Deciding when to turn a car seat forward can be a challenge for many safety-conscious parents. This is true especially since there is a lot of conflicting information presented to parents on this issue. In this article, we’ll cover all of your forward facing car seat questions and more!
In general, the NHTSA recommends children stay rear facing for as long as possible. But what are the specifics?
When to Turn Car Seat Forward?
It can be difficult to know when to turn a car seat forward, but weight is perhaps the best indicator. You should take a look at your car seat’s specifications on weight for rear-facing infants and children.
If your child weighs less than the highest weight listed for rear-facing, then you shouldn’t switch your car seat forward. If your child weighs more than that upper weight, it may be time to make the switch.
Typically, your child will be around 22-35 pounds when they outgrow a rear-facing only seat. This weight is higher, at 35-40 pounds, for convertible seats. For 3-in-1 seats, the limit is usually around 40-50 pounds.
Always check your specific car seat’s instructions prior to turning your child forward.
Children should switch forward if their head comes close to the top of the seat. If their head reaches within an inch of the top of the seat, they are at risk of head injury. In a frontal crash, internal parts of the car could hit your child’s head. Ideally, your baby’s head should rest 2 inches below the top of the seat.
Some car seats that have larger height ranges can safely seat children rear-facing over 40 inches! It’s essential to monitor your child’s growth and their fit in the seat, as well as your car seat’s guidelines.
Your child should be at least 2 years old before you consider turning the seat forward. According to the AAP, all infants and newborns should ride rear-facing no matter what the circumstances are.
Riding forward facing earlier than 2 can be dangerous, due to accident risks and spinal cord injuries.
Children younger than 2 years old don’t have developed neck bones or muscles that can protect their spinal cord. This is why it’s important to keep them rear facing.
Consider turning a car seat forward if your child:
- Is at least 2 years old
- Has a height that places their head within 2 inches of the car seat’s top
- Has a weight that exceeds the limitations on rear-facing with your car seat
When to Turn Car Seat Around?
Turning a car seat around, from front facing, might be a good idea if your child is still younger than 2 or an infant/baby. You should also consider it if your child doesn’t meet the maximum weight for your car seat in rear-facing mode. Many parents turn car seats forward too early, based on incorrect data or conflicting general guidelines.
If your child weighs less than 35-40 pounds in a convertible seat, you may want to turn them back rear-facing. If your child weighs less than 40-50 pounds in a 3-in-1 seat, you may also want to turn them around.
The best thing to do is go by your car seat’s specifications and turn your child according to those guidelines. When your child outgrows their rear-facing only seat, you may consider switching to another seat that works rear-facing for longer.
Height is difficult to apply to very young children when it comes to car seat regulations. You may turn your car seat around if your child is much shorter than your car seat’s front-facing limit.
You should definitely turn the car seat if your child is shorter than the rear-facing limitations. This is generally when your child can sit rear-facing with 2 inches of space before the top of the seat.
Children can sit in some car seats rear-facing above 40 inches, so following your car seat’s guidelines are important.
If your child has long legs, you might be tempted to turn them forward early for comfort. It’s best to resist this urge, especially if your child doesn’t exceed the maximum weight or height for rear-facing. Children often fold or cross their legs when they are longer, making for a comfortable ride.
Children also don’t face leg or foot injury risks rear facing, but this is common in forward-facing children. It’s safer to keep them rear-facing. There are even rear-facing car seats that extend legroom if you feel your child needs it!
Another helpful thing to keep in mind is that many states have specific regulations about rear-facing seats and children’s ages.
Some states require that children under 1 year old, or less than 20 pounds, must be in a rear-facing seat.
Other states require that children under 2 years old must be in a rear-facing seat. Look below to see if your state has any of these requirements!
States that require children under 1 year old or weighing less than 20 pounds to be in a rear-facing seat:
- New Mexico
States that require children under 2 years old to be in a rear-facing seat:
- New Jersey
- New York (Effective 11/01/2019)
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
Otherwise, consider turning a car seat back to rear-facing if your child:
- Is younger than 2
- Does not exceed the weight or height limits for rear-facing with your car seat
How Much Should a Baby Weigh to Face Forward?
You should switch your baby forward facing when they reach the maximum weight for rear-facing with their car seat.
This weight is usually around 22-35 pounds for rear-facing only seats, and 35-40 pounds for convertible seats. For 3-in-1 seats, the limit is usually around 40-50 pounds.
Overall, these weights vary from car seat to car seat. Always check your car seat’s manual or contact the manufacturer for details about the maximum weight for rear-facing use.
Weight Limit for Rear-Facing Children:
- Usually 22-35 pounds for rear-facing only seats
- In general 35-40 pounds for convertible seats
- Usually 40-50 pounds for 3-in-1 seats
- Check manual or manufacturer for your car seat’s specifications
When to Switch to a Front Facing Car Seat?
Many parents look forward to switching their child forward facing, but this definitely isn’t something you should rush. Children are much safer rear facing, so it’s important to keep them in that position for as long as possible.
You should only switch to forward facing if your child exceeds the weight and height limits of their car seat. This is generally met after they are 2 years old.
Children weighing more than 22-35 pounds in a rear-facing only seat may have outgrown that seat. It might be a good idea to consider another rear-facing style seat, especially if they are younger than 2.
Children weighing 35-40 pounds in convertible seats and 40-50 pounds in 3-in-1 seats may be ready to make the switch.
Children with less than 2 inches of clearance above their head rear-facing may be ready for switching forward. Rear-facing only car seats usually work with babies up to 36 inches tall.
Larger car seats can seat children up to 40 inches rear-facing. Checking your car seat’s specifications for height is the safest way to determine when it’s time to make the switch.
Switch to a Front Facing Car Seat if your child:
- Meets the specified weight limit for rear-facing with your car seat
- Exceeds height specifications for rear-facing with your car seat
- Has a height that allows their head to reach within 2 inches of the top of the seat
Only when these conditions are met should a parent switch to forward facing. Age limitations are not a solid basis for making the switch, because children vary in size.
It’s very exciting to switch your child from rear to forward facing, but rushing this transition isn’t a great idea. Rear-facing children are statistically safer in life-threatening accidents, making it the ideal position for your child.
You should make the switch only after height and weight limitations are met for your child’s rear-facing car seat. If you feel that you’ve switched your child’s seat too early, it’s never too late to turn them back around!
We hope this article has clarified any rear or forward facing questions you may have had!
Let us know if you have any comments below!