Last updated January 30, 2019
Car Seat Ages & Stages
Recomendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics
“…the AAP recommends children remain in a rear-facing car safety seat as long as
possible,until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by their seat. Previously, the AAP specified children should remain rear-facing at least to age 2; the new recommendation removes the specific age milestone.”
The AAP explains why rear-facing longer is safer:
“When a child rides rear-facing, the head, neck, and spine are all supported by the hard shell of the car safety seat, allowing the car seat to absorb most of the crash forces, and protecting the most vulnerable parts of the body. When children ride forward-facing, their bodies are restrained by the harness straps, but their heads – which for toddlers are disproportionately large and heavy – are thrown forward, possibly resulting in spine and head injuries.”
Here are their recommendations for each stage of car seat use:
“The AAP recommends:
Infants and toddlers should ride in a rear-facing car safety seat as long as
possible,until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by their seat. Most convertible seats have limits that will allow children to ride rear-facing for 2 years or more.
Once they are facing forward, children should use a forward-facing car safety seat with a harness for as long as possible, until they reach the height and weight limits for their seats. Many seats can accommodate children up to 65 pounds or more.
When children exceed these limits, they should use a belt-positioning booster seat until the vehicle’s lap and shoulder seat belt
fitsproperly. This is often when they have reached at least 4 feet 9 inches in height and are 8 to 12 years old.
When children are old enough and large enough to use the vehicle seat belt alone, they should always use lap and shoulder seat belts for optimal protection.
All children younger than 13 years should be restrained in the rear seats of vehicles for optimal protection.”
Keep them rear-facing l
Car seat safety is always changing. The latest recommendation is for children to remain in a rear-facing car seat up to the highest weight and height limit allowed. Many companies are now manufacturing seats that can hold up to 50 lbs rear facing and children as much as 49 inches tall.
For reference, the CDC reports that a boy in the 50th percentile for weight will reach 50 lbs at around 6.5 years and a girl in the 50th percentile will reach 50 lbs at around 7 years old. Both boys and girls in the 97th percentile for weight will reach 50 lbs at around 4.5 years old.
Your child may outgrow a rear facing seat by height before weight, but even tall children can remain rear facing for an extended period. Boys and girls in the 97th percentile will reach 49 inches tall at around 6 years old. (Weight and height information are taken from the CDC Clinical Growth Charts)
With this information, it is clear that it’s possible to keep your child rear facing in some seats up to at least 4.5 years of age.
But won’t my child’s legs
Moving to a forward-facing seat or booster
Once your child is ready to move to a forward facing seat, you should still keep them in a harness and then in a booster as long as the seat allows. This provides optimal protection for your children.
A majority of harnessed forward facing seats will hold a child up to 65 lbs. A few go up to as much as 70, 80, or even 90 lbs in a harness. Some of these seats also can hold children up to 57 inches tall (4 feet 9 inches). Many booster seats hold children up to 120 lbs and 57 inches tall.
This means that even children in the 97th percentile can ride in a harness up to at least 6 years of age and a booster up to 9 years of age. Smaller children may need to ride longer.
Every child should remain in a booster seat until they are able to sit properly in a vehicle without one. This means that their knees bend at the edge of the seat and their feet touch the floor when sitting all the way back. They should also be able to wear the seatbelt comfortably with the lap belt across their thighs and the shoulder belt across their chest and shoulder. Most vehicle safety belts are designed to accommodate people who are 4 feet 9 inches tall or more.
Always refer to your car seat user manual for specific height and weight limits. Never exceed your seat’s limits. While many parents look forward to the transition from rear-facing to forward-facing and then on to booster or no car seat, your child’s safety is ultimately the most important. Check your state’s laws regarding car seat safety below.
How to properly install and use your carseat
Refer to your car seat manual AND your vehicle owners manual for proper installation instructions and placement.
Many seats allow you to install them using LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for CHildren). These are the metal bars you will likely find between the back and seat portion of your car’s back seats. Many car seats have a belt with some type of clips that can be latched onto these metal pieces in your car rather than using a seat belt. They do have a maximum weight limit and you’ll need to refer to the car seat’s user manual for that information.
Installation instructions may vary depending on the type of seat you are using. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has tips and detailed instructions on how to install each different type of seat here.
Before using your car seat for the first time, you’ll need to make sure the straps are adjusted properly for your child. Do this by placing the buckle in the slot closest to your child without being underneath them.
For rear-facing seats, the shoulder straps should be at or below the child’s shoulders when seated properly. In a forward-facing seat, the straps should be at or above the child’s shoulders when seated properly.
Always remember to remove bulky clothing before fastening your child into their seat, as these types of clothes can cause the straps to have an improper fit, therefore increasing
The straps should all lie flat, not twisted or bunched. You should not be able to pinch the straps at the shoulder between your fingers if they are tight enough. The chest clip should be positioned at the height of your child’s armpits.
When your child is seated in a booster seat, the lap belt should lay flat on his thighs and the shoulder belt should lay flat across his chest and shoulders. The belt should never cross his neck or face and should always remain in front of the child.
Do not add any additional padding, toys, or other items to your child’s car seat, as they may affect the integrity and safety of the seat. All car seats are safety tested with the straps and inserts they come with, but they are NOT tested with third party items. Extra padding between the child and the seat or the child and the straps can cause the straps to have an improper fit, increasing the risk of serious injury in the event of an accident. Toys or other items added to the seat can become projectiles in an accident, causing serious injury to the child and potentially other passengers.
Be sure to check and adjust harness straps frequently as your child grows. Always use a car seat in every vehicle (even public transportation) and fully buckle your child into her car seat every time, even if it’s only a short trip. Many accidents occur close to home and even if you are a safe driver, you cannot control the actions of other people on the road. Your child’s safety is never worth the few minutes you might save by not making sure they are properly secured in a vehicle.
Wishing you safe and happy travel with your little loves!