How Long Should You Keep Your Child Rear-Facing in a Car Seat

A child can be either too heavy, too tall, or both–but all of this depends on the specifcations of the car seat. Each car seat has its own height and weight limits for rear-facing children. Most convertible seats allow children to sit rear-facing up to 35, 40 or 50 pounds. The height limit for most rear-facing car seats is that there must be at least 1 inch of room between the top of the child’s head and the top of the car seat. This inch ensures that as the child slides up the seat in a crash, his head will stay protected. Given the design of most car seats, the majority of children become too tall for rear-facing seats before they become too heavy. Therefore, when you purchase a convertible car seat, try to select one that is taller in seated height.

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When (and how) to make the switch from a rear-facing to a forward-facing car seat is confusing for many parents. Here’s what you need to know about the safest age for children to ride in a forward-facing car seat.

Many parents aren’t sure when it’s safe to switch their child’s rear-facing car seat to the forward-facing position. Expert organizations used to say it was fine to turn your child’s car seat around when she turned 2. But the recommendations have changed in recent years.

Now, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that the vast majority of children stay rear-facing as long as possible, even after turning 2, and parents shouldn’t make the switch based on age. The biggest reason? Rear-facing car seats are better at protecting the head, neck and spine in the event of a crash.

Here’s why it’s worth holding off on turning your child’s car seat around and how to tell when she’s ready to face forward.

When should you turn your child’s car seat around?

Rear-facing vs. forward-facing car seats: What’s the difference?

First, some background on rear-facing and forward-facing seats. Infants should always be in rear-facing car seats, and there are two types that are safe for the youngest children.

Many parents prefer to start with a rear-facing infant car seat because they’re lightweight, portable and convenient. Rear-facing infant seats come with a base plus a seat that clicks into place, so you can quickly take the seat in and out. Infant car seats also have handles that make them easy to carry when your baby is inside.

The downside? Your baby will outgrow an infant car seat well before she’s ready to face forward. Most rear-facing infant seats have an upper weight limit between 28 and 35 pounds and an upper height limit of 30 to 35 inches, depending on the model. Once your baby reaches the maximum height or weight, whichever comes first, you’ll need to upgrade: The next step is a convertible car seat that can start off being used in a rear-facing position and eventually face forward when your child is (much) bigger.

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Convertible seats tend to be heavy and bulky and are designed to stay put in your car. The fact that you can’t easily tote them around is why many parents opt to start with a more convenient rear-facing infant seat.

Still, convertible seats are safe and acceptable for infants, notes the AAP. And they can be a good option for families who’d prefer not to have to eventually buy a second car seat: Convertible seats can often be used rear-facing until a child is between 40 and 50 pounds, and then can face forward until a child is 65 pounds or more.

When can a child face forward in a car seat?

You should keep your child in the rear-facing position for as long as possible. But instead of using age as a guideline, keep the following in mind:

  • When they reach either the weight or height limit. Your child should stay rear-facing until she has hit the maximum height or weight for that position, says the AAP and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Most rear-facing infant seats can accommodate children until they reach 28 to 35 pounds or 30 to 35 inches, but keep in mind that many children will reach the maximum height before they do the maximum weight. Once a child outgrows a rear-facing infant seat, she can switch to a convertible seat in a rear-facing position, which can often be used until a child is between 40 and 50 pounds. (The specific weight will depend on your car seat model.) You can find your seat’s height and weight limits on the tag or in the manufacturer instructions.
  • Not before age 2. Years ago, age 2 was considered the standard time to switch to the forward-facing position. Now, it’s considered the absolute minimum, because most 2-year-olds won’t be adequately protected from a crash in a forward-facing seat. Rather than basing your switch on the calendar, do so only when your child reaches the maximum height or weight limit for the rear-facing position of her convertible seat. For many, this doesn’t happen until age 3 or 4.

Any child who has outgrown the rear-facing weight or height limit for her convertible seat should use a forward-facing seat with a harness for as long as possible, up to the highest weight or height allowed by the car seat manufacturer.

Why are rear-facing car seats safer for children?

