Photo Credit: Getty
As of today (March 21), it’s official: the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says we should keep our tots in rear-facing car seats until age 2, or until they reach the maximum height and weight for their seat. The new policy was published in the April 2011 issue of Pediatrics. (Previous guidelines have us turning our kiddos forward when they're 1 year old or weigh 20 pounds). Another change: If you have a child 8 to 12 years old, make sure he’s at least 4 feet 9 inches tall before chucking the booster seat.
Research shows that toddlers are more than five times safer riding rear-facing in a car seat up to their second birthday. But what if you’ve already turned your toddler’s seat forward? We turned to expert Jennifer Hoekstra, the Safe Kids Program Coordinator at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids, Mich., for some advice.
If you’ve already transitioned to forward-facing: As long as you're using your car seat correctly, your child is still safe. “What this policy is sharing is that the data and research [say] that extended rear-facing is safer for the child’s head, neck and spine,” DeVos says. “You don’t have to go out and dump $400 at the store on new car seats if you don’t have one your child fits into now.”
If you still have your rear-facing infant car seat: Dig it out of storage if your child hasn't reached the maximum weight or height limit for it -- and use it until he grows out of it.
If you have a convertible car seat: If you own a convertible seat that can be used either forward or backward, check the weight guidelines on the side sticker. If your child is still within the limits to face backward, then turn it back around to face forward as long as possible.
If you're still confused by the new guidelines, DeVos recommends finding a Safe Kids expert near you -- they can meet with you in person and help.