Monday, March 16, 2009

Taking a Look at Rear-Facing Carseats

A week or so back, I opened up the line of conversation regarding child passenger safety. For 11 years, this subject has been near and dear to my heart. I have been a helpful resource not only to the folks I meet in the community, seeking my services as a Certified Child Passenger Safety Technician, but to my friends and family.

One thing I have learned over the years is that it is completely and utterly less nerve racking to give carseat advice to someone seeking that advice, than it is to someone you care about, but hasn't asked. I have had my share of awkward moments, fumbling for the right words to use when I observe a common carseat mis-use in the car of a friend, or a photo of an on-line acquaintance. No matter what my incentive, folks seem to think I'm plainly judging their parenting, or at the very least, their parenting ability. However, I am unable to pass up an opportunity to educate a parent on the proper use of a carseat, if I see a mistake that could harm the child in the event of a crash. It isn't easy, but I somehow find a way. I have an unwritten personal rule that I will give the advice to a particular person once, and possibly twice, but the third time I see non-compliance I have to let it go. At that point, I'm harassing them. Luckily, this has only happen twice (with close friends, and several times online). I still have guilt that their children might not be properly protected, but those parents made their choice, and I must respect that.

Many parents don't have a COREY in their lives, so today, I'd like to take the time to start a series of posts dedicated to our children in vehicles. I hope to cover a variety of subjects, so that no matter what age your children are you will find something of interest. After much consideration, I decided to kick it off with the importance of the rear-facing car seat, and how extending the use of this device can greatly reduce the chance of your child suffering spinal trauma in the event of a crash.

Most States (I'm sorry that I am uneducated in regards to other Country's laws), the law indicates that a child must be in a rear-facing carseat until the are 12 months and 20 lbs. Unfortunately, this milestone, doesn't seem to be adequate. The truth is, ALL passengers would be safer if they were rear-facing. Most FATAL collisions are frontal impact. When this impact occurs, there is a significant force that throws your body forward. The head snaps violently forward, and if in a lap belt only, the entire upper half of your body jackknifes. There are many cases of lower speed (under 55mph) frontal collisions where all passengers of a vehicle have suffered relatively minor injuries except the passenger seated in the center with lap belt only. This person is paralyzed by the extreme strain put on the spinal cord. This is why all newer vehicle no longer install lap belt only seat belts. Regardless of the seat belt type frontal collisions can be extremely damaging to the body.

However, if that body were to be rear-facing, the crash forces would be spread along the ENTIRE back (rather than the parts of the body that the seat belt or harness are touching), and the head would ride down the extreme forces firmly against the back of the seat. There will be some forward motion of the body during recoil, but these forces are MUCH less intense. There is no mistaking that this is much more desirable, and less damaging to the human body.

Let's for a moment discuss the young child's body. When a baby is born, their head makes up 1/3 of their body. A grown adult's head is only 1/7 of their body. There is no denying that a babies head is huge, and heavy. Their tiny little neck has yet to develop the strong muscles they need to support their head. This happens over time. Your guess is as good as mine, as to when exactly that tiny neck can adequately handle the extreme forces of a frontal collision. In fact, their lack of neck muscles enable their neck to snap forward to a further extreme than an adults. While the spinal column is somewhat forgiving, the spinal cord is NOT. Such forces often stretch the spinal cord pasts it's limits, thus causing severe spinal damage.

I know...I sounds like I'm going the "scare the CRAP out of them" route here, but nothing I have said is exaggerated or said in such a way to make it seem worse than it is. Let's just face it......frontal collisions are nasty, and the human body can't handle the extreme forces without breaking, and who in their right mind wants those forces aimed at their child's spinal cord. NOT ME!

Thus, the importance of EXTENDED rear-facing. It is my suggestion that parents purchase seats that allow their child to remain rear-facing until the 30-35lb range. This is in no way considered the "age" or "size" a child's neck can with stand these forces, but it is the range at which our carseat manufacturers have stopped producing rear-facing options. (THAT is a whole other post!!!)

As with all carseats, one must read the manual, seek out a local Certified Technician, and be diligent as to the installation, when considering extended rear-facing. Pay attention to the height limits, and any special instructions.