Rear-facing is the safest position for babies and toddlers because it offers the most protection in the event of a crash. That’s why the AAP, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and NHTSA all say children should stay in a rear-facing seat for as long as possible, not just until age 2.

Infants, toddlers and preschoolers have less mature bones and connective tissues that are at greater risk for serious injury. Rear-facing seats act as a protective cradle — particularly for a baby or child’s delicate neck and spinal cord — in a serious accident. They give babies and young children more protection, and age alone isn’t enough to determine whether a child is physically developed enough to sit safely in a front-facing seat.

Car seat safety 101

Buckling your little one in becomes automatic pretty fast, but it never hurts to brush up on the basics. In addition to keeping your little one rear-facing for as long as possible, always remember to:

  • Properly buckle her in.When buckling your child in, be mindful of any uneven or twisted straps (they could increase risk of injury), make sure the angle indicator is in a safe range for your baby’s age and do a “pinch test” on the strap fabric by your child’s shoulder (if you can pinch it vertically, it’s too loose and needs to be tightened).
  • Never leave a child unattended in or around a car. Even if she’s buckled in her car seat.
  • Only use car seats for travel. Car seats should not be used for sleeping, eating or anything else. If your child falls asleep in her car seat, move her to a safe sleep location once you’re done driving.
  • Children under 13 should sit in the back seat. Never place a rear-facing car seat in the front passenger seat, since the airbag could injure your baby.
  • Read the manual. If you’re unsure a seat is installed correctly or are having trouble, contact a local certified Child Passenger Safety Technician (CPST) for help.
  • Never use a car seat that’s damaged, expired or has an unknown history. These seats may not provide adequate protection in the event of a crash.

From the What to Expect editorial team and Heidi Murkoff, author of What to Expect When You’re Expecting. What to Expect follows strict reporting guidelines and uses only credible sources, such as peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions and highly respected health organizations. Learn how we keep our content accurate and up-to-date by reading our medical review and editorial policy.

How Long Should You Keep Your Child Rear-Facing in a Car Seat?

As a parent, you celebrate each milestone your child achieves — sitting up, crawling, taking first steps and saying their first word. But graduating to a front-facing car seat? That’s one such milestone that shouldn’t be rushed, according to guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

For years, parents have learned that keeping their child rear-facing in a car seat until age 2 is the best practice. But that recommendation has since been updated and now suggests that parents keep their children in rear-facing seats for as long as possible.

Purva Grover, MD, Director of Cleveland Clinic Children’s Pediatric Emergency Departments, says a child in a rear-facing seat has less risk for serious (or fatal) injury if involved in a crash.

“Because of the way their head and neck is positioned, when there is a big car crash involving a massive force — if they were to be front-facing, the positioning of the head and neck would give them bad whiplash, and with small children, it could actually cause much more damage,” Dr. Grover explains.

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Types of rear-facing seats

There are a few options when it comes to rear-facing seats.

All-in-one seats

As the name implies, all-in-one seats have multiple uses. They can be used as a booster seat, a rear-facing seat or a forward-facing seat. However, they should only be used for car rides. All-in-one seats don’t have handles or bases. They’re also much larger in size and have higher weight and height limits than other styles of rear-facing seats. If you decide to buy an all-in-one car seat, make sure it’ll fit in your car when it’s rear-facing as it’s a bigger seat.

Convertible seats

With these seats, you can start off using them as rear-facing and then transition to forward-facing when your child outgrows the weight and height limits for rear-facing seats. Convertible seats tend to be larger than rear-facing seats and they don’t have carrying handles or bases. They also tend to have a five-point harness that attaches between the legs and at the hips and shoulders.

Rear-facing only seats

These seats are small and can carry infants between 22 and 35 pounds or 26 and 35 inches. Rear-facing only seats tend to have a base that stays in the car. However, rear-facing seats should only be used for travel and not for sleep or feeding times.

Rear-facing car seat guidelines for installation

Here are a few things to keep in mind when placing a rear-facing car seat in your vehicle.

Make sure the harness is in the right place

The car seat harness should be at or below your little one’s shoulders. Once situated, it should be snug. The harness’ chest clip should be in the middle of your child’s chest and lined up with their armpits.

