That’s probably why Amanda’s son keeps scrunching up his legs. Legs can fall asleep when just hanging in front of a child, think about how uncomfortable you are sitting on something high without a footrest? It s such a hard decision and it seems strange to me that one day it’s all if a sudden ‘safe’ to turn your child when just the day before it wasn’t, kwim? (although I understand the physiology of it all, just saying). Anyway, not an easy decision. We have a 23 month old who is still RF, and probably will be for a while since he’s still quite little. Good luck!

    • Maryea says:

      I think it will always be safer to keep her RF–it’s even safer for adults to sit RF. It would be easier to make the decision if that’s all I had to put into the equation! Great job keeping your little one RFing so long! :-)

  20. Jillian says:

    Personally, I commend you for keeping her rear facing this long. I think you are doing what is best for your little one. While seeing the world from a new perspective (forward facing) on your upcoming road trips may be exciting, it’s best to keep safety as your main concern. She is safer rear facing. Many parent’s view turning their child as a developmental milestone, and quite honestly it is nothing to get excited about. The official AAP stance is to keep them RF until at minimum of two years or the maximum height/weight as specified by your car seat manufacturer. Your Britax is capable of RF until 40 pounds and 49 inches, so take advantage and keep your princess as protected as possible! Good luck with your decision, a Momma’s instinct is always best.

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  23. darcie says:

    I’m having the same debate my daughter is 28 months and 32.6 lb and her seat goes to 35lb rear facing . I want to turn her as her spin is red everytime she is removed from her car seat and i know there spins fuse at 3 so i dont want her sitting curved to affect her development . but then there is the safty issue , im stuck also :(

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