I often get asked about long I left Sugar Bear rear-facing, and if she seemed uncomfortable with it. You see folks worry about where an older child's legs go when rear-facing. Sugar Bear rode happily rear-facing until she was nearly 30 months, and she loved to sit cross legged towards the last few months. Any parent should know that kids don't seem to get stiff like we do (again, the lack of muscles). Just as a child's neck rarely gets stiff from sleeping with their neck all kinked forward, they don't complain of leg issues when seated cross legged for a long period of time. I was forced to turn Sugar, as she had reached the weight limit, and I must say, it was one of the toughest moments I've had in parenting. I often hear parents rejoice, as their children move up the ranks of carseats, but I am much different. I know that each step from the rear-facing seat, all the way to the seat belt, is a step in the wrong direction. Each milestone leaves them a little more vulnerable.

I'd like to leave you with the best video I have seen out there encouraging parents to extend the rear-facing for their children. You may have watched it when I posted about Megan's post, but her post was so jammed packed with fabulous links, I don't want to chance that you haven't seen it. View it.....and pass it on.

Here are a couple photos of The Sugar at nearly two in her carseat. The first was early in the morning on the way to the hospital for an awful test to see if her kidneys were functioning properly (yes they were), and the second was taken shortly after the traumatic test. She looks awful from crying, and appears to be thinking, "Get the heck in the truck, MOM! This place sucks!" These were taken 8 months before I turned her forward facing. I so wish I had taken a picture of her rear-facing one more time before I turned her.



If you have any questions regarding Child Passenger Safety, please feel free to leave them for me in the comments of email me directly. My contact is in the "about me" at the top of my blog.
Over the next month, look for further posts regarding, proper installation of a carseat, proper fit of a child in the carseat, extended 5-point harnessing, and booster seat/seat belt usage.

18 Live It or Love It:

Childlife said...

OK, now you've got me all freaked out because I just had a post up with my kids in car-seats... and I'm looking and looking at my post going -- "It's me -- I know she's talking about me... Is it me? Do I have something wrong?? I don't think it's me... but maybe it is... I better go ask her..."

So -- promise me on your life, Girlie, that if you ever spot any carseat safety violations at my place you'll tell me straight out 'cause I wanna know! ;)

We bought an infant car seat that let us keep both of our kiddos rear facing until they were 30lbs -- both faced the rear until they were well over two. Our "tweener" carseat allows for the 5-point harness to be used up to 45-50lbs. We kept our oldest in it until she was well over four. We also had our installation and harness settings checked out at a carseat clinic and were told we made excellent carseat choices and that everything looked excellent.

So I hope, I hope, I HOPE we've got it right... But now I'm a paranoid mess. Please come tell me so I can sleep at night... :P (And stop laughing, OK?)

Gayle said...

I know it's me. I've been having car seat/car crash paranoia for about two weeks now. I am very superstitious so I have to fix my problems. Olivia is in a booster seat and shouldn't be. I went to every lousy store in town and the best I can do is a 5-pt harness up to 55 pounds (I was looking for the 100 lb I read about). It is $210. Olivia isn't very far from that so it seems pointless to buy the seat. Yet I'm all freaked out about not getting it. I know my straps are too loose and I can't get the tether strap to tighten. I don't even get it. I know where the car seat van lives (drove past her house once). I am just going to knock on that door and have her fix it. So do I get the carseat or spend twice that and order the 100 lb one online? Can I just wrap them in bubble wrap and keep my sweet babies save forever! :)

Gayle said...

P/S There was a child in a helmet at the ice park so Sugar would not have been the only one. I would have felt a lot better about a full-face helmet. I was stressed to the point of crying. That just doesn't make sense to me.

Mama Zen said...

Excellent post! Unfortunately, I frequently see kids not strapped into car seats at all!

Nap Warden said...

Car seats are so stressful, I am in a constant state of checking ours. Plus, my kiddos hate them. I need to hold them down to get them snapped in. They just hate them:(

♥ spoiled mommy ♥ said...

I kept her rear facing for as long as I could, I went by her weight.
Now I want to run and go put her facing backwards again...that is just so darn scary. Ughh!! I still wont even allow the other 2 kids to sit in the front seat either...they get very mad at me-one is 14 & the other is 11. :)

Sundi Hayes said...

Thanks for this Corey! Here is our situation...