Don’t place the seat in front of an active airbag

If the airbag for the front passenger’s seat is active, don’t put a rear-facing car seat there. Doing this could lead to serious injuries or even death. The reason being is if the airbag inflates, it’ll knock the car seat into your child’s head or worse.

Make sure the seatbelt is attached correctly

For rear-facing convertible or all-in-one seats, make sure the seat belt or lower anchor webbing is in the correct belt path. If you’re not sure, review the instructions.

Check the car seat’s angle after installation

To ensure that your child’s head doesn’t flop around, refer to the manual for the right seat angle. Once you find it, adjust the seat as needed.

If you need help with car seat installation, a Child Passenger Safety Technician (CPST) can make sure that it’s properly secured and ready for use.

When can you turn the car seat forward?

According to the AAP and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), children up to 3 years old should stay in a rear-facing car seat until they reach the top height or weight limit suggested by the car seat’s manufacturer. When your child hits one of these limits, they can ride in a forward-facing car seat with a harness and tether.

The best way to protect your child

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), car accidents are a leading cause of death for children in the U.S. In 2019, more than 600 children age 12 and younger died in motor vehicle crashes, and more than 91,000 were injured.

However, the CDC also states that car seat use reduces the risk for injury in crashes by 71% to 82% for children, when compared with seat belt use alone.

The updated recommendations also say that once a car seat has been turned around, it should remain forward-facing until your child reaches the seat’s weight and length limits. Then, your child should start using a booster seat. Children who exceed booster seat limits should use a lap and shoulder seat belt in the back seat of the car until they’re 13 years old.

Convenience shouldn’t come before safety

Dr. Grover agrees with the recommendations and says that when it comes to minimizing injury risk, safety should always come before convenience. She adds that it’s important for pediatricians to talk to parents about the guidelines and explain why they’re in place. The complete recommendation is available through the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Rear-facing: Not Just for Babies

Why 2, 3, 4, and even 5 year olds should be rear-facing!

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has for 20+ years recommended keeping kids rear-facing until they are too big for rear-facing in their convertible seat. This was reiterated in their 2018 policy statement.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) also updated their recommendations, now specifying that children remain rear-facing until reaching “the top height or weight limit allowed by your car seat’s manufacturer.”

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Keeping Big Kids Rear-facing

15 states now require kids to remain rear-facing until at least their 2nd birthday.

Whoa… you might be thinking “how does a 2-year-old fit rear-facing”… take 90 seconds and watch the following video – and you’ll see how these 90 different 2 year olds all ride safely and comfortably rear-facing.

Common Questions about Rear-facing

Why is rear-facing safer than forward-facing?
Instead of having your head pull violently away from your chest, as happens when you are forward-facing in a frontal crash, the rear-facing child is cradled in their seat in much the same way as you catch a fastball in a mitt.

This video shows two 12-month-old crash test dummies each secured in the same car seat but one is rear-facing and one is forward-facing – watch how much the forward-facing dummy’s head and neck move – and remember that this video is slowed down tremendously as crashes happen quicker than the blink of an eye. For more on the physics behind why rear-facing is safer, see here.

The video above shows a side by side comparison of a forward-facing car seat (on the left) and a rear-facing car seat (on the right) using the same crash test dummy and the same crash speed.

Notice how the rear-facing dummy tucks into a cannonball position? No matter how scrunched the rear-facing child’s legs start, they end up super scrunched during the crash and it does NOT cause injury to the legs (or other parts of the body either).There are ZERO documented cases of rear-facing children breaking their legs, hips, feet, etc., due to their feet touching the back of the vehicle seat. In fact, studies show that forward-facing kids suffer many more leg injuries than rear-facing kids. The leg injuries to forward-facing children occur when the child’s legs fly up and hit the back of the front seat all the while the child & car seat are moving forward which traps the child’s legs and puts tremendous pressure into the leg bones which can break them.

