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Australian Law mandates that children under 6 months must use an approved, properly fastened and adjusted rear-facing child restraint. From then, children 6 months to 4 years must use either a rear-facing or a forward-facing child restraint with an inbuilt harness.
Many parents are keen to make the change as soon as possible, particularly if their baby gets unsettled in a rear-facing seat. But, should we be in a hurry to move them? Here we look at why rear-facing seats are the safetst option, and why you might consider extended rear-facing after 6 months.
Neuroscience Research Australia and Kidsafe recommend rear-facing restraints for children up to four years of age. Multiple studies and research show that rear-facing seats are safer than forward-facing seats. A 2007 study reported that 1-2 years olds are actually five times safer in rear-facing seats. This is because their head and neck are fully supported and cradled in the car seat in the event of a crash. Infants have relatively large heads and weak necks, which puts them at high risk of serious injury if the head and neck aren’t fully supported.
Rear-facing is actually the safest way for everyone to travel, not just babies, so consider your own seat choice when using buses and trains.
Australia is behind other parts of the world when it comes to car seat safety. In many states in the US and countries in Europe, children must stay rear-facing until they are 2 years old. In Sweden it’s not uncommon for kids to stay rear-facing until they are 4.
Some babies just don’t like their car seat. Usually this is because they’re unable to freely move, and they don’t have the same physical comfort they’re used to from you. Read our strategies to solve car seat crying.
Because kids’ joints aren’t fully formed they can actually sit comfortably with their legs crossed or in a ‘frog leg’ position when rear-facing. You may even notice that a forward-facing child doesn’t like their legs dangling and needs leg support, much in the way we find it hard sitting on a tall bar stool without a cross-bar to rest our feet on.
While you’re legally able to turn your baby’s restraint to forward-facing at 6 months of age, it’s important to remember that age is just a guide. The height of your baby is a better indicator of when they’re ready to change to the next restraint from a safety perspective.
Once your child is too tall for their rear-facing capsule they can be moved to an approved rear-facing or forward facing restraint. Only move your child out of their seat if they have exceeded the upper height markers on their current restraint, and can no longer sit comfortably in it.
You need to make the decision about extended rear facing based on what is right for your individual circumstances, but it’s important to educate yourself so that you make the safest decision.
Check the Child Car Seats website for car seat models that are considered safe. For peace of mind, have your car seat installed by an authorised fitter.