Several recent studies have demonstrated that children are getting heavier than ever before, increasing their long-term risk of heart disease and many other health complications (see resources 1,2). The fact that children are getting heavier also carries implications for the lawful and safe use of car seats. The American Academy of Pediatrics recently recommended that children ride in rear-facing car seats for as long as possible (often exceeding their second birthday), until they reach the height or weight limit set by the car seat manufacturer. But this recommendation conflicts with some US state laws. South Carolina, for instance, has a state law that mandates children over the age of 2 ride front-facing. It is becoming clear that lawmakers need to better-coordinate with the recommendations of major research agencies (see resource 3).
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The recommendation that children ride rear-facing until they reach the height or weight limit of their car seat can be difficult to track given the varied manufacturers' recommendations for car seat capacity. Specifically, a 2 year old child can weigh upwards of 40+ pounds (97th percentile is 35 lbs), whereas many conventional rear-facing car seats have a 32-pound weight limit (such as the Graco Snugride 32), or a 30-pound weight limit (such as the Chicco KeyFit 30). So this means you will need to shift to a convertible car seat, likely before their second birthday, and keep it rear-facing until they are around 40 pounds (some of the newer car seats, like the Nuna Rava and Graco Extend2Fit, can support kids up to 50 pounds in a rear-facing position! We review those car seats here.).
It should be clear from reading this article that you as a parent should practice due diligence. Read your vehicle's owner's manual to make sure your'e within its guidelines for LATCH and seat belt limits. Also read your car seat's owner's manual to make sure you understand its limits for weight and height, for rear-facing versus front-facing, and when you need to transition from LATCH to seat belt (usually when your child is around 40 pounds). Because state laws vary widely and do not always correspond to the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), always check your local laws before blindly adopting AAP recommendations. Nobody wants to get a ticket for doing the "right thing" for their baby. Further, nobody wants the serious safety risk of putting their baby into a car seat that isn't designed to suit their weight. Mommyhood101 recommends compliance with your local and state laws regarding safety restraints, and also checking to make sure your current car seat is rated above your child's current weight.
Convertible car seats are a great way to accommodate your child's weight from birth (typically assuming over 5lbs) to upwards of 65 pounds. The Graco My Ride 65, for instance, has a weight capacity from 5 to 65 pounds, and can be installed in a rear- or front-facing configuration. We suggest checking out about 100 convertible car seats at retailers such as Babies R Us, and thoroughly researching each seat that you consider at www.NHTSA.gov, checking for recalls, and reading consumer reviews.
1Crespo, C.J., Smit, E., Troiano, R.P., Bartlett, S.J., Macera, C.A., & Andersen, R.E. (2001). Television watching, energy intake, and obesity in US children: results from the third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 1988-1994. Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, 155, 360-365.
2Hedley, A.A., Ogden, C.L., Johnson, C.L., Carroll, M.D., Curtin, L.R., & Flegal, K.M. (2009). Prevalence of overweight and obesity
among US children, adolescents, and adults, JAMA, 291, 2847-2850.
3Basco, W. T., Hletko, P. J., West, L., & Darden, P. M. (2009). Determining the Proportion of Children Too Heavy for Age-Appropriate Car Seats in a Practice-Based Research Network. Clinical Pediatrics, 48, 37-43.