What you should be asking is “What about the HEAD & NECK?” – notice how the forward-facing child’s head and neck are thrown forward (snug straps only hold the chest back, not the head & neck) – whereas the rear-facing child’s head and neck are cradled within the shell of the car seat. The forward-facing child’s head being thrown violently forward IS a cause for brain and spinal cord injury… injury we can prevent by keeping a child rear-facing.

3-year-old happily rear-facing

3-year-old happily rear-facing

Besides worrying about leg injuries, many parents worry about leg discomfort in the rear-facing child. As kids get older, their feet will touch the back of the vehicle seat; this is both comfortable and safe. Ever wonder why a 5-year-old can sleep comfortably with his chin on his chest and never wake up complaining of a stiff neck? It’s because kids’ joints aren’t fully formed, which lets them sit comfortably in positions that would be painful for even a yoga master. Kids have much more flexibility and range of motion in their ankle, knee and hip joints than we do. For this reason, a 3-year-old can sit comfortably rear-facing with her legs crossed or in the “frog leg” position.

Parents of forward-facing children will know that the kids often try and put their feet up wherever they can – often the back of the front seat (which drives many adults crazy!). Forward-facing kids are doing this as just like you aren’t comfortable when you sit on a bar stool without a foot rest and your legs are left to dangle, they don’t like their legs dangling in the car seat as happens forward-facing (but doesn’t happen rear-facing).

A recent study looked at rear-facing car seats in rear impacts. They study found that rear-facing car seats mitigate and manage crash forces in a variety of ways that allow them to provide good protection for rear-facing kids. This finding is backed up by epidemiological and field data which also show that real kids riding rear-facing in real rear-end crashes typically do very well.

This is NOT correct. Many years ago, in the days before the iPhone was invented, the minimum to turn forward facing was 1 year and 20 pounds.

In 2011 both the AAP and NHTSA updated their recommendations to reflect the latest research in child passenger safety. The AAP now recommends that kids sit rear-facing until at least age 2. NHTSA now recommends: “Your child should remain in a rear-facing car seat until he or she reaches the top height or weight limit allowed by your car seat’s manufacturer.”

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Our government requires manufacturers to include some exceptionally confusing wording on the labels of every convertible car seat (car seats that start out rear-facing & then go forward-facing). The sentence that confuses most is “Use only in a rear-facing position when using it with an infant weighing less than 20 lbs.” What this sentence is trying to say, is that for kids who weigh less than 20 lbs. the only direction you are allowed to install this car seat is rear-facing – i.e. a child under 20 pounds may never ride forward-facing in this car seat. However, many people confuse this to mean that after 20 pounds you must turn the car seat forward-facing – which is NOT what it is trying to say. In another sentence, likely very close to where you found the confusing one, it will give the rear-facing minimum and maximum weights for your convertible seat. All convertible seats on the market in the US for many years now go rear-facing until at least 30 pounds, with most going to 40 or more pounds rear-facing.

4y5m 35lbs rear-facing in Clek Foonf car seat

A child can be either too heavy, too tall, or both–but all of this depends on the specifcations of the car seat. Each car seat has its own height and weight limits for rear-facing children. Most convertible seats allow children to sit rear-facing up to 35, 40 or 50 pounds. The height limit for most rear-facing car seats is that there must be at least 1 inch of room between the top of the child’s head and the top of the car seat. This inch ensures that as the child slides up the seat in a crash, his head will stay protected. Given the design of most car seats, the majority of children become too tall for rear-facing seats before they become too heavy. Therefore, when you purchase a convertible car seat, try to select one that is taller in seated height.

A 95th percentile child may look stronger than his 5th percentile friend, but in a crash the bigger child is MORE at risk if he’s riding forward-facing. The rigidity of bones and the strength of ligaments in the spine is likely the same in children of the same age, no matter their size. And a 95th percentile baby likely has a much larger, heavier head, which will pull forward which much more force than that of a 5th percentile child. Click here to learn about seats that can best accommodate the biggest kids rear-facing.

