My friends will all probably tell you I'm a little crazy when it comes to car seat safety. ( For example, yes my almost 5 year old is still harnessed!) It completely amazes me that one of the most important pieces of baby gear you will purchase comes with such little direction and is often used so incorrectly. Sure all car seats come with a manual, but have you every really sat down and read all of it and if you have, did it really all make sense? If I had my way, all car seats would come with an instructional DVD showing proper installation and usage. But that is not the way it is, so I depend on the internet to keep me up to date with the latest in car seat safety as most pediatricians are not and those car seat people at the "baby" store (you know where I'm talking about) usually have very little knowledge of the product they are selling.
Therefore, I feel as a blog writer, when I learn something new about car seat safety I should share it with you! Most people know the basic rule that your baby should ride rearfacing until 1 year AND 20 lbs not either or, yet many turn their children before reaching this minimum. The AAP has now changed that due to research proving how much safer our children are rearfacing. The new minimum is a child should rearface for 2 years or until the weight limit of your seat has been reached. Even I, the car seat crazy one is breaking this rule right now. Sass' convertible seat can rear face up to 33lbs (or maybe 35). I will be lucky if she weighs that much by first grade, so at 20 months we did turn her. ( at 28 months she is still only 23 lbs).
The myth around town is that if your child's feet hit the back of the seat you need to turn them or they are at risk of leg/ankle injury. The opposite is actually true. If you were ever in an accident severe enough to break their legs rearfacing, it's also severe enough to break a neck foreward facing. That was about all I needed to hear to decide to extend my children's rear facing time.
The other myth I hear is that people turn their baby early because they are so big, they are ready ( Bubbie was big like this, 28lbs at a year, he rear faced until 18 months). This too is untrue. Being safe forward facing has very little to do with how big your child is. It actually has to do with the strength of their spinal cord. Until children are over two, their heads are still not proportinate to the rest of their body. Therefore if you are in an accident foreward facing that big ol' baby noggin can pull on the spinal cord and risk internal decapation. I know, not a pretty thought, but this is a serious serious risk to foreward facing too soon.
Here is an article stating the AAP's new stance on rear facing. I highly recommend you read it.
I also HIGHLY recommend you taking 3 minutes out of your day to watch this short clip (this clip was made before the AAP changed it's stance so it does say 1year and 20lbs which is no longer correct!):