Our booster seats were moved the other day because I carried other guests in our car...when the kids got in they didn't dig them out to use them. I knew the second I saw the belts high on their tummies rather than low across their legs there could be trouble. I dug the seats out myself the second we stopped. Our twins are seven and sit in boosters with head rests behind so I think they are ok.

The rest we aren't so great at. Our eleven year-old sits in the standard car benchseat. The belt is three-point but my problem is there isn't a headrest. I either choose to put him in a booster which makes the belt sit exactly right and his head extends over the top of the seat OR I take out the booster which compromises the belt fit but keeps some of the back of his head below the top of the seat. Which is more important his neck or his liver? What a crazy question to ask a mom!? The final option, but not much better in my opinion, is we could put him in the front (gasp) and I could sit between the twins.

Car manufacturers need to put headrests on every seat surface!

Christina said...

Yikes! That freaked me the heck out. I turned Nadia at 15 months and about 25 pounds...I thought I'd gone above and beyond! I didn't know any better. Now I wish I could go back and flip her around again! Scary stuff. I'm looking forward to the next installment, as the seat she's in now is getting a bit cramped...and I don't know what options we have other than buying one of the REALLY big, expensive 5-point harness seats.

Noah said...

Like I said on fb, great post!

Christina - the graco nautilus is a great 5 pt extended harnessing seat and it's usually 150 or less. So not as super expensive as some. And it converts to a booster. My favorite ffing only seat!

TuTu's Bliss said...

Here is the deal and the question..
I have Miss Long and Lean in a new harness seat. We finally had to kick her out of her Britax infant seat that we adored. She fit in it forever and was so safe and cozy..

The new brand/style goes to the highest in wieght and heighth that we could find at the time. She is already outgrowing it and seems too short for the shoulder straps. Boosters scare me. Any ideas??

Question #2: Best brand?
My main concern is ease of use..if it is the top rated seat but so complicated that the fire station can't even install it properly it doesn't do me or little a bit of good.

I'm glad you speak up. I see young kids here in Hawaii on the Highway in the bed of trucks. It makes me so nervous.

TuTu's Bliss said...

LOL she is too TALL for the shoulder straps. Not enough sleep today ;)

Tabitha Blue/Fresh Mommy said...

Wow, this was so insightful!!! So much that I never knew.. THANK YOU!! I know that I will still have another child, and will look forward to keeping them rear facing for much longer.

david mcmahon said...

There is no subject more important than child safety in a vehicle.

And thank you, Corey, for your wonderful comment on my air show images.

tommie said...

What a great post...I have never had issues with the kids not wanting to be in their seats. Thank goodness!

Becky said...

I LOVE THIS POST! I was very adament about leaving my son turning backwards until the appropriate age and weight. Although, now I am starting to think differently. My friends were turning their children around at 10 months because they were over 20 lbs. I didn't and still don't understand it. Thanks for all the great information!

mrsmouthy said...

This is the 2nd thing I've been sent about carseats in the past 2 days...I'm thinking it's a sign I should go to one of those clinics to make sure ours is okay! I will definitely keep the rear-facing thing in mind with our next baby. I have to admit I was mortified when my husband turned Vincenzo's carseat around when he was just under 20 pounds. Kevin pushed it early because Vincenzo screamed and screamed in the car and nothing we could do would calm him down, but turning the carseat forward did. I know that a screaming child is much better than a paralyzed one, but I'm hoping our next baby loves riding rear-facing!!

AnnD said...

Wow! And here I was all proud cause I left her rear-facing until she was 15 or 16 months old! Amazing, amazing video. I'm going to post it on my blog to pass it on....totally disturbing.

Michelle said...

thanks for spreading the word and raising awareness about this! I didn't turn Kayla around until she was almost 2, but she wasn't 20 lbs until then. I wish I would have waited (thankfully we weren't in any accidents) but it was after that time when the recommendations came out to encourage rear-facing as long as the child meets the weight and not just at the 12 months 20 lbs milestone.

Lucas is 14 months and 22 lbs and still rear-facing. I believe his car seat is for 35 lbs, so at the rate he's going he's got a while to be rear facing. I'm sure he would like to be front facing to watch the DVDs with Kayla when we go on longer car rides, but he's going to be rear facing for awhile longer :)

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