3 year old comfortably rear-facing in Graco Extend2Fit 3-in-1

Rear-facing does not have to be boring! Older kids can ride quite upright so they can see out the side and rear windows. If there is a head rest blocking your child’s view out the back window, you can usually remove it. By 9-12 months your baby knows you’re there when you talk to them from the front – even though they can’t see you. So you can calm and entertain your child with songs, stories – and for older children games of “I spy” – all while they are rear-facing.

We’ve got lots of suggestions for great car seat & travel toys for babies & toddlers (and big kids too) – check them out here – because sometimes we all get a little cranky when we’re bored!

We’ve got a pediatrician-curated selection of toys, teethers, and games that are car seat & travel friendly for babies, toddlers & big kids. We all get a little cranky when we’re bored – and these are sure to keep boredom at bay!

The long and short: most kids do not puke less when forward-facing compared to rear-facing.

We’ve got lots of information on motion-sickness over here – including an explanation of why it is believed to occur, things you can do to decrease the chance of your kid puking, and how to minimize the mess and clean up if your kid does puke.

Yes! When we know better, we must do better. Three months ago when you turned her forward facing you did what you thought was best, but now you know differently. Avoid regrets, and give her the best protection.

Many parents worry that it will be a disaster turning an older child back rear-facing. Here is one mom’s experience turning her almost-3-year-old son back rear-facing:

“I was initially very hesitant to move my almost three year old son to rear facing from forward facing. He has been sitting forward facing for over a year and can be strong willed when it comes to change. However, after hearing how much safer it is I was willing to try. The first three or so drives were very difficult as he asked to “look out mama and dada’s window” almost the entire time. We ignored and distracted and I was about to give up when I noticed that although he still complained about sitting rear facing it happened less and less. Now (after about three weeks) he asks maybe once every other drive if he can sit forward facing and was even (mostly) fine the other day when his friend joined us and sat forward facing. It was a tough first few drives, but I am very happy we did it and I feel so much safer.

Yes! When we know better, we must do better. Three months ago when you turned her forward facing you did what you thought was best, but now you know differently. Avoid regrets, and give her the best protection.

Many parents worry that it will be a disaster turning an older child back rear-facing. Here is one mom’s experience turning her almost-3-year-old son back rear-facing:

“I was initially very hesitant to move my almost three year old son to rear facing from forward facing. He has been sitting forward facing for over a year and can be strong willed when it comes to change. However, after hearing how much safer it is I was willing to try. The first three or so drives were very difficult as he asked to “look out mama and dada’s window” almost the entire time. We ignored and distracted and I was about to give up when I noticed that although he still complained about sitting rear facing it happened less and less. Now (after about three weeks) he asks maybe once every other drive if he can sit forward facing and was even (mostly) fine the other day when his friend joined us and sat forward facing. It was a tough first few drives, but I am very happy we did it and I feel so much safer.

24months 39lbs 39in rear-facing in Clek Foonf - 95th child

Imagine it’s November and your 20-month-old has outgrown all of her winter clothes from last year. Would you not buy her new winter clothes because “it will be warmer in four months”? The car seat is one of the only products you will ever buy for your child that has the potential to save her life! Just like your child needs new clothes frequently, they may need a new car seat sooner than you thought. If you are in a crash, you will be relieved knowing that you gave her the best protection possible.

The laws of physics don’t care about the laws of the state… but with that said, it is now law in 15 states that children ride rear-facing until at least age 2.

It is critically important to understand that the recommendation to keep children under age 2 rear-facing is not based on a single study, but rather on a broad body of research from the US and Sweden. These citations are included below for easy reference.

