Passion is relative.
Everyone’s level of passion for one thing or another is set at a different level – and while I may consider myself to be relatively passionate about something, you over there may think I’m over-the-top crazy about it. And that thing I’m “relatively passionate” (over-the-top to you) about may be of little importance or concern to you, be it because it has no relevance in your life, or because you either don’t care or aren’t informed.
My big passion is car seat safety – child passenger safety.
Not long after I found out I was pregnant with littleman, the recommendation came out from the American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) to rear-face children until they reach at least 2 years old, or until they reach the height or weight limits for their rear-facing child safety seat. With a bit of research, that limit could be extended to 3 or 4 years old quite easily, depending on the seat that is used. My goal was to rear-face littleman as long as I could – at least 2 years – but I didn’t do my research all too well. I bought a seat that was very, very convenient for installation and harness adjustment. It was awesome – until littleman was about 13 months old, well ahead of 2 years old. He has always been a tall boy. At birth, he was 21.5 inches long, and by the time he was 13 months old, he had reached the rear-facing height limit of his seat. At that point, well, I begrudgingly turned him forward-facing (FF). With the seat we had, it was the only safe way for him to ride.
I came across The Car Seat Lady and The Baby Guy NYC (two awesome resources for parents and families – both are on Facebook – TCSL and TBGNYC, Twitter – TCSL and TBGNYC, and have their own websites – referenced above). I also found Car Seats for the Littles (there is also a Facebook page), a closed group of child passenger safety technicians (CPSTs) and parents that are incredibly knowledgeable about car seats and safety recommendations. In this closed group you can post pictures of your installed seat and get feedback on the install; additionally, they will let you know anything you have questions about. It’s great.
It was in the CSFTL group that I found the initial mention that children should remain rear-facing as long as possible – as close to age 4 as possible. Before age 4, the bones in the neck and spinal column are not mature enough – strong enough – to support significant injury. The risks of neck and spinal injury are significantly higher for younger children than older – this article from the CSFTL people does a fabulous job of explaining why it’s extremely important to keep kids rear-facing as long as possible. What it comes down to, though, is the ossification (closing/hardening) of the spinal vertebrae.
Once I found the information stating the importance of Extended Rear-Facing (ERF), I did more research and found out that I could potentially rear-face littleman for a bit longer. This was about 10 months after I had switched him FF – but I knew that he would be safer the other way. I took all of the loose change I could find, and bought two new seats. These seats are some of the longest rear-facing seats on the market – and with my extremely tall boy, he would definitely hit the weight limit prior to hitting the height limit. 10 months after he outgrew his RF Evenflo Triumph and began FF, I switched him back RF in a Graco MySize 70. He’s extremely comfortable, and significantly safer. For my peace of mind, and for his safety, and thanks to the Child Passenger Safety Technicians I dealt with, my son is safe in the car. Very, very safe.
The only other way I could ensure that he is as safe as can be, in addition to keeping him in a rear-facing seat as long as he fits, is to make sure I know a) how to safely install his seat, b) how to safely buckle him in, and c) when he outgrows his seat rear-facing. Once he hits the limits, it’s no longer the safest way for him to ride. He knows now that to be safe, his top of his chest clip must be level with his armpits, and he lifts it there himself if I don’t do it soon enough. He also tries to tighten the straps, but can’t quite get it there – can’t reach far enough once the straps begin to tighten!
My goal, due to everything I have learned in the past 18 months, is to Become a Tech with Safe Kids Worldwide. I want to be able to help others as I have been helped in the past few years, and I want to be able to make a difference. There is an abundance of incorrect information out there – even with pediatricians. The vast majority of pediatricians are not CPSTs, and are not up to date on child passenger safety. It’s scary when you find the science to prove that your child is safest rear-facing at LEAST to age 2, but your pediatrician – someone that most people will trust without any question, and someone that a lot of people will take the word of with no question – tells you that it’s “safer to have your child forward-facing at age 2” (this was straight from our pediatrician – word for word).
The majority of parents don’t know how to correctly install a car seat in a vehicle.
Many parents don’t understand how to correctly and safely buckle a child into a car seat.
And many parents don’t realize the importance of working with the maximums – not the minimums. Don’t rush your child to the next step. Keep them safest by working with the maximum allowances for moving to the next step – rear-facing to forward-facing, forward-facing to seatbelted booster, seatbelted booster to seatbelt. It’s just not worth the risk.