Nov 11, 2019

Dr. Gellner: Car seats are something your child's pediatrician should be talking about every well child visit. Do you know if your child is in the correct car seat? I'll review the current American Academy of Pediatrics' recommendations for car seats on today's Scope. I'm Dr. Cindy Gellner.

Announcer: Keep your kids healthy and happy. You are now entering the "Healthy Kids Zone" with Dr. Cindy Gellner on The Scope.

Dr. Gellner: We all know that car seats save lives and that babies need to be in car seats facing backwards. But many parents don't realize that the guidelines for car seats have changed over the years. In 2012, the guideline was for babies and toddlers to be rear-facing until they were at least 12 months old and 20 pounds. Then, in 2011, the guidelines changed for kids to be rear-facing in car seats until they were two. That's eight years ago that this guideline changed. Yet, at least a few times a month, when I'm discussing safety at a well visit for a one-year-old, parents tell me they've already turned their child around, sometimes even before the child is 15 months old. Reasons I hear are that the child cries because they can't see where they're going, the babies are too tall and so they're scrunched up, or that they didn't know that the guidelines had changed.

I completely understand how hard it is to drive with a fussy child. However, if a child is turned around too soon and the car is rear-ended, that puts the child at significant risk of spine injuries. And, as for your child being scrunched up, the solution to that is to get the convertible car seat, which is still rear-facing, but has a deeper bucket so there's more leg room. Some of the convertible car seats even hold kids up to 50 pounds. Kids are also more flexible than adults. And if they're used to sitting backwards, they'll still be fine.

Earlier this year, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued updated guidelines that kids should be rear-facing until they are at least 40 pounds. Some kids don't even reach that until they're four. "Four you say? That's crazy. Why would I have my preschooler face backwards?" Well, to be honest, we'd all be safer in rear-facing car seats. Young kids are most at risk because their bones and ligaments are still developing. They are at risk for head and spinal cord injuries because their heads are still so big. They aren't really proportional until they're about four.

Rear-facing car seats support your child's head, neck, and spine better in a rear-end crash, which is what most car accidents are. In 2011, the guidelines also changed from the old 8 years and 80 pounds to get out of a booster seat to kids had to be at least 57 inches, which is 4'9" inches tall. And that doesn't happen until they're between the ages of 8 and 12 for most kids.

Finally, kids should ride in the backseat until they're 13 years old. It drives me crazy when I'm at my son's elementary school, and I see all these little kids in the front seat, and they're not in proper restraints. I know, my husband joked that our kids would be in booster seats even on their way to prom, but luckily they've now grown.

Not sure what car seat your child should be in? Be sure to ask your child's pediatrician at their next visit, and we'll be happy to tell you which one and why that's the best for your child at their age.

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