  1. Sherwood CP, Crandall JR. Frontal sled tests comparing rear and forward facing child restraints with 1-3 year old dummies. Annual Proceedings of the Association for the Advancement of Automotive Medicine. Association for the Advancement of Automotive Medicine, 2007,51: 169-80.
  2. Planath I, Rygaard C, Nilsson S. Synthesis of data towards neck protection criteria for children. Proceedings of the 1992 International IRCOBI Conference on the Biomechanics of Impacts. Verona, Italy:155-66.
  3. Kamren B, Koch M, Kullgren A, et al. The protective effects of rearward facing CRS: an overview of possibilities and problems associated with child restraints for children aged 0-3 years. Child Occupant Protection Symposium: SAE International, 1993.
  4. Klinich KD, Manary MA, Weber KB. Crash protection for child passengers: rationale for best practice. UMTRI Res Rev 2012;43:1-35.
  5. Isaksson-Hellman I, Jakobsson L, Gustafsson C, et al. Trends and effects of child restraint systems based on Volvo’s Swedish accident database. 41st Stapp Car Crash Conference: SAE International, 1997.
  6. Jakobsson L, Isaksson-Hellman I, Lundell B. Safety for the growing child: experiences from Swedish accident data. Proceedings of the 17th ESV Conference, 2005.
  7. American Academy of Pediatrics, Committee on Injury, Violence & Poison Prevention. Child Passenger Safety. Pediatrics. 2018.
  8. Arbogast KB, et al. Injuries to Children in Forward Facing Child Restraints. Annual Proceedings Association for the Advancement of Automotive Medicine. 2002; 46: 213-30.

FTC Disclosure: Affiliate links are included in this page. No monetary compensation was provided, however, some of the reviewed products were supplied by the manufacturer or distributor to help facilitate the review. All opinions are those of The Car Seat Lady LLC.

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Keeping Your Baby in a Rear-Facing Car Seat

Heather Wootton Corley is a mother, freelance writer and certified Child Passenger Safety Technician-Instructor.

Verywell Family articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and family healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more.

Alisa Baer, MD, is a board-certified pediatrician, nationally certified child passenger safety instructor, and co-founder of The Car Seat Lady.

Photo illustration of child in car

Verywell / Photo Illustration by Michela Buttignol / Getty Images

Many parents ask how long their child should stay in a rear-facing car seat. Actually, there’s not an exact timeline. The rule of thumb is that children should be in rear-facing car seats for as long as possible, to the height or weight limits of the car seat (once one limit is reached, the child is too big for the seat; it is dangerous to exceed one limit even if the child is still within the other limit).  

Riding rear-facing until the limit allowed by your child’s convertible seat has big safety advantages that parents should strongly consider. Turning a car seat around isn’t a milestone to rush. It’s actually a step down in safety, so don’t be in a hurry to make the big switch.

Current Advice From Pediatricians

From 2011 to 2018, the recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) was to keep children rear-facing until they were at least two years old, but ideally longer—until reaching the rear-facing height or weight limit for their convertible seat.

Current Recommendations

The current recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics is to keep children rear-facing until they reach the maximum height or weight for their convertible seat. This is usually at three to five years old, depending on the seat and the child’s growth.

One-third of states in the U.S. have updated their child passenger safety laws to require rear-facing seats until age two.

Some state laws and some convertible car seats say that kids can ride forward facing if they are at least one year old. This can easily fool a parent into thinking that it is safe for a one-year-old to ride forward facing, when the evidence is clear that one-year-olds are safer rear-facing. Seeing “one-year-old” in print alongside “forward-facing car seat” leads many families to believe it is safe for their little one to switch to forward-facing far too young.

New parents also naturally turn to their family and friends with parenting experience when it comes to car seat safety advice. If your family and friends are a few years out from having newborns and toddlers, though, it’s possible, and even likely, that their car seat advice is outdated.

Age: Any age, so long as the child is within the height and weight limits for their rear-facing car seat

Weight: Depends on the car seat, but most convertible seats have rear-facing weight limits of 40 to 50 pounds

Height: Depends on the car seat, but most convertible seats have rear-facing height limits that require the child’s head to be at least 1 inch below the top (the child’s legs touching the vehicle seat back is not an indication that they are too tall)

Age: Depends on state law and the car seat your child will be using

Weight: Depends on state law and the car seat your child will be using

Height: Depends on state law and the car seat your child will be using

Why Rear-Facing Is Safer

Car seats are designed to absorb some crash forces and spread the remaining crash forces over a larger area of the body. For adults, seat belts distribute force to the strongest parts of the body—the hips, chest bone, and collarbone.

When a child is in a forward-facing seat, the head pulls forward, which puts stress on the neck. When rear-facing, the head, neck, and back all move in unison and are cradled by the shell of the rear-facing car seat. This video helps explain.

The bones running down a young child’s neck and back are not yet solid bone (they still have a lot of stretchy cartilage). A young child’s head is also much heavier, in proportion to the body, than that of an older child or adult. So the head pulls forward with proportionately much more force on bones that are stretchier.

As the bones stretch, they can force the spinal cord to stretch. After it is stretched more than one-quarter of an inch, the spinal cord breaks. Riding in a rear-facing car seat helps reduce that risk by supporting the child’s head.

The incidence of severe head and neck injuries for babies and toddlers is greatly reduced in rear-facing car seats.

The additional support the rear-facing car seat provides to the head and neck reduces your child’s chance of being injured or worse in a crash. The rear-facing car seat is absorbing some of the energy of the crash, and then distributing the remaining energy along the child’s head, neck and back.

With the forward-facing child, the car seat isn’t able to absorb as much of the energy, and more of it is transferred to the child—in particular to the head and neck as they pull away from the chest. The difference can be seen in a video comparing rear-facing and forward-facing car seats in a crash test.

Dangers of Forward-Facing Too Early

Even if your child’s legs are touching the seat back, or they cry when rear-facing, you should still keep your child rear-facing until they reach the rear-facing weight or height limit of the car seat. Most convertible car seats have rear-facing weight limits of 35 to 50 pounds, so most kids can ride rear-facing until age three to five.

Some children never like sitting in a car seat, and they may cry. However, being properly restrained makes it more likely that a child will survive a crash to cry another day.

Many parents worry that their child will suffer broken legs or hips in a crash because the child’s legs touch the seat back or look cramped when rear-facing. In fact, there are more leg injuries when forward-facing, as the legs fly up and the feet go into the back of the front seat. As everything moves forward, compression forces into the hip and femur can break the leg of the forward-facing child.

Studies of real kids in real crashes shows that leg and hip injuries in rear-facing kids are very uncommon. When they do happen, it is in side impacts where another vehicle hits the child right where their leg is, breaking the leg. Rear-facing kids do not get hip or leg injuries from being scrunched up. In fact, during the instant of the crash, rear-facing kids become even more scrunched, with their legs pulling up into a cannonball position. This is not a cause of injury.

If Your Child Is Fussy in the Car Seat

Kids often fuss because they are strapped in, not because they are rear-facing. To reduce fussiness in a rear-facing child:

  • If your child can sit upright unsupported, sit the car seat more upright (if the car seat allows) to give the child a better view out the window.
  • Remove the vehicle head restraint to allow the rear-facing child a better view out the window.
  • Use music to help entertain and calm the child.
  • Use toys that are safe for travel to distract and entertain the child.

Car Seats for One-Year-Olds

When babies turn one, many parents think about moving past the infant car seat with the carrier handle. There are lots of options if you need a new car seat for a one-year-old!

Remember, advocates recommend that toddlers and preschoolers ride rear-facing until reaching the maximum weight or height for rear-facing in their convertible car seat, which for most kids is between three and five years of age. So you’ll want to find a car seat that can work both rear-facing and forward-facing. Look for a convertible car seat with a high rear-facing weight limit and tall shell, and then use it rear-facing as long as possible.

Several car seats today have rear-facing weight limits up to 50 pounds, which should accommodate almost every child through age 5 (unless they reach the maximum rear-facing height for the seat). You should check the manufacturer’s rear-facing height limit to be sure your child is not too tall to safely stay rear-facing to the weight limit.

Most children should be able to remain rear-facing far beyond age 2.

A Word From Verywell

Crash data shows us that anybody is safer in a crash when riding rear-facing for the reasons outlined above. Young children are better protected in a rear-facing car seat because that seat distributes the force of a crash over a greater body area and gives better support to young heads and necks.

A rear-facing car seat offers the best protection for babies, toddlers, preschoolers, and even young school-age kids and should be properly used for as long as possible, to the limits of the car seat. Keeping your child rear-facing to the limit of the seat is the safest choice. You can check your car seat instruction book or the labels on the car seat sides to find the rear-facing weight and height